The urge to grow things

We had to dig up the grapefruit tree one spring to make room for the new pool that was about to be dug in our back yard. The sorry-looking little shrub, a house-warming gift from friends, had occupied a spot just outside our screened patio for at least six years, producing neither shade nor fruit. I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away, so I moved it to a far corner of the yard just in front of a low-to-the ground metal box containing electrical equipment for underground lines that served our house In Pembroke Pines, Florida.

By fall, golf ball-sized green spheres began to appear. Then suddenly, they were everywhere, growing larger, baseball size, then glorious grapefruit, so many of them that we soon were carrying grocery bags filled with them to church on Sunday to share our bounty with friends. They were Duncans, a variety of grapefruit with a few large seeds clustered in a whitish-yellow flesh that is deliciously tart. Duncans are believed to be the oldest grapefruit variety grown in the United States, having been grown as early as 1830 in Safety Harbor, a town on Florida’s west coast near St Petersburg.

We loved that tree and its fruit. Hated to leave it behind when we moved to North Carolina in 1977. Six years ago, Betsy and I returned to our old stomping grounds in Broward County to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our wedding. We brought along our three daughters, their husbands and children, 14 of us in all. We had a great time revisiting old haunts and seeing the sights like a bunch of tourists.

We saw plenty of change, of course, much of it reminding us why we left. Multi-lane concrete highways had replaced quiet residential streets, unbelievable traffic at all hours. On a hot day touring Fort Lauderdale we found a few minutes of respite at a shady playground in Holiday Park. We were in the heart of Royal Poinciana season, and we lounged for a few minutes under the spreading arms of a couple of those beautiful trees showing off their orange-red blossoms and lacy leaves.

South Florida offers amateur gardeners a forgiving environment. The climate is warm, of course, and the soil is sandy for the most part. From Miami’s annual Poinciana Festival at Bayfront Park I carried home a gallon-size can bearing a leafy stick that promised a future tree. It didn’t take long, prospering in the sandy dirt of our front yard, spreading its notorious roots in all directions and lifting its arms to the sky, tempting young climbers to scale them, there to sit and read. Our daughters loved it.

Today, as I enjoy an afternoon of open windows and balmy North Carolina temperatures, I am once again tempted to dig my hands into the soil and encourage something beautiful to grow. No trees this time, though. I’m getting too old for that kind of effort. I’m thinking about a few pots of geraniums on the deck.

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