The Orchard

Originally the fruit orchard occupied the southwest corner of my property and was comprised of a dwarf peach, one lemon tree, three apple trees, a prized apricot, an avocado, walnut, and an orange tree. The previous owners planted them, perhaps ten years earlier as an adjunct to their vegetable garden, and cared for them until I purchased the land. I assumed stewardship; watering, weeding and pruning, with respect for what existed when I arrived, and in return some prospered, while others met with their demise.

From the trees that survived, I gathered fruit which I carried to my kitchen or to my neighbors. I made applesauce, apple pies, and an unusual pizza concoction that calls for green apples, walnuts and Brie. Anyone with a lemon tree knows that one can provide enough fruit for many families. Ours became the source for the neighbor children’s lemonade sales, one mother’s prize lemon meringue pies, and flavoring for baked fish and iced tea. Another neighbor asked to collect the fruit from my orange tree. She juiced the oranges, and began delivering fresh squeezed orange juice to various individuals in our community. Showing no signs of ill health, these trees at first appeared to be destined for long and useful lives.

After more than a decade, maintaining their health and care posed more of a challenge for me. Before the dwarf peach reached its end, only a sporadic amount of fruit was produced, from which I made an occasional pastry. The walnut tree struggled to bear a handful of nuts, and the lone avocado never did produce fruit. Eventually the trees withered and died. Whether it was the coastal weather, or my lack of experience that proved fatal to them, I do not know, but I still had enough apples to keep me busy in the kitchen on Saturdays. That is until neighboring horses began to partake of the fruit. To deter them from entering, and in an effort to save the apples, I constructed a stile between the pasture and the orchard.

When remembering that first apricot tree, one particular person comes to mind. A past member of the nursery staff, an acute-minded botanist, who favored its fruit. He could be found at lunchtime quietly plucking several succulent apricots from the branches, and savoring their richness, while resting in the shade. For many years this tree produced a profusion of the sweetest apricots imaginable. Other staff members ate them right off the boughs, rarely leaving enough for me to make desserts or marmalade. The day I noticed its trunk splitting down the middle was a sorrowful day. I experimented with various remedies, but its decline was imminent.

These were the first of many changes in the orchard, the boundaries of which became less defined as the area expanded to include a nearby vegetable garden. Fifteen years passed, during which time a raised bed was added for herbs and edible flowers that could be changed seasonally. A pine seedling grew to fill one corner and a hedge of rosemary spread to border the opposite path, providing herbs for my favorite homemade bread. Alongside the hedge was placed a seesaw, handmade for the local children by a business partner. Barbed wire fencing on one side of the orchard was dismantled as oak seedlings grew and matured. An irrigation faucet was moved to the side to make way for a naturally developing path, worn by the neighborhood youngsters who came and went through an adjacent meadow. 

With only three members of the original orchard remaining, one apple, a lemon and an orange tree, I looked for a way to retain some sense of what was once there. An apricot tree was planted to replace the one lost. The lady next door continued to juice the oranges, and there was an occasional apple strudel. One day while browsing in a local garden shop, I came across a shingle that simply read “Orchard”. The marker appeared to be made out of recycled roofing material and I decided it would make a perfect token signpost. Purchasing the rustic sign, I brought it home to hang on one of my fruit trees the following day.

My daughter arrived home from college the end of July. One day she entered the house with an armload of apricots for baking. She collected them from the far end of our side yard. A nearby oak had almost obliterated the apricot tree from view, but she found her way under its branches and past the marker, on a small gravel footpath. That night we enjoyed her homemade pie for dessert. Just a few days later a friend of hers surprised me with a jar of apricot jam. “I made it with the fruit from your tree” she said. The jam had a ribbon and bow around the lid- a gift for dog-sitting her puppy while she was away one weekend.

I have now lived here with my family for almost thirty years. Although the southwest area of the property no longer holds its original appearance, the few remaining trees still bear fruit. Only remnants of the stile remain, at the fence line, and ornamentals now thrive in what was once the raised vegetable bed. The rosemary hedge is gone, but the seesaw is used by a new generation of children, and I continue to refer to this corner as “the orchard” if for no other reason than to rekindle my memories of this place.

Rainie Fross 2007