Mexican Orange

Mexican orange does not actually produce any fruit.

Remember when gardening took advantage of the great climate and soil of the Santa Clara Valley? Single story suburban homes with low suburban fences had generous sunny garden space. Now, multiple-storied homes on smaller parcels surrounded by big fences leave only minimal space for shady gardening. Rhododendrons, azaleas, hydrangeas and all sorts of ferns are more popular than the many fruit trees that were so much more common only a few decades ago.

‘Washington’, ‘Robertson’, ‘Valencia’ and ‘Sanguinelli’ oranges that have quite a history in local home gardens are now not much more common than the previously rare Mexican orange, Choisya ternata, which, although related, provides only mildly fragrant flowers without edible fruit. The modest white flowers are only about an inch to an inch and a half wide on loosely arranged trusses, but show up nicely against the rich glossy green foliage. They can bloom anytime, and happen to be blooming now because of the pleasant weather. Otherwise, they prefer to wait until late spring and early summer.

The trifoliate leaves (which are palmately compound with three smaller leaflets in a palmate arrangement) are about two or three inches long and wide. The individual leaflets are about one and a half to three inches long and nearly an inch wide. Foliage can get sparse on big old plants, as they eventually reach lower floor eaves. Occasional pruning of lanky stems can improve foliar density and keep plants as low as three feet. Mexican orange does not actually resemble real orange trees much, but provides nice glossy foliage that is occasionally enhanced by simple softly fragrant flowers.


Utilitarian Garden Features Became Aesthetic

Nasturtium used to be more utilitarian.

Gardening is fun. Furthermore, gardens are pretty. Some gardens also produce fruits and vegetables. Not very long ago, production of fruits and vegetables was more of a priority for more gardens. Some big gardens generated firewood and a bit of forage for livestock. Contemporary abundances allowed gardening to become more aesthetic than utilitarian.

Such abundance may not seem so apparent while so many of society could benefit from a bit more. People work more than ever to earn resources to purchase produce that they can not grow in their gardens while working so much. It has become more feasible to do so. Landscape maintenance is just another expense that many would prefer to eliminate.

Nonetheless, some popular features within modern home gardens evolved from formerly utilitarian features. Many such utilitarian features were common within the infrastructures of home gardens prior to the development of any modern technology that replaced them. Some were popular only because such technology was either expensive or uncommon.

Shade trees are among the most traditional and perhaps more recognizably utilitarian of landscape features. Although, even they have evolved. With modern air conditioning and insulation, their shade is less important than their aesthetic appeal. Window screens and rain gutters are also modern technologies that made particular garden features obsolete.

Window boxes, which are now mere ornamental features, were originally popularized for aromatic vegetation, to repel insects from windows. Rosemary, nasturtium, ivy geranium and petunia had always been some of the more popular repellent plants for this purpose. They do not obscure much sunlight as they cascade delightfully outward and downward.

Foundation plantings, which now merely soften the perpendicularity of vertical walls and horizontal garden spaces, were also utilitarian features. Compact and resilient shrubbery or perennials inhibited erosion caused by rain falling from eaves above. They obstructed splattering mud from below also. Indian hawthorn and lily of the Nile were quite effective. They could survive through summer without much irrigation, but then survive excessive moisture through winter.