A surprise every day
I love avocados but I don’t buy them often. Apart from the ecological and environmental baggage that seems to be attached to them these days, I am ashamed to say that I don’t always eat them if I do buy them. It is not because I don’t want to but because I rarely get the timing right and they are either rock hard or rotten.
It is fortunate that I got the timing right when I had my first avocado. I bought it from a stall in Surrey Street market in Croydon (UK) and it cost me 35p which was a lot then. I was about 16 and I had a gardening job that paid 35p an hour. Clutching it carefully I took it home and the family shared it, not knowing what to expect – we didn’t put custard on it so I must have done enough research to know that it wasn’t supposed to be sweet! I am sure I bought it as much to grow an avocado plant, which was all the range at the time. Over the years I have grown them on occasion and there was a huge one in the (unheated) conservatory at Myddelton House. I saw them survive outside in urban, warm squares in London. But they are not really suitable for growing outside in the British Isles and although they are often suggested as houseplants they are not really very ornamental.
So I was surprised to see a plant appear in the garden, with bright, bronze foliage. It took me a while to recognise an old friend and realise that it was an avocado seedling. The bed had been mulched, in spring, with some rather rough compost and I had obviously thrown out a avocado or, if I had to actually eaten it, a stone, and it had managed to germinate.
I will take pity on it and will dig it up and pot it – that is the least I can do after such a valiant effort.
Most of the best avocado trees that I remember as a kid grew from seed. However, avocados are not necessarily true to type. Those that I remember as a kid could have been very different from the avocadoes that contained the seed that the trees grew from. Fortunately, whether true to type or not, I can remember only one tree that did not produce well.
Also, avocado seedlings are juvenile for their first few years. They grow quite fast, on strictly vertical trunks, without blooming. That is why such trees are so tall and very lanky, and do not produce fruit until they are a few years old. Pruning to limit their height unfortunately disfigures them, although they are not very well structured trees anyway. Trees that are purchased from nurseries are grafted with adult scions, so can bloom and fruit immediately after getting established in their new garden. Also, their adult growth branches low, where their fruit is within reach. Of course, none of this information would dissuade me from growing an avocado tree from seed. I do not mind if the avocados are a bit out of reach. Nor do I mind if they are not a known cultivar. Besides, the taller trees can be relatively elegant. I have only neglected to add an avocado tree to my garden because they are so common here.
Oh to not bother with an avocado tree because they are so common! That lanky, upright growth is partly why they are not very appealing houseplants here. They grow straight up and then, when they branch, the shoots tend to be horizontal. If avocados were dropping from the trees around me I would be twice the weight I am now! I would be eating them every day!
I happen to be at the home of my colleague in the Los Angeles region, and a large avocado hangs over the overgrown garden from next door. It is a nicely productive tree, but unfortunately grows like a weed, and sometimes drops limbs that are overloaded with heavy fruit. As much as I enjoy fruit trees, and as much as I like avocados, avocado trees can be overwhelming.