It’s Not Rocket Surgery, Any Idiot Can Grow Lemons

For Kathy, limoncello; for me, bitter disappointment
Photo by Ulrika / Getty images Plus

I used to blame my inability to grow plants on my urban upbringing, but Berneice grew up on a farm in Tennessee and can’t grow anything either, so I can’t blame concrete.

It’s a skill we don’t possess.

We love the idea of growing something — anything really — but we’ve reached the point where it seems unnecessarily cruel to bring a living thing into our home.

I wanted to leave my two lemon trees alone so they could do their business.

I figured they’d have a better chance of pollinating if no one was watching.

Our friend Kathy Bye has lemons coming out the wazoo. She has a Meyer lemon tree, and it’s prolific.

I’m not sure she could stop the lemon production if she wanted to — they pop out like pimples on a teenager.

She literally turns lemons into lemonade.

She gives her homemade limoncello as gifts.

Even her husband, Ray, smells lemony fresh.

This would be a good time to mention that I kill things. Houseplants, herbs, grass, trees, shrubs, bushes — if it grows, I can kill it in record time.

My neighbor can confirm that the phrase “The grass is always greener on the other side” is not true; my lawn looks like a grenade-testing area. I failed to grow mulch.

If I even call a gardening store, they have four plants die. I stopped to admire a friend’s rosebush, and it withered in a week.

I was once given a fern as a gift, and I could hear it scream. I’m pretty sure I once killed an artificial ficus.

Plants know I’m a death sentence. It’s not about if — just when.

I planted an orange tree in my backyard 10 years ago.

The only thing it’s produced is sharp spikes.

Seriously, not one orange in a decade but thousands of spikes.

Not only won’t it give me any fruit, but it’s armed itself. It mocks me.

The thing is, I really want to be able to grow something.

The concept of eating something I actually grew is pretty cool.

I don’t want to be on my deathbed realizing that the only thing I successfully grew was hair.

So when Kathy shared her lemon success, I thought maybe this is it.

She said any idiot could grow a Meyer lemon tree.

So I went online and was filled with hope when the ad said, “Any idiot can grow a Meyer lemon tree.”

Hey, I’m an idiot — I can do this.

Completely ignoring my black-thumb history, I planted a Meyer in the perfect sunny spot.

Six months later, it gave me a lemon. One lemon.

I nurtured that lemon. It was my new lemon baby.

It started out the size of a grape, and for weeks it sputtered along.

Soon it was a golf ball — go, lemon, go! It wasn’t dying. What had I done right?

When it got about as big as a kitten’s head, it stopped growing and started getting more yellow. I assumed this was good.

Unable to contain my enthusiasm, I went out to the south 40 (side of my house) and plucked the little jewel.

It smelled like a lemon. It tasted like a lemon. I grew a lemon! I was finally a farmer.

That was three years ago, and it was also my last lemon.

One stinking lemon, but the tree is still alive. I viewed my glass of lemonade as half-full, so I sought out professional help (not for me, for the tree).

The diagnosis was that the tree needed to cross-pollinate. I had to get my tree a spouse.

After six months, there were no lemons on the old tree, but strangely the new tree sprouted two lemons — twins!

It seems I also need help matchmaking because the husband got pregnant.

That’s two trees and almost four years to yield three lemons. I guess I could follow Kathy’s lead and give them as gifts.

I mean, who doesn’t like a thimble of limoncello?


Gary Yordon is president of the Zachary Group in Tallahassee, hosts a political television show, “The Usual Suspects,” and contributes columns to the city’s daily newspaper, the Tallahassee Democrat. He may be reached at

Categories: Opinion