Tree of the week: ‘The grapefruit tree’s small, beautiful blossoms looked like stars’

The artist Cece Cole would spend hours working in the shade of the fragrant grapefruit tree that stood outside her old studio in Phoenix, Arizona. All year round its branches were heaving with delicious yellow fruit. “For some reason, this tree always had fruit on it,” she says. “It was never a seasonal thing.”

The tree is at the back of the garden of the rented house where Cole, 51, spent two years with her husband Gerd, their four dogs and a cat. They moved out in March, but until then she would set up a table under the tree and work on large-scale installations. “I worked on a 30ft long piece under there,” she says. “I would tie rope to it to hang my fabrics.”

The grapefruit tree would invariably end up in all the photos that she took of her art, casting interesting shadows. “It was like having a second roof over my head because it was that dense with leaves and fruit. That tree gave so much shade. That one little spot was the best place to be in the yard.” Phoenix can reach 40C or more in summer.

Cole used to pick the plump fruit from the tree and juice them to make summer cocktails or mix the juice with soda water for a refreshing drink. “That was the best!” She would take bagfuls of the fruit to friends, as she was the only one in house who appreciated them. “My husband is not a fan of grapefruit,” she laughs.

The trunk was painted white to repel pests. Bees, birds and butterflies were constantly buzzing and fluttering around the tree, attracted by the sweet aroma, which wafted through the whole house. “Usually it would blossom and have fruit on it at the same time,” she says. The “small, beautiful blossoms” looked like little stars to her. “There would be tons of them at a time, so the fragrance was intense.”

Cole now lives a few miles away. She has taken seeds from the tree so she can sprout more grapefruit trees outside her new studio. “It was heartbreaking to leave,” she says. “I got so attached. Trees are comforting. I miss having a fruit tree right over my head all day.”