Sunday, 27 December 2009

A Coffee in the Garden



As anyone who knows me knows, I like coffee. As long as I have a couple of good, strong coffees during the day, life is good. It also good for the local baristas.

So it is exciting for me to see flowers appearing on my very own coffee bush. Outside my kitchen window at home I have a one metre high Coffea arabica. I bought it from the Friends of the Gardens (our 'Growing Friends') a couple of years (maybe three) ago, and this is the first year it has flowered.

The coffee bush is well worth growing in Sydney gardens (although perhaps I'm biased because every time I look at the bush I think of my next expresso...). The foilage is always green and lush. The clusters of white flowers along the main stems are pretty and the berries - whether green or in fully maturity red - are even more attractive.

It seems easy to grow in coast Sydney and doesn't need much added water (although I gather for good fruits, and therefore beans, it might need more water and fertilising). In fact it can grow too easily further north, becoming a week of natural bushland in northern Queensland.

My coffee bush is next to a south-west facing wall and gets full sun for only a few hours in the afternoon. Although coffee crops are mostly grown in full sun, the coffee bush grows naturally shaded by overstorey trees.

The coffee species I'm growing, Coffea arabica, is from high elevation forests in Ethiopia. It came to the Growing Friends via Arabia (15th century), Indonesia (17th century) and possibly West Indies and Central America (18th century) or even India and Sri Lanka (later still).

Coffea is in the huge (7,000+ species), mostly tropical, plant family Rubiaceae. Well known members of this family also grown in our garden are gardenia and coprosma. The easiest way to pick a plant that belongs to the Rubiaceae is to look at its leaves - if they are in pairs, opposite one another on the stem, and with a pair of mini-leaves (stipules) between them, it's quite possibly a Rubiaceae.

As always, there are exceptions... But to me the finest Rubiaceae is Coffea and it has the most beautiful opposite leaves and stipules.

I do think I'll just enjoy my coffee bush for its horticultural merit. I was listening with interest to Simon Marnie (ABC Sydney Radio, Weekend Show) talking a few weeks ago about preparing and roasting your own coffee beans but I have a suspicion they won't live up to my (high) expectations.

The images of are of the first opened flower on my coffee bush, plus a coffee bush in fruit from August last year, in Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens

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