The Fruits of Our Labors

The orchard, newly planted

Our small orchard was planted out on July 4th, the first opportunity we had to transfer the 12 bare-root whips I had received back in January from their temporary pots to permanent ground. It took so much longer than I had anticipated to ready that permanent spot: building a retaining wall along the driveway in order to provide a level grade, getting the fence up to protect the young trees from the deer, and erecting our garden shed in the adjacent space. Finally, armed with pick-axe and shovel, we broke ground, amended soil, and wrestled the trees from their pots though the day was a hot one – we just didn’t want to wait any longer to establish our orchard.

When I say ‘small orchard’ I mean that literally. It’s not just that we have a small number of trees, but rather that I have pruned them according to the advice from a book called Grow a Little Fruit Tree, which will yield . . . well, small trees. The idea is to nurture trees whose mature canopies top out at about 6 feet, meaning the fruit is easy to harvest; crops are reasonably sized; and the trees may be planted relatively closer together.

We have planted two plums (Early Laxton and Blue Damson), two apricots (Blenheim and Moorpark), two pears (Comice and Seckel), four apples (Ashmead’s Kernel, Yellow Bellflower, Grimes Golden, and Cox’s Orange Pippin), a Van Deman quince, and a Black Mission fig – all this in a space that measures just over 100 feet square.

Of course, it will be two or three years before we harvest any fruit. Cultivating an orchard is an exercise in delayed gratification, to be sure. But we have the thrill of anticipating the literal fruit of our labor someday and the satisfaction of reaping the metaphorical fruit already: I am utterly delighted to gaze out upon the orchard from the nook in the kitchen, appreciating that it stands both as a promise for the future and in tribute to our labor of love in fulfilling the vision we have for Acorn Lodge.

Meanwhile, much of our recent labor has yielded tangible results more quickly: the lavender we planted at the edge of the orchard is in bloom, and the basil that we’ve been carefully tending nearby has already been put to use in several batches of pesto for the freezer in addition to lending flavor and visual appeal to homemade lemonade.

Lemonade with Lavender and Basil
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup water
3 tbs. dried lavender blossoms
1½ cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 fresh basil sprigs
3 cups water
Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Set over a medium heat and simmer, without stirring, until the sugar is fully dissolved and the resulting syrup is clear. Remove from the heat and stir in the lavender blossoms. Leave to steep for at least 30 minutes and as long as an hour. Strain the syrup into a pitcher, then add the lemon juice, basil sprigs, and water. Stir and chill thoroughly before serving.

 

For me, the surest contentment comes of having done the work myself, whether stirring up a pitcher of lemonade from scratch or planting out an orchard on a previously bare patch of ground. I like feeling at the end of the day that I’ve been productive – that is the sweetest fruit of all.

Lavender in the orchard

“The reward of a thing well done, is to have done it.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Through the Garden Gate

When the world wearies . . .

I’ve always bristled (inwardly) at the habit most have of calling the area(s) around their homes the ‘yard.’ Prisons have yards, my home will be surrounded by a garden, thank you very much. More than a mere quibble over semantics, these two terms connote to me a different approach to and relationship with the out-of-doors spaces that are part-and-parcel of the total package one calls ‘home.’ I understand that many (if indeed not most) people have no interest in gardening, either for pleasure or for the sake of duty in keeping up appearances, and for them, a yard that is landscaped is perfectly satisfactory — hire a mow/blow/go team and Bob’s-your-uncle. I aspire to something else entirely.

I enjoy gardening — I appreciate it as a creative outlet, I relish it for the opportunity it provides to nurture, and I embrace (mostly!) the actual physical labor involved. A garden is a dynamic entity, never exactly the same season to season, let alone across the years, begging always for a critical eye and an openness to change. The ongoing care and attention a garden requires engages and satisfies my impulse to nurture: I pinch back here, stake there, and feed and water as I putter about. The bending, stretching, and heavy lifting of garden-making and maintaining meet well with my desire to practice ‘functional fitness’ — why exercise in a gym when one can be doing something productive, out-of-doors no less?

We’ve (finally) begun to design the gardens of Acorn Lodge, and I am determined that we will have gardens, rather than landscapes, even with the challenges that gardening ‘in the wild’ will present. I need to be able to garden: for me, gardening is as much about the making of a home as is the decorating and upkeep of the interior of the house; ‘home’ as expression of and sanctuary for self encompasses the indoors and outdoors, both. That said, it is clear that the gardens for front and back of the house are subject to differing parameters, not to mention have different functions to fulfill.

The front garden must not only be deer-resistant, but also blend in harmoniously with the natural setting. We’ll add a few trees for fall color but mostly take happy advantage of the numerous deciduous oaks that grace the property to provide height to the scheme. The various shrubs and grasses that will be grouped ‘naturally’ amidst the trees will be not only deer-resistant but also drought-tolerant. Closer to the house, we’ll have plants that offer fragrance and those that are a tad more decorative in terms of flowers and/or foliage — vines, perennials, and ferns, but nothing that feels too ‘citified’ for the sylvan setting. We hope to unearth a large number of boulders and stones as we begin the grading the property for the various buildings, and we’ll put that rock to good use in the form of pocket walls that will define planting areas in the most indigenous manner possible. The front garden will extend an invitation and welcome into our home in a manner both graceful and sincere.

As for the back garden, I hope to be able to protect (read: fence) it adequately from the deer (and other critters who may be destructive). Here will be my kitchen garden, chicken coop, and bee hive, not to mention the space to propagate roses, lilies, and hydrangeas. Here is where I’ll tend to my full-to-the-brim English-style borders, and I hope to have a small greenhouse, too. Enclosed and cultivated in a manner that is distinct from the more wild garden in front of the house, the back garden is where we will sit and relax with a cup of tea or glass of wine (or beer!), enjoying a good read or good conversation, or simply the silence. It will be the primary vista from the majority of rooms in the house, and it is the nucleus around which the house, cottage, and barn are clustered, the heart of the property. The back garden will provide sustenance, both physical and spiritual, and a warm embrace.

Recognizing the limits of our stamina and time, we are relieved to accede to the dictum of our neighborhood association which limits ‘landscaping’ to the immediate environs of each home, leaving the majority of each property to the wild state in which it was acquired. Our daughter says, “It’s like you live in a beautiful campground, except people sleep in houses instead of tents,” and, as long as we can have our garden (cake), that’s just fine with us (we’ll eat it too!).

“We must cultivate our garden.”

— Voltaire, Candide