Bite into a chilled sweet peach on a hot summer day, wipe the juice off your chin, and it’s easy to see why the peach tree’s owner is so excited about being a member of the California Rare Fruit Growers, the largest amateur fruit-growing organization in the world.
“My yard illustrates the edible landscape,” said Les Ferreira, who is enthusiastic about the upcoming “Festival of Fruit” hosted by the Central Coast chapter of the Rare Fruit Growers Aug. 26-28.
The three-day event will showcase knowledgeable speakers and panel discussions on topics ranging from edible gardening in small spaces to edible succulents — as well as various garden tours.
Ferreira grows all kinds of exotic edible plants and has eight varieties of citrus on five grafted trees. These include Satsuma mandarin, Mineola Tangelo, Robertson orange, Clementine tangerine and Washington navel.
His peach tree is a variety that flourishes in our coastal climate, and a 30-foot-tall macadamia nut tree graces the entry to his home in San Luis Obispo. Many of his fruit trees have color coding on different branches that coordinates with spreadsheets so he knows what kind of fruit is on each limb. Pomegranate and persimmon trees offer cover for the large koi pond and also discourage foraging herons and egrets from fishing.
Each winter the Rare Fruit Growers exchange scions, which are wood collected from the cultivar they wish to propagate, so members can try grafting different varieties of fruit on their trees. Fruit tree owners who are not members are also offered the opportunity to try grafting new varieties with the organization’s offer of free scions in mid-winter and demonstrations on how to graft.
Ferreira’s herb garden provides fresh parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, and other herbs. It can easily be seen and enjoyed from a pleasant seating area tucked behind apple trees.
Another area placed for enjoyment is a gentle stream and waterfall that flow into the large koi pond. Koi glide through clear water underneath an arched bridge custom made by Ferreira. Raccoons did a lot of fishing in Ferreira’s first koi pond so he learned how to deter them. “They won’t fish in a pond where they can’t touch the bottom,” he said, noting that his pond is now 3 1/2 feet deep, and the koi provide fertilizer that is filtered through a settling pond before being used as irrigation water.
Surrounding the pond and stream leading to it are numerous bonsai specimens, some in traditional bonsai pots and some simply placed on large flat pieces of slate. Large bonsai pots are very expensive so Ferreira adapted larger groups of the tiny trees to display on slate.
He obtained his first bonsai 40 years ago and never looked back. He just kept collecting. Eighty bonsai now cover benches and are artfully arranged throughout the garden. They require daily water. Shade cloth to protect some of the more exposed specimens is a future project due to the higher temperatures now in San Luis Obispo.
As visitors pass through the side bonsai display area, they’re treated to a covered shade area where an enormous assortment of begonias and orchids thrive. Epiphyllums, orchid cactus, are featured near the barbecue area.
“I really like eppies. They are a fun plant, but they need a lot of shade,” Ferreira said. These tropical cacti produce enormous blooms in pink, red, orange, yellow and white in summer. The display was so stunning one summer that his neighbor emailed him photos when they bloomed in his absence.
This same area includes a fountain that recycles greywater. A hot tub and outdoor shower nearby are warmed by the sun.
Behind the spa area, a panoply of exotic fruits from A to Z weave through an area so compact no one would imagine such bounty was possible. Among them: apricot, blackberries and blueberries, passion fruit, Asian pear, cherry, Brown Turkey fig, kiwi, cherimoya, antemoya, peach, plum, papaya, kaffir lime, Ecuadorian tamarillo, banana, jelly palm (whose taste recalls Sweet Tarts), and zapote. We left off a few, but you get the idea!
Ferreira also has an ample selection of succulents.
The thrifty water-saver never wastes a single drop so that all his plants can thrive. Shower water, sink water, laundry water are all diverted for irrigation. When it rains, he has more than 2,000 gallons of rainwater storage. Just over one inch of rain off the roof fills all reservoirs.
“With so many microclimates in San Luis Obispo it’s important to learn from others. I could never grow a decent peach, and Joe Sabol suggested this variety. He’s a peach of a guy,” Ferreira added. The two are both retired Cal Poly agriculture professors and active in the local Rare Fruit Growers chapter. “Join the club. I’ve learned a lot,” Ferreira encouraged. Membership is free.
Festival of Fruit
When: Aug. 26-28
“Edible Landscaping — from Apples to Zapotas” will be discussed, looked at, and chewed on at Cal Poly and garden venues throughout the county when the largest amateur fruit-growing organization in the world, the California Rare Fruit Growers, meets at Cal Poly in August. “Growing your own food is like printing your own money,” says Ron Finley of L.A. Green Grounds. Interested gardeners are welcome even if they are not members.
Rosalind Creasy, author of “The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping” is the key speaker on Aug. 27 at Cal Poly. A lively lineup of speakers with expertise ranging from berries to chocolate, edible gardening in small spaces, miniature gardens, opuntia and other edible succulents, a cornucopia of fruit, and garden to table from seed, are prepared to amaze.
Local artist Marci Hawthorne illustrates Creasy’s books and is also participating.
Two full days of garden tours include an open-house-style tour at UCCE Master Gardener Demonstration Garden: Garden of the Seven Sisters 2156 Sierra Way, San Luis Obispo; Clearwater Color Nursery, Los Osos; and Tiber Canyon Olive Ranch. Tours are filling fast.
The festival is hosted by the Central Coast chapter of the Rare Fruit Growers.
To register, go to festivaloffruit.org. A $55 registration fee includes speakers and tours; lunch and dinner are extra. Nell Wade, chairwoman, encourages early registration for the three-day event. Many tours are already full.