Visiting Mark Kickbusch

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Many members will know Mark Kickbusch, who attends club meetings regularly, generally with several trees in hand to donate to the raffle. I wonder how many would suspect that Mark lives in a quaint cottage on half an acre, in an historic little town, where he tends over a hundred rare fruit trees. That town is Forest Hill, near Gatton, and Mark has lived there for 9 years. It is not really very far from Brisbane – about an hour’s drive – and is a great place to go for a Sunday drive because of its historic buildings (two pubs!) and surrounding landscape.

Mark’s property has the lovely black soil for which the Lockyer Valley is renowned, but it is subject to quite heavy frosts. So Mark has planted numerous stone and pome fruits which can withstand frost, and these are doing well, but he experiences some difficulty with the semi-tropicals. Not for want of trying though – as he has quite a collection of warmer climate trees like mangoes, custard apples, Kwai Muk and Green Sapote. In fact Mark’s whole garden demonstrates his attitude of trying anything out, and thereby pushing the boundaries of where and how we might expect trees to grow.

An interesting feature of Mark’s garden is his collection of really unusual rare fruits. These include, for example, Kitembilla, Paccalacca (which has flowered), Tazziberry and Buddha’s hand citron. They are amongst many other rare and more common fruiting trees.  Some are interesting varieties that Mark has procured from specialist places such as Ric Deering’s. He pointed out, for example, the “Meager” Plum which seems to be quite resistant to fruit fly, and the Golden Fig which he says is the best eating. His Jujube has had a first fruit – this will make many club members envious! A very large Kei Apple tree has not yet fruited, but Mark has planted another nearby in case it is requiring a male and female. A very old original tree in the garden is a 50 year old Persimmon – probably Nightingale.

Also tucked in spots around the garden are some very interesting native fruiting shrubs and trees, including Native Mulberry (which has a tiny white fruit), Native Ginger, Queensland Arrowroot, Bolwarra, Currant Bush (tastes like dried fruit), Wombat Berry, Finger Lime, Burdekin Plum, a special Lillypilly from the Kimberly region, and many more.

No spot is wasted in Mark’s garden. Along the front fence are some interesting vines such as Gold Kiwifruit, Panama Gold passionfruit and Passiflora foetida (from which he makes cordial). Out the back are his productive vegetables beds, with winter crops of cabbages and other greens already well advanced. All the trees are on a watering system drawing from town water – evidence of Mark’s good planning in setting up his orchard.

It is quite clear that Mark is a collector with a passion for the unusual. As well as growing rare fruits, he has several other very interesting hobbies. He restores old motor bikes, collects some very unusual antiques, and indulges in jam-making, and preserving fruits. This makes good use of his excess fruit. Before leaving, we persuaded him to share some of his favourite recipes with the club.

Mark’s Bottled Persimmons:  Most people wouldn’t think of bottling persimmons, but Mark says they preserve really well and make an excellent stewed fruit, served with cream. His method: Take ripe but still quite firm persimmons and pack them whole in preserving jars. Cover them with a light syrup of 3 cups water to 1 cup sugar. Bring to the boil to 170 for 2 1/2 hours