and the verticals of trees

000_0652When I finally closed on my house, my first thought was of fruit trees. I figured I would spend the first fall/winter doing research, plant the next spring, and enjoy the fruits of my labors…. about now.

That didn’t happen. In fact, until this year’s asparagus, my only permanent plantings have been pretty un-noteworthy—a few bunches of sorrel, a couple of clumps of lavender. 

How I got stuck: I started my apple research at the farmers’ market in DC (where I mostly lived at the time). I found a few varieties I liked. Then I started reading, and quickly learned that none of my favorite cultivars would survive Otsego County winters. I also started to read about garden design. And light and soil requirements. And pruning. And disease. To top it all off, my lovely large yard is on the side of my house, so not only were my orcharding efforts going to be fraught with peril, any failures were going to be very public.

But this spring I was determined to plunge in my shovel and make a mark. I lost someone very close to me a year ago, and a few of my friends got me a gift certificate to a local nursery “to get something lovely for the garden.” I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate his life than with a tree—something that would live on, perhaps even longer than me, while at the same time illustrating life’s glorious and heartbreaking cycle with the turning of the seasons, year after year.

As it happened, the days leading to the tree-planting adventure brought more sad news. And while my sweet brother was foremost in my heart as I worked on Tuesday, I also thought about two others who had touched my life in very different ways. One I had never met in person, but his teachings (as master of Ashtanga yoga) have had a profound effect on me, particularly in this year. Another was a musician I didn’t know very well, but who had been a regular part of my landscape for the past 16 summers; it is hard to believe we will no longer exchange hellos on the hill behind the wardrobe house.

You never plant a single apple tree, nor do you plant your property with a single cultivar. In order for any one apple tree to bear fruit, it needs to be around other apple trees, and it needs to be around other kinds of apple trees. And here’s a cool thing: every apple seed will grow up (if it can) to be completely unique. The idea is that, of the thousands of varieties thrown off by the hundreds of apples that fall from any one tree in any one season, a few just might have the right qualities to thrive where they land. (For more on this, see Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire.)  And if two or more different trees grow up near enough each other, they will likely bear fruit, beginning the wildly creative cycle again.000_0645

Unfortunately, survival is no predictor of palatability. So when we humans discover that one-in-billion tree that produces an apple that tastes good to us, we clone it. Every MacIntosh is descended from a single tree, as is every Winesap, every Gala, every Newton Pippin.

I chose Macoun, Cortlandt and Honeycrisp. I moved them around the yard for awhile in their heavy pots until I found a configuration that felt right. I gave them luxurious holes, plenty of manure, a good soaking, thick rings of mulch. And now they’re settled into what I think of as their permanent spots. Nothing is permanent, of course, but it is nice to imagine some of our labors will bear fruit even after we’re gone.

Explore posts in the same categories: apple trees, garden, heritage, practice

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