The pleasure of hanging out with plant people is what you learn from them. Such people, and the plants they grow, are typically full of wonderful surprises.
Just the other day, I met Ash Jahanbin, whose mission in life is to grow and to care for exotic fruit trees. To this end, he runs a nursery at 10943 DeSoto Avenue in Chatsworth. He also has a busy crew of ten employees whose sole task to is plant and maintain fruit and nut orchards throughout the Valley and beyond, with dozens of customers in places like Woodland Hills, West Hills, Northridge, Sherman Oaks, the Hollywood Hills, Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Santa Monica, and Malibu.
Before I met Ash, if someone had told me that not far south of Mulholland Drive, close to Sepulveda Boulevard, there was an orchard of more that 100 macadamia nut trees that were annually producing hundreds of pounds of nuts, I would have had serious doubts about that person’s sanity. While I had heard of macadamia nut trees in Malibu, I had no idea that they could thrive so close to home.
Mulholland Drive is an important dividing line where plant selection is concerned. North of Mulholland Drive, plants that are marginally frost tolerant – that is, able to survive temperatures of 32 degrees or below for only two or three hours in succession – may get burnt if not die on a long freezing night. South of Mulholland, however, it is possible to grow all manner of such plants, including a wide range of tropical fruit trees.
“In the San Fernando Valley,” Ash explained, “our customers are usually situated close to the hills or on slopes since there is less frost danger in these locations.” Cold air moves like water and that is why marginally frost tolerant trees are grown on hilly terrain. A case in point is California’s avocado acreage, most of which is found growing on slopes in places like Temecula and Santa Paula. On the Pierce College campus in Woodland Hills, many years ago, there was been a sizeable avocado planting there on sloping terrain, despite the fact that Woodland Hills experiences the coldest winter temperatures of any Valley locale. Ash says that his nursery will soon add macadamia nut trees to his list of exotic trees. You may peruse this list by visiting the web site at paradisenursery.com.
“Another strategy for growing tropicals in the Valley,” Ash added, “ is to locate an appropriate spot on your property that affords frost protection. Planting out in the open on flat ground is not recommended.”
Macadamia nut trees are native to tropical Australia as are finger lime (Microcitrus australasica) trees. I had never heard of or seen finger limes before and they are truly a marvel to behold. The fruits, which are ripening now, are 2-3 inches in length, deep purple in color when ripe and, when split open, full of clear vesicles that will remind you, by their size, color, and shape, of caviar. These vesicles are easily squeezed out of the surrounding skin and, when applied to your tongue, yield a tart flavor that has been compared to that of a lime. Finger limes are popularly used for livening up fish dishes, especially sushi, and certain cocktails.
I was delighted to learn from Ash that there are sweet cherry varieties that will produce in our area. These are being grown at his Chatsworth nursery. To be fair, they require a good 400 hours of winter chill (hours below 45 degrees) to flower and fruit the following spring so some winters will yield a good crop but warm winters will not. You will need to plant two different varieties – ‘Minnie Royal’ and ‘Royal Lee’ – together to maximize fruit on each since they are excellent pollenizers of each other.
Note: There is a head gardener position currently available at the Getty Museum Grounds and Gardens Department. The work is full time and the compensation is $24.16 per hour. For more information, contact Brian Houck at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tip of the Week: I asked Ash about the watering regime for tropical trees. “During the summer, trees are deep soaked in average draining soil twice a week. In winter, the water is shut off. Where new trees are planted, I install a single spray sprinkler or bubbler attached to a double swivel elbow so I can bring the sprinkler close to the ground. As the tree grows, I raise the sprinkler so that more area, accommodating a larger root system, is covered. With small orchards, underground pipe is installed with sprinklers or bubblers next to each tree. With large orchards, drip irrigation with tubing that runs along the soil surface is more sensible.”