Lemons on the Terrace

On 1 July 1899 it was reported at the Perth wholesale markets that there was “no great demand” for lemons. Such dismal market reports were of no consequence to the parks and reserves committee of the Perth City Council. Thinking of the future, they had come up with a plan that would beautify the streets (in a manner similar to the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles) and make some money for the council on the side.

It was proposed, therefore, to recommend that Lisbon lemon trees be planted…

The council was to be responsible for removing the existing trees, planting the lemon trees and maintaining them until they bore fruit. Once the tree was in fruit, people would have the opportunity to submit a tender to collect and purchase the lemons and, ultimately, lease the tree. After that point it would become the contractors’ responsibility to look after the lemon tree.

The main problem with the idea was the matter of protecting the trees from would-be thieves. Again, the council had a plan; by-laws would be passed giving them the power to penalise anyone who stole the fruit or damaged the trees.

The only remaining decision was to choose where to plant them. There was no testing of the idea on a small scale; no planting on a somewhat obscure street; the City Council went straight for the most important street in Perth: St Georges Terrace. By mid-July the work had started and somewhere between 200 and 300 trees were purchased and planted.

Lemon Trees

Several weeks after the lemon trees were planted it was reported that the efforts of the council were being thwarted “by the action of vandals.” Just as they feared, in some areas, thieves had targeted the trees. Not satisfied with stealing only the fruit, they had stolen entire trees.

Vandals

Not everyone was happy with the choice of lemons and after hearing many complaints a reporter for The West Australian interviewed Mr Adrian Despeissis who was the viticultural and horticultural expert for the Department of Agriculture. His opinion was damning.

Mr Despeissis stated that…very few of the lemon trees would ever reach a bearing stage, and if ever they did they would be a nuisance to the public.

Furthermore, they were thorny, would be a nuisance to traffic if not cut back and would be covered in dust in summer which would almost certainly stunt their growth. Perth’s sandy soil was also not suited for the lemon and should they attract any pests or disease, it would be the council’s responsibility to rectify the problem.

With the decision looking as though it was a proverbial lemon, a reporter for The Daily News did not hold back stating that the council had committed a “huge blunder” and was guilty of “wasteful expenditure“.

Too Funny

Despite the heavy criticism the trees remained in place. Three months later the West Australian Sunday Times joked that in ten years “…it is proposed to put boys with glasses, sugar and squeezers under each tree to sell lemonade and produce a revenue for the town councillors to splash on municipal guzzlings.

Vandalism and the inevitable pests continued to plague the lemon trees (and the council) for four more years. Their decision had not been a successful one. When the last of the trees were removed in 1903 the Sunday Times remarked that the “miserable apologies for shrubs” were gone and the experiment was finally over.

No lemons will ever grow in St. George’s-terrace except on pub counters.

Sources:

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