Justin Newcombe pays tribute to an icon of the New Zealand garden, one that is just coming into season.
For the past 50 years or so New Zealand has been world famous for producing one fruit and one fruit only, the Chinese gooseberry or, as it became known, the kiwifruit. However, when I look through my own time on planet NZ, I'm more inclined to find another exotic fruit dominating my memories - the feijoa.
I spent my formative years in the north and found many reliable constants in small-town New Zealand, an annual race meeting, a bowling club (often adjoining an RSA), at least one too many pubs, a post office clock, a Four Square and the feijoa tree.
The feijoa is a native of the east coast of South America, but primarily Uruguay. The climate there is a mixture of mild temperate and subtropical and it's this heritage that gives the feijoa its versatile nature. The adaptable feijoa is grown in Scotland and Russia but will not fruit successfully in these extremely cold environments every year. It was taken to Europe by French botanist Eduard Adre who used plant material taken from the River Plate in Argentina to produce good fruit trees which thrived in the Mediterranean.
Stocks from Eduard's trees were introduced to the United States in the early 20th century with success in California. Trees introduced to Florida, however, struggled to fruit because of the mild winters. Driven by the fruit's commercial potential, plant material was taken from steamy Brazil and developed for a warmer climate.
The feijoa arrived in New Zealand from Australia around the 1920s and many varieties have been developed here, Apollo among them. Apollo is popular because it is self-pollinating and has a large sweet fruit. Research shows cross pollination with other trees improves its fruit set, quality and regularity, as well as pulp development and seed count. Other varieties include Anatoki, Gemini, Kaiteri, Kakariki, Pounamu, Unique, Den's Choice, Kakapo, Mammoth, Oral Star, Triumph and Wiki Tu. A mixture of these can see you collecting fruit from March to May.
The fruit needs to be harvested at just the right time and is best collected and eaten on the day of natural fruit fall. This requirement, combined with a short shelf life, has hindered the feijoa's success as a commercial crop.
Tree care is, well, pretty care-free actually. I like to prune mine just after it has finished fruiting when the temperatures are about to fall. If you prune in spring, the grow back is unbelievable and creates more problems than you're trying to solve.
New Zealand is the largest producer of the feijoa in the world and that just takes into account the commercial crop; the residential crop must at least be as big. Just think about the bags and bags of fruit for sale outside front gates or the endless torrent of gift feijoas from friends and family filling up the fruit bowl. I'm not complaining though, all this overabundance just points to one indisputable feijoa fact. We don't know how lucky we are.
3 of the best: Camellias
Camellia sasanqua 'Mine-No-Yuki'
A crisp white bloom with a soft petal finish.
Camellia reticulata 'Pearl Terry'
A perfect flower with an intense, soft pink colour.
Camellia japonica 'Donna Hertzilla'
10 out of 10 for the name and top marks also for those dandy puce ruffles.