Farewell to old friends

The beauty of the winter is that there is time for the land to replenish with water. Rain that tails in autumn does not evaporate as the trees in many cases are losing their leaves, allowing rain to penetrate deep into the tree canopy and down into the soil.

It all takes time which has been w’ell demonstrated in my own wilderness garden. I’m downsizing thanks to the Christchurch earthquakes to allow for a building expansion next door but I had to wait for the rain so that I could lift trees and plants that I wanted to keep. The land has been totally organic for 33 years now’ and over that time every bit of organic matter has been returned to it so it is not surprising that the soil is rich in organic matter and — in true organic style — holds a lot of w’ater.

However, even after a wet autumn I was still having to w’ater in many of the plants due to the dry subsoil. It probably wasn’t really necessary because there was all the winter rain yet to come and it will have more than penetrated to the full depth of the soil available by spring.

But there was another reason for a bit of watering in and that was the presence of convolvulus entwined through the root-ball of the trees and shrubs in particular. Back in summer I root pruned all the trees and shrubs by spade, about 30-60cm out from the trunk, with a view to lifting the plants in question with a nice bit of soil attached. The theory is that root pruning encourages new fibrous roots into the root ball, thus ensuring a successful and less stressful experience for the plant in question and rapid reestablishment in the new position.

Sadly, by the time the tell-tale white runners of the convolvulus had been excavated out from the root balls, much of that theory had been dashed, hence why 1 applied a bit more loving care with a dash of water.

Ideally, I would have taken cuttings of plants in winter for re-establishment but the timing was wrong as the site needed to be cleared early. To overcome this, all the required material was dug out and stockpiled in a sheltered safe position where their natural persistence will allow new’ shoots to emerge in early spring when the required cuttings will be taken.

I’m doing the same thing with my 30 year old asparagus crowns. A few plants were established in a new area last spring but they will not be ready for harvesting for several years. To reduce the asparagus ‘hungry gap’, the old crowns w’ere dug up in big clumps and transported to a safe holding area where they will shoot in spring, led by the storage root reserves they have amassed during the last growing season.

I will still have asparagus on the menu this coming spring.

But the downgrading of my garden will come at a cost, the complete loss of all my heritage fruit trees. The heritage apple stock included Scarlet Pimpernel but to me that’s 110 loss: it was grown because it has a very early ripening fruit and is an example of what can be done to obtain fresh apples throughout the year. Grown well, they can be picked in my Christchurch garden between the Christmas and the New Year and used fresh from the tree, but they have to be eaten fresh and do not keep.

The next variety was Discovery, a real apple and one with a shelf life of a couple of months. They mature in late January-early February and are used as a commercial apple in the UK and Europe. Sunset comes to maturity in March most years and is a sweet Cox-style apple that will maintain shelf life into May. There was also a Laxtons Fortune which has not been very successful over the years and is prone to biennial bearing. The same applies to the Tydemans Late Orange, another Coxlike variety’ which also has strong biennial bearing characteristics.

That brings us to the last variety of note, the Granny Smith which is harvested into May and which will keep right through into November under good conditions.

I had also wanted to have a Sturmer but never got around to it — it’s a variety that has even better storage characteristics than the Granny Smith.

All these varieties have the advantage of being trouble-free — I’ve never had to spray them, and in fact Discovery and Sunset in particular have never had a single incidence of black spot that I’ve seen in the last 30+ years. Codlin moth incidence has been variable but usually a bountiful harvest of apples has always been obtained.

There were several other varieties of apples on the site but generally they were more for curiosity than necessity. One of note was Lord Nelson which produces huge culinary apples as early as January but also has a tendency to be biennial in bearing. Another culinary apple grown more recently was the Bramley Seedling, but it proved to be a disappointment with susceptibility to codlin moth in particular.

I will miss the pear trees too, in particular Conference which keeps for several months and has proved very reliable. It even appeared to be able to produce mature pears without pollination.

The other true pear was a William Bon Chretian which did well but has a brief season of harvesting and requires immediate and careful watching for best eating when it can be delicious.

I shall also miss the Nashi pears. This fruit was all the rage decades ago but never really caught on, mainly because it tends to be sold when immature. Properly ripened on the tree, the Nashi is nectar from the gods but for this you need to give it bird protection from an early date.

Then there was the Damson tree and the green gage. Of all the plum tribe, the Damson is supreme by far for the making of flavour some jams, chutneys and cheeses and I might have to make space for this fruit tree in what remains of my garden.

What am I left with? The wilderness concept behind my garden is retained, embellished by the great Sequoia I planted on my arrival 30+years ago. There is also the quality walnut variety Vina, a sweet chestnut and a couple of oaks that set the framework for a mature paradise. It will be fun fitting it all into the picture frame.

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