After Goethe had escaped his heavy court duties at Weimar in Germany and passed through the Brenner into Italy, he saw his first lemons growing at Limone del Garda. He knew that he was in the land of beautiful plants and fruits that he had dreamt of experiencing, so different from Weimar. He even records in detail how lemons are grown in Limone, on ascending terraced slopes under trellises.
Lemons are for many of us the image of the exotic, of Italy. They are beautiful in their orbicular yellow, useful, and they are lussuoso in their piquant taste for cooking of all sorts.
The name “lemon” derives from the Arabic “laymon, limu” our Italian “limone.”
Lemons originated on the borders of present day N. E. India, Burma, and the Yunnan province of China. What could be more exotic? Lemons then entered southern Europe about the 1st. Century AD and were cited in Islamic treatises on ornamental gardening. Columbus brought lemon seeds to the New World, Hispaniola, on one of his voyages of discovery.
My grandmother had to have them on her windowsills in Pittsburgh.
Like olives, it is said that lemons grow best near the sea. They have the lowest heat requirements of the citrus family and are easily grown throughout many locales in California. They can take lows, or light frosts for a short time. All of us, unlike Goethe, see them growing here in California almost everywhere. In fact, I can always spot an old, Italian section of town because of the mature lemon trees growing in the back yards. Every Italian cherished, and still does, a fig and a lemon tree.
Lemons are rather easy to grow after they get a good start of about a year. The holes they are planted in should be approximately 20-24 inches deep and almost as wide. Fill these holes with rich, well draining earth. This is paramount in giving them a strong start.
Plant the root base above the soil line. They need to be fertilized with 16-16-16 mix three times a year—spring, summer, autumn. Use about a half a cup each time and water it in well. Continue to irrigate the tree regularly after making an earth ridge at the leaf-drip line. The biggest neglect problem that I see with growing lemons is that they are not watered enough whether in coastal or inland zones. Lemons and all citrus love being hosed down with sharp sprays of water. This washes off pollutants and dirt from the leaf pores or stoma. They like a refreshing shower just as we do.
Lemons don’t like harsh winds, so plant them in a protected but sunny area. I remember (ricordo ancora) a very old lemon grove by the sea in Giardini Naxos, Sicily. It was a lovely place on the premises of an ancient Greek temple site. The stone wall was from the 18th century, about 15 feet tall and encrusted with lichens and mosses. The lemons, although old and waning, were still producing lemons, and their blossoms were rich with scent of exotic neroli.