The Bottom Lines : Backyard Orchardist Grows to Extremes With 200 Potted Trees Bearing Rare Fruits

Times Staff Writer

Gazing out at her stand of 200 fruit trees, orchardist Marianne Friedman made a quick estimate of the size and scope of her coming harvest.

There will be 31 varieties of figs, 11 kinds of nectarines, two or three apples the size of grapefruit, a one-pound guava, cherries super rich in vitamin C, sweet kumquats and kiwi fruit.

Friedman expects even richer harvests in seasons to come. For a woman who claims to have had no special yen for fruit or hankering for an orchard of her own, she has created an Eden of rare fruit in the modest-sized yard behind her house in Alhambra.

Her Anna apples are an unusual variety that do not require the cold of a Washington winter. She has tangerine, grapefruit, loquat and orangelo trees, Surinam and acerola cherry trees, and kiwi vines that thrive in a warmer climate than their native New Zealand provides.

"Rare-fruit growers go to extremes to find the ultimate in what's available," Friedman said of her hobby. "Fig growers have to have every known fig. Anyway, if you think about work all the time you'll be bananas."

Friedman, 39, teaches office administration at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights and at East Los Angeles College. She said she has always grown things to excess--once it was carnations and another time it was 250 varieties of roses.

"I didn't even know I wanted to do this until I did it," she said, recalling that she got hooked on growing rare fruits 2 1/2 years ago after finding to her surprise that figs tasted good. She bought one fig tree, then another and another, eventually acquiring 31 fig varieties and 200 plant species.

She joined the California Rare Fruit Growers, the Friends of Figs Society and the Indoor Citrus and Rare Fruit Society, exchanging information and plant cuttings with other members. With her 13-year-old dog, Queenie, she travels to nurseries as far away as San Diego.

"Here's a dog that's logged 10,000 miles, easy," she said.

At this stage, Friedman's coming harvest is mostly green--huge apples just turning rosy, nectarines beginning to ripen, kiwi vines taking root and figs that vary from tiny buttons to large pear shapes. The trees range from mere wisps to sturdy six-footers. Even the smallest bear fruit.

Each tree grows in a container, the smallest in five-gallon pots and the largest in half barrels. They encircle a 30-foot-square yard, yet leave enough room for a lawn, a shade tree, about 60 rose bushes and dozens of doodads to scare away birds.

Friedman plants all her trees in the same commercial potting soil, feeds them a common garden-variety fertilizer two or three times during their fruit-bearing periods, soaks them with a hose at least once a week--twice in hot weather--and puts a clove of garlic in each pot to ward off slugs and snails.

"Once I stepped on a slug in my bare feet," she said, adding that she believes that in garlic she has found the ultimate repellent.

To keep the trees small enough to thrive in pots, Friedman trims their tops once a year. The roots must be cut back every four years, and when the trees are transplanted to larger containers, Friedman said, she gives them a boost with liquid vitamin B-1.

Friedman fends off birds with moving garden gadgets and plastic nets and gets rid of insects with a hose. She uses chemical sprays only for an occasional fungus or persistent pests.

While some pots are strategically placed for cross-pollination and others for shade, most of the plants thrive on the same amounts of sun, water and attention.

"Look--I grew up in Alhambra, my plants are strictly Alhambra, we're going great in Alhambra. We're proving it can be done." Friedman said.

She estimates that it takes two hours just to water all her trees. She has never counted the hours she spends trimming, re-potting, staking, tying, examining, spraying, feeding and raking, but she smiles at the thought of it all.

Friedman figures that she probably has spent about $3,000 in the past 2 1/2 years on her rare fruit garden, including the cost of driving to distant nurseries and plant club meetings.

"Look what a trip to Las Vegas can cost--hundreds of dollars, and the money is gone," Friedman said. "I get something all the time for what I've invested. This is no short-lived luxury."

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