An alternative winter food garden.

It’s amazing what you can find to eat in a suburban winter garden.

We have a rare fruit tree expert that works at the nursery on Saturdays. His name is Dennis, and here are a few snaps of his winter suburban garden in Melbourne.

The first stop was the amazing Tamarillo tree down the side of his house in what seems like a really shady spot. It literally has over 100 ripe tamarillo in vibrant red. What a ripper !


The amazing tamaraillo tree

Walking back I spotted this beautifully espaliered persimmon tree. This type of growing makes great use of limited space.

Espaliered persimmon tree

right next to that was a big bushy macadamia nut tree. It was laden with fruit which Dennis said were a few months away from ripening. Definately something to look forward to. Not all nuts you buy are fresh, but these ones will be.


Macadamia nuts ripening

Dennis has quite a small house block, but has learnt how to grow many plants in pots. He manages to fill in all the spaces. What was this next plant ? I had no idea. I think it is a vanilla bean plant, but will check with Dennis. I can however imagine him making a batch of vanilla bean ice cream. Vanilla is the second most valuable spice after saffron. UPDATE: Message from Dennis – They are not Vanilla Beans but Carob beans, seedling Carob trees are male or female but grafted trees of “Clifford” have both so will crop well at an early age.  Beans mature to perfection in Melbourne in summer.

carob bean

Carob Beans

OK, so there was some “normal” edibles like these lettuce growing from seeds and ready to transplant. This mixed non-heading lettuce can be grown all year round in Melbourne, but if you grow icebergs, make sure you choose the winter varieties for growing now.

Lettuce seedlings

Round to the front garden and here is some kaffir lime. These ugly looking fruit make great juice and of course the leaves are used extensively in Thai cooking. Both the leaf and the zest of the rind is used.

kaffir limes

Back to the more unusual, I see a babaco, which is a type of paw paw that you can grow in Melbourne. Next to it is a fairly inconspicuous green fruit which turns out to be a black sapote or chocolate pudding fruit as that is what the middle of the fruit is like. It is actually a type of persimmon native to the Americas.

A babaco is a type of paw paw

Balck sapote or chocolate pudding fruit

Balck sapote or chocolate pudding fruit

Of course a visit would not be complete if we didn’t have a little snack once back inside. But first there was something new to learn. you can keep your mango tree inside over winter and it will grow quite happily. What a wonderful idea. I have seen a cafe do this with arabica coffee plants, but never anyone do it with a mango.

A happy little mango tree growing inside over winter

We first tried a pepino which looks a bit like an apple cucumber but tastes more like a melon. It is actually more closely related to the tomato and eggplant family (Solanum).  I liked it. It is apparently hard to transport, so you will never taste one as good as this if you ever see it in a fruit shop.

Next was a persimmon. Not sure where Dennis got this from as it seemed totally out of season. It still tasted good though. UPDATE from Dennis: The Persimmon was off the espaliered tree and of the “Fuyu” variety.  Great choice as it is Non-Astringent so can be eaten crisp like an apple or left to go soft like an Astringent variety.

This pepino was delicious


The persimmon wasn't too bad either

To sum up, it is always a joy to pop in and see Dennis’ garden if I am ever in the area. He has a wealth of knowledge, including that gained from when he lived in New Zealand, which is probably an even more challenging environment to grow some of these plants in than Melbourne. Dennis will be ordering some more of the sub-tropical plants for the nursery once it warms up a bit. Now is not a good time to be planting some of these as young plants. You need to nurture and condition them to our cooler climate.

Come and have a chat to Dennis on most Saturdays, down at Gardenworld.

This last photo sums up his garden – a very efficient use of space !

Using a small space wisely

Using a small space wisely


  1. Dennis says:

    My Avocado, Coffee and Curry Leaf tree are doing well with being brought inside on cold nights to watch MasterChef with me! They are good company as they do not talk and spoil the program. The Mango is fine as I can keep the soil moist but not wet so like the dry season up north!

  2. andrew chan says:

    Dennis your fruits are looking great I am envious of that babaco ! Can I ask how you are growing the black sapote? I notice it is in a pot and has one fruit on it. How old is it? Do you mulch? How do you fertilise and how often do you water? Do you keep it protected from frosts? So many quetions ! I brought 2 black sapotes recently and am keen to see how other melbournians are growing this subtropical tree.

  3. Dennis says:

    Andrew, I am growing the Black Sapote similar to all my other sub-tropicals initially in 300 mm terracotta coloured plastic pots for the first two to three years. Like all my sub-tropicals in pots I use a long life slow release fertilizer like Ferticote in spring and then fortnightly waterings of a liquid fertilizer on the foliage and soil until autumn. I mulch during the warmer months with 2 cm of Lucerne straw which reflects the sun and keeps the feeder roots cool and also adds nutrition as it decomposes and must be topped up. In winter mulch is less important but helps reduce weeding.

    The Black Sapote is related to the Persimmon but different in that it is evergreen and very sensitive to cold not just frost. My tree is three years old and over-winters outdoors and last winter came through well but this winter lost quite a few leaves and branch tips. Even up north trees have been cut down by frost but will grow again. I am not sure whether the tree will acclimatise to cold weather or not yet but am hoping it will like the macadamias did. With the warmer weather new branches and leaves will soon develop and as it is a grafted tree flowers at the leaf nodes. Seedlings may take a bit longer to begin to flower.

  4. Andrew says:

    Thank you very much for the detailed reply. I was getting worried about the sensitivity to frost/cold with the black sapotes so I have recently moved them indoors. Good to know that they can recover well after a little frost. I will bring them back out once the weather warms up. In regards to the terracotta coloured pots is that to keep the roots cool?

    Do your black sapotes get much sun? North facing etc..?

  5. Dennis says:

    Black Sapote are very sensitive to the frost / cold and you can see the first signs of cold stress when you see little black specks on the leaves or stems. Then it is best to move to a sheltered position if you can and bring back once the weather warms up. Note if you bring them indoors watch for insects like mites or white fly etc. The terracotta coloured plastic pots is to keep the roots cool as is the mulch as they would cook in a black plastic one. My Black Sapote enjoys a position facing north to avoid the worst of the hot summer afternoon sun and also get some shelter from the hot dry north-west winds in summer. Keep the roots moist (but not saturated) in summer and the Black Sapote will withstand the temperatures we get without damage and grow well.

    1. bobins says:

      Hie did you have to get custom lighting for your black sapote tree during the winter months when they were indoors or did the celling bults do the job?? I just bought some 2 year old seedlings and got those black spots but they don’t show any signs of dying/wilting.

      Kind regards and thanks

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