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Vertical Fruits

Kiwifruit and Passion Fruit are Two Space Saving Candidates for Backyard Growing


Perennial fruits are usually things like peaches, apples, and oranges that grow on woody trees. Even bananas grow on bulky, upright forms that take up a fair amount of space. There are, however, a few tasty crops that persist from year to year that don’t have such a large footprint. Fruiting vines include grapes, of course, but there are a couple of other exotically flavored fruits that thrive in our mild climate.

In California, the Chinese gooseberry is known as kiwifruit, or simply kiwi, a name it got from some of the first exporters, who were New Zealanders. Although it is a native of eastern Asia, it is not related to any other gooseberry. The most marketed species, Actinida deliciosa, has brown fuzzy skin enclosing emerald green, juicy fruit. Add the crunch of hundreds of tiny black seeds and the magic is complete. Kiwifruit growing has taken hold in a few areas, but the prices remain high, as imported crops simply cost more to produce, ship, and market. Luckily, kiwifruit vines are very happy to take to the trellis in California, thus circumventing the supermarket. And, if handled gently and stored in a very cool spot, the barely ripe fruits can be held for several months after picking.

The woody vines are deciduous, so they are not the best candidates for a high-profile position in an ornamental landscape. They will, however, grow up almost any sturdy structure, so they readily cling to fences or trellises at the back of the garden. Be forewarned: They can grow to 30 feet or more, but respond well to pruning and shaping. The other caveat for this fruit is that it requires a pollen donor plant to fertilize the female plant’s flowers. Not to worry—one male can handle the job of pollinating several females to produce a bounty of fruits. Read descriptions for the different varieties to match up those with the appropriate chill hour requirements needed.

Passion fruit (Passiflora edulis) vines are easy to grow at home, too. When ripe, the fruits are hard and wrinkled, looking more like something that was forgotten in the back of the refrigerator for a month or two. Inside that fibrous rind, though, are crunchy seeds swimming in a seductively tart and sweet pulp. The flavor is indescribable and possibly addictive. As with the kiwifruit, vines can grow 20 to 30 feet in length, so plan ahead and provide a trellis, arbor, or other support for them to climb on. Each plant is self-fertile; no pollinator is required to produce fruit. While passion fruit likes regular water, it also dislikes having its roots too wet, so plant in well-drained soil. Full sun and protection from strong winds will give it the habitat that it is used to from its home in sunny South America.

Besides the tasty harvest of fruit, passion fruit flowers are quite ornamental. Passion flowers have an intricate arrangement of petals, stamens, and pistils. The petals radiate out in a flat disk that is the background for a secondary whorl of many thread-like filaments. The stamens and pistil are on a stalk arising from the center in an intricate and sculptural display. In this species, the petals are pale lavender to white, but it is the lavender-shading-to-white filaments and reproductive parts that provide the show. Foliage is also handsome and provides year-round greenery on whatever support it is given. So there you have two space-saving candidates for ready-to-eat fruit from your own backyard.

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Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to vahayes@lotusland.org.

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