…wo die Citronen blühn, Im dunkeln Laub die Gold-Orangen glühn?”. Quite a few holidaymakers and guests of Austria’s south will spontaneously answer Goethe’s question with “yes, I know it”. Because anyone looking for special excursion destinations in Carinthia is likely to come across Michael Ceron’s organic citrus garden on Lake Faak. Visitors to this unique world of experience can expect much more than a special botanical garden with over 280 different, sometimes rare, citrus plants from all over the world.
The idea for his “citrus paradise” did not come to the trained gardener Michael Ceron overnight, but matured over a longer period of time, just like his floral treasures. An important impulse was ultimately his observation of the widespread throwaway mentality, to which countless potted plants fall victim after they have finished flowering. Particularly in the hotel industry, many elaborately grown plants end up on the compost heap after the short summer season. Ceron no longer wanted to watch this wasteful and careless treatment of his “pupils”. At the end of his awareness process, it was clear to him that in future he would prefer to turn to long-lived plants.
The result can be marvelled at since 2008 in Austria’s first organic citrus nursery with its 4000 square metre Mediterranean garden and a six metre high greenhouse.
In addition to seating for visitors or guests at various events, there are 3000 trees and more than 280 different varieties of citrus plants. There are edible lemons, cedar lemons, pomelos and bergamots, among others. Some varieties are always in flower here, others hang ripe and heavy on the tree. “The lemons we buy in the supermarket are all not ripe and therefore sour. There is no other way, because a fully ripe lemon has no shelf life, it goes mouldy within a few hours or days,” Ceron says. And that there are lemons that only blossom for the first time after 50 or 60 years. “I’ve planted some varieties now that I won’t live to see flower,” the eloquent 57-year-old likes to explain on guided tours. “By the way, citrus fruits belong to the berry fruits, there are about 1600 varieties. One of my stars is Buddha’s hand, a lemon with ten to fifteen fingers.”
For an entrance fee, you can admire it all, with the Crispifolia, which weighs up to four kilos, or the Australian finger limes, which look like pickles when unripe, among the crowd favourites. The most valuable in Ceron’s collection come from the Medici gardens of the 16th century. Lemons, grapefruits, bergamots, pomelos, oranges, mandarins, limes, bitter oranges and kumquats grow from all over southern Europe, China, India, South America, Africa and Australia. In 2019, the special botanical sensory and adventure garden attracted more than 40,000 visitors for the first time.
The citrus nursery also offers tastings, lectures and seminars. The best sellers, however, are potted lemons, fertiliser and lemon soil, according to Ceron. “The pots are made of clay and the soil is very special. I played around with substrates and soil mixes for a long time until I found the right one.” The special organic citrus soil is supposed to make the lemon trees blossom even for hobby gardeners. “Otherwise, you usually get the wrong soil in Austria and that’s why so many potted lemons die or rot.” For this reason, Ceron set up something like a “lemon sanatorium” about 5 years ago: Every Saturday, from April to November, he holds a workshop where he gives tips to desperate amateur gardeners and fixes where there is still something to fix. Due to the great success of his “citrus consultation hour”, it will additionally take place on Mondays in July and August this year.
The culinary sector is also to be expanded. You can already buy lemon gin, lemon iced tea and pickled lemons in the shop. And last but not least – in cooperation with the organic chocolate maker Zotter – lemon pralines. Some varieties, especially the Buddhashand & Zeda lemons, are only sold to selected top chefs.
You can also take a live look at the organic citrus garden: https://www.zitrusgarten.at/galerie/zitruscam-live