Little Mandarin Tree

A mandarin tree is a valiant thing, pushing colour into the garden even when those who call themselves gardeners regard its spindly branches dismissively. I have known three mandarin trees. Each in a rented house, afterthoughts at the back of the garden, fending for themselves against crumbling walls, gasping for air in hardened, inflexible soil.

I did not love my first mandarin tree. It blocked access to the back gate. I would slip on the overripe mandarins that no one cared to pick as I left for work, cursing as the earthy zestiness flew up into my nostrils. Whenever there was a thunderstorm I would pray the mandarin tree would be struck by lightning, that it would burst into flames so I would no longer feel the little twinge of guilt I felt that it hung in there no matter what, and in spite of, my obvious neglect.

I loved my second mandarin tree a little more. It was in a garden noted for its varying shades of concrete. Colour inside and outside was a luxury the owner of the house thought her tenants did not deserve. We decorated with Indian scarves and embroidered cushions to reduce the impact of grey upon grey. The garden was a bit of a lost cause. Plants in pots were swallowed by concrete walls and stairs. Looking out the kitchen window was like gazing into a carpark.

But for the little mandarin tree.

It pushed its way up and out through the cracks in the concrete. Persistence was its only strategy. It appeared one day in autumn, a skinny, frail thing, wavering in the cold winds springing up from the south. At first I didn’t recognise it for what it was, I assumed it could only be a weed in that most soulless of gardens, but it grew and flourished, determined to reveal its true self.

One winter’s morning the garden was a fairytale. Golden orbs sprung into view, bouncing like a young girl’s curls. It was as if someone had found the switch for colour overnight, turning it to full right there in the garden.

The mandarins were surprisingly tasty. We competed with the possums for their juicy goodness but managed to eat our share.

I learned to love that little mandarin tree.

I still think of it and hope no home renovator came along and chopped it down.

Now I know a third mandarin tree. Also at the back of the garden. Overshadowed by Chinese Elms, Maples and Jacarandas; tenacious as always. I have tried to make up for the lack of love I have given its brothers. I have tried to assuage the guilt. I have pruned it, fed it, watered it. I have helped to steady it in the wind. It has struggled but remained resolute and like a shy child speaking up for the first time in class has borne fruit, determined to fulfil the promise of its brothers.

The mandarins appear, little faces full of sunshine on drab winter days. They are like a choir singing behind the main actors on stage, so good we wonder why we never noticed them before.

I admire the little mandarin trees I have known. They are a reminder that even if the odds are stacked against you, there is no need to give up hope.

They are all the hidden tenderness of winter rolled into one, blooming, clasp-in-the-hand ripples of joy.

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18 thoughts on “Little Mandarin Tree

  1. Beautiful post Selma and great metaphor for the tough survivor; your use of colour is again wonderful. Not only do I love mandarins and mandarin trees (I have one in the backyard, still waiting for the fruit) but I love the word itself, the way it rolls off the tongue (and I can smell the fruit when I say it 😉

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  2. Lovely, lyrical post and I am so amazed that you can grow mandarin oranges! That is so cool. I love them.

    Wishing you a wonderful weekend,G 🙂

    PS: I’m kinda, sorta back to blogging again. I can’t seem to kick the habit. My new computer has inspired me LOL.

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  3. Takes me back to Cyprus; we had a lemon tree, a grapefruit tree and several orange trees in our garden. Our landlord said we could have as many as we wished … as long as we left some for him.

    I used to love to take a couple of oranges with my lunch box … and I don’t suppose many people had breakfast conversations like ours:

    ‘Oh, s***! We’re out of milk!’
    ‘Never mind; go and pick yourself a grapefruit!’

    From your description, though, I don’t suppose your mandarins are edible yet?

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  4. I wish I had a Mandarin tree – sounds like it’d survive my black oozing thumb, though I admit I’m a little more than excited that my Mother’s Day plant is still living, so there may be hope for me yet! 😀 Not to mention, I can imagine how happy those oranges look… and the mandarin orange is one of my kid’s favorites. I’m curious – did you ever play with them? Like making jelly, putting it in sauces or chocolate, etc?

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  5. Hi GABRIELLE:
    It does roll off the tongue very nicely. I would love to have enough land some day to have a small orchard. That would be very cool.

    Hi GERALDINE:
    Well, that’s the best news I’ve heard in a while. G IS BACK. YAYAYAY!!! I am soooo glad.

    Hi TRAVELRAT:
    I love your story. A friend of mine down in the Southern Highlands has a small farm. The kids lunchboxes are always full of goodies like fresh figs, apples, pears and so on. I would love to live like that. My mandarins are edible but a little bitter. I might leave them for a bit longer.

    Hi AINE:
    Your Mother’s Day plant will flourish. I can feel it. I have made mandarin marmalade. It is very good. I wil try some other things too if I get time over the next few weeks!

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  6. Hi NAT:
    Citrus trees really are amazing. They give off the most glorious scent on warm evenings. To have an orange grove is a dream of mine. I would go out and sniff all night long!

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  7. Also, if you keep bees and have a citrus grove, that’s the place to put your hives in blossom time. The honey is out of this world.

    As I believe you once said, Selma, it’d keep Paddington Bear and Pooh Bear happy!

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  8. Hi Selma. Y0u have to love fruit trees, always growing and giving. Thanks for this post, it took me back. When I was a market gardener, some crops needed to be thinned. It was then I had to force myself to leave the strong ones and pull out the less robust individuals, always fighting against my natural instinct to to protect the underdog! How dumb is that!

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  9. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful writing Selma! I love how you humanized the mandarin trees and your relationship with them. Your interaction and attention to your last tree reminds me of a story I wrote about a crooked little tree who grew in the forest surrounded by tall pine and maples…. and rarely received the nutrients and sunshine it needed. It was a metaphor for a client I was working with at the time. I’ve also written one about a homeless guy and named him Old Man Willow. He just reminded me of a big old willow tree.
    I believe trees absorb and breathe ancestral spirits.

    ps. I wrote a more uplifting piece tonight. I wanted you to know because I havent been writing about the good stuff, and there really has been lots of it. xx

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  10. Hi TRAVELRAT:
    Many bears and many people would be happy with such honey. I hope one day I get to find out what honey like that is right!

    Hi MAMA ZEN:
    You are a sweetie. Thank you!

    Hi STAFFORD:
    It’s not dumb at all. I do the same thing. I often rescue plants no one else wants. I can’t help but fight for the underdog in all walks of life!

    Hi DANA:
    ‘I believe trees absorb and breathe ancestral spirits. ‘ Oh, absolutely. You put it so beautifully. That is the quote of the week right there. I love your story about Old Man Willow. Some people really are like trees and vice versa.

    Hi PETRICHORIC:
    What a lovely comment. I am so grateful you said that. And so nice to meet you!

    Hi MELEAH:
    You are too kind and such a sweetie!

    Hi TIMOTEO:
    Oh absolutely. Even the small trees need hugging!

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