Home & Garden Columns

Garden Variety: Fun With the California Rare Fruit Growers

Ron Sullivan
Friday May 12, 2006

It’s been way too long since I’ve gone to a meeting of California Rare Fruit Growers. There’s one such meeting tomorrow (Saturday May 13) in Walnut Creek that is weirdly tempting because it will feature Dr. Robert Raabe, whose approach to plant diseases is of the gleeful sort, which can be fun but rarely works well as a bedside manner for humans.  

This is typical, in my experience, of CRFG’s approach and gatherings: useful, wonky (one thing I love about them), sociable, and fun. It figures that an organization devoted to pushing the borders of what can be grown where would be that upbeat. They get to expand the frontiers of applied science and then eat the results. 

The current issue of the house magazine, Fruit Gardener, features a close-up of the flowers of pineapple guava, Feijoa sellowiana. It grows well right here, and gets used as a boundary shrub in institutional plantings as well as in home gardens. 

It’s pest-resistant from what I know of it, drought-tolerant, and it you put it in a sunny enough spot it can bear lots of fruit, which is oddly expensive at the market and tastes best fresh with its wonderful scent to enhance it.  

And those flowers are edible: you just pick off the petals and leave the main flower organs to develop into fruit. (You might get less fruit, depending on whether the flower’s been pollinated and what gets attracted to pollinate it despite the absent petals.) The petals are frosty white on one side, deep crimson on the other, thick and succulent for a flower petal, and taste of sweetness and cinnamon. They’re the sort of thing that is best savored one at a time as you walk through the garden.  

That’s the sort of information you get from CRFG. You might get a taste, too, by way of direct teaching. Meetings tend to have somebody’s never-heard-of-it jam or wot-the-heck fruit in slices at the back of the room, for sampling and showing off. 

The atmosphere is half county-fair, half scholarly, and members apparently love questions like, “What’s that??” You learn not only what it is but how to grow your own. 

Part of the fun is growing stuff you thought was strictly airfreight—the friend who introduced me to CRFG has a pair of macadamia trees in his yard, and they bear nuts, as do other members’ trees I’ve met—and pricey to buy. 

Even if you should perchance end up with the equivalent of the $45 tomato, you’ll have priceless fringe benefits: knowledge about growing, a story to tell, and mostly that landscape value of the plant. Those macadamia trees are quite handsome, and so are the guava shrubs. Factor in what you’d pay for shadetrees or fencing that just stood around looking pretty, and the price looks better and better. 

CRFG isn’t only about tropicals. It’s the best source I know of for finding out about apples and peaches and such varieties that have a low enough required “chill” time to let them bear good fruit in Berkeley. If you remember some fruit from way back or far away, here’s the brain trust you need to grow your own. 

Non-members are welcome at meetings. Locally, they’re usually on the second Saturdays of odd-numbered months in various locations. See the website, write, or call for schedules.