Bob and Verna Duncan’s house in Saanich, British Columbia doesn’t look overly unusual from the road, that is, until you notice the lemon tree. And this semi-tropical interloper is just a hint of the wonders waiting in what might well be the most interesting backyard in Canada; serving as a demonstration orchard for their company “Fruit Trees and More”, it is jammed with citrus, medlar, loquat, olive, and hundreds of other rare and wonderful fruits.
I was lucky enough to visit this wonderland recently, and I was reminded of what an incredibly diverse country we enjoy. Bob’s lemon trees grow outside on South-facing walls, with little overhangs to protect them from the rain. To ensure they survive the odd rare freeze, he has Christmas lights set on a temperature-sensitive timer; the lights give off enough heat to protect his rare and wonderful offerings. His success with these wonderful plants definitely involves a lot of skill, and exploits one of Canada’s rarest microclimates; Saanich and a few surrounding areas in the gulf islands enjoys a modified Mediterranean climate in which long sun-drenched summers are followed by mild and damp winters.
The experience of seeing these wonderful trees elicits a certain sense of amazement; I had forgotten how wonderful citrus foliage smells. His small unheated greenhouse boasts a range of sweet citrus from grapefruit to navel oranges. He shared an orange with us (A Canadian orange!) that had an intense flavour far beyond any long travelled fruit in a store. Bob even had a finger lime tree lurking quietly against a wall.
The highlight in this paradise were Verna’s lemon bars made with fresh Canadian lemon juice and peel. The flavor was very sweet and complex. As I nibbled on this rare treat I thought of warmer lands, towns drenched in bougainvillea and sunlight. The ultimate 100 Mile treat, Bob and Verna’s lemon bars (and orange marmalade) are certainly an unusual fruit of Canadian innovation.
I spend a lot of time thinking about climate change and Canadian cuisine, and so I asked Bob if his job was getting easier thanks to global warming. The temperature helps, he mentioned, but the greater risk of extreme weather is an offsetting factor. So we might see more such wonders in our little corner of paradise, but we shouldn’t expect a bounty of local citrus any time soon. I left, however, with dreams of a warm South Wall at my family home in Robert’s Creek, and lemons bathing in the afternoon sun.