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Strange Fruit?
No, Just Uncommon

by Nancy Schramm

So, be honest now, do you want your garden to look like every other garden on the block? No? OK, do you like growing something that you can eat? Yes? Then stick with me and let's explore just a few of the less common fruiting plants that can be grown in this part of the Golden State.

Kiwi vines (Actinidia deliciosa) first became available in California in the late 1960s. (If I may brag a little, my Dad, Ed Carman, was the first nurseryman to grow kiwi plants for the home gardener in the Santa Clara Valley) They're still a great choice, as long as you have enough room since the Kiwi is a large and vigorous vine. You need two plants, a male and a female, in order to get fruit. Good drainage, regular water, at least 4-5 hours of sun daily and a large sturdy trellis or arbor fulfill their needs. It is important to prune them correctly. They take three to five years in the ground before fruiting, but in return can bear up to 200 lbs. of fruit on one female vine. The Kiwi fruit, packed full of vitamin C, is remarkable for it's storage properties. Picked and stored properly, it can last a year in the refrigerator. An easy rule of thumb is that they can be grown successfully anywhere you can grow peaches.
Another vine that can be fun to grow is the passion fruit vine (Passiflora edulis). Commonly grown as an ornamental, it's worth looking for the species that produce edible fruit. You don't even lose the gorgeous flower. They can be tender in some areas, so it's not a bad idea to plant next to the house for a little protection. Give them good drainage, regular water, and full sun. Pick up the ripe fruit when it falls from the vine. When you cut open the fruit, the thin pulp is yellow-orange in color, with little dark edible seeds. The pulp can be made into a truly addictive "curd" with any lemon curd recipe. If you strain out the seeds, the pulp can be frozen so you can have it all year 'round.

Pomegranates (Punica granatum) have made a big splash in health news lately with their high antioxidant content. The juice has been touted as beneficial in combating diseases as varied as high cholesterol, prostate cancer and heart disease. Despite all that, the juice really tastes good! So, why not grow your own since they are so easy. The pomegranate tolerates most types of soil and can take quite a lot of drought. A bit of watering will improve the fruit, but this plant won't up and die the first week of your summer vacation. There are quite a few varieties available, with distinctly different flavors, size and fruit color. The plant tends towards a shrubby habit, but can be pruned into a small tree. There are even a few naturally smaller varieties that are suitable for containers.

The fig (Ficus carica) is another almost fail proof tree for beginners. They aren't picky about soil type, and need regular water mostly when young. Mature trees will do fine with minimal irrigation. You will have to fight off gophers and birds, unfortunately. If you've got gophers, plant your tree in a large wire basket. As for the birds, well, while the tree is small you can be pretty successful with bird netting. There is an amazing variety of different figs slowly becoming more available. Yellow, green and purple skin colors, pink, red, amber and white colored flesh. Choose a variety suitable for your climate. For instance, one that ripens and tastes great in Morgan Hill's heat would probably not win any taste tests in Watsonville. Figs are packed with potassium and are not only delicious fresh, but most varieties can be easily dried.

I have to admit right now that when I was invited to write this column, I thought, "How on earth can I write 800 words on anything?" But now that I've passed the 650 count, I realize I haven't any room left to talk about Pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana, or now more correctly Acca sellowiana) which is a fantastic landscape tree in addition to producing wonderful fruit, or Kumquat, a citrus that, in my yard, breezed through multiple nights of below 20 degree temps this winter.
So, I simply hope I've piqued your interest in growing something a little different. There's nothing more fun than grazing through your own yard (unless it's showing off what you've grown to admiring friends and family). If you are interested in growing these and even more unusual fruits, I can highly recommend joining the California Rare Fruit Growers (CRFG) statewide and locally.

Local sources: West Side Nursery, Menlo Growers, Catalog sources: One Green World, Raintree Nursery.

Copyright. Out and About Magazine

           Third generation owner of Carman's Nursery, Nancy Schramm and her husband recently moved the nursery from Los Gatos to Gilroy where they have lived for 24 years. The nursery is known for growing rare and unusual plants including bonsai starters, dwarf conifers, rock garden plants and (of course) less common fruiting plants. Nancy has been a member of the Western Horticultural Society since 2003. She follows in the footsteps of her father Ed Carman, the founder of Carman's Nursery. Ed was one of the charter members of the Western Horticultural Society and also served on the first Board.

Contact Nancy at

Western Horticulture Society
PO Box 166, Mountain View, CA 94042
(650) 948-4614 or (650) 941-6136