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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Fruit Tree Paralysis

I cannot move. I can't lift a finger, much less a shovel, until I decide … and I cannot decide. The cornerstone of this garden — the anchor, the very backbone — is to be a small handful of fruit trees, carefully selected and placed for maximum vitality and production. Once these are in place, I'm convinced, the rest of the design will just fall into place.
So which fruit trees?
As a child, I blithely reaped the benefits of my Dad's orcharding hobby. Come Autumn, I had only to step outside and I was bound to fall headfirst into some delicious apple or Asian pear dangling from a loaded branch (and lest you think this is some sort of metaphor, I cannot count the number of times I actually thrashed my head into low-hanging fruit, and lest you think that is some kind of further metaphor, some of those apples were big enough to raise welts). I think there were around 100 fruit trees in all, dozens of varieties, rare and commonplace, some drooping with the weight of their bounty, some sulking and stubbornly barren. There was no dearth of options. The only difficult choice I ever really had to make, on those October patrols through the foggy orchard with my Dad, was at what point to stop eating apples in the interest of digestive well-being.
But now, now, there are hard decisions to make. I can squeeze only a precious few fruit trees into the confines of Fencebroke North (aka backyard) and so I feel enormous pressure to choose carefully. Each tree must pull its weight, must provide multiple benefits in one. It is not enough for an apple to be delicious; it must also be disease-resistant, compact, productive, versatile in use, long-lived in storage, and attractive, to say nothing of appropriate bloom time for pollination or harvest time for optimal, well, harvesting. Even the ability to imbue magical powers or cure old-timey ailments — while certainly a bonus — is not sufficient to guarantee a place on my roster. If this is to be my all-star assembly of fruity superheros (OK, that came out wrong) I have to consider every combination of talents, virtues and shortcomings to ensure a stellar cast — scratch that — the perfect cast. The permutations are endless; the task is daunting, overwhelming, herculean, in a word: paralyzing. And not at all hyperbolic, I assure you.
And so it is that I live like a lost soul. Every day, poring over my memorized, tattered Raintree Nursery catalog as if it were scripture: seeking wisdom, seeking guidance, seeking some overlooked tidbit of truth that will lead me out of this dark place. I call up my Dad for advice and for a brief moment, he illuminates the path, offering sage recommendations and observations from a lifetime of experience, but as soon as the phone goes dead, as soon as I glance at my madman's scribble of notes — crossed out, circled, underlined, bulleted, illegible gibberish — I am back to hand-wringing and second-guessing. And still, I have not placed my fruit tree order. I have not gotten out of bed, have not looked outside, have not lifted a finger. For I cannot move.


  1. Tish tosh, my dear urban arboretum aristocrat. I urge you to balance the crushing weight of potential plantations with the common sense sandbag that whatever you plant it will eventually die and you'll have to plant something else. The sad but true statistic is that, despite laborious selection process and any amount of money spent, 100% of plants eventually end up in that great compost heap in the sky. So go wild!

    Do not see this as criticism, oh future vineyard viscount and dreamer of orchard dreams. Just a friendly reminder not to get too attached. Any thing you plant is at an advantage simply because it is you that planted it and will likely thrive. Your family (myself included) and friends will enjoy any and every living thing there is to be with while visiting your manor house and surrounding grounds. So don't fret overmuch.

    Also, I vote Asian apple-pear and peach.

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