Posted by: leafvigurs | March 27, 2015

The Orchard


Winter has finally given me the opportunity to tackle the overgrown orchard. It is a wonderful place with its raggle-taggle of fruit trees encrusted with mosses and lichens, and its community of chickens and white doves. The chickens run enthusiastically towards you when you approach in the expectation of food, while on a sunny day the doves seem almost iridescent as they wheel in great sweeps above the garden. However in its neglected state suckers and nettles bustle around the base of the trees, and congested crowns intermingle with each other blocking out light and impeding pathways, snatching at faces and hair.

Discovering harmony in this glorious mess I find akin to the process of quietening the mind in meditation. Like a head full of darting scattered thoughts it is difficult to see any sign of order, yet gradually as I remove the dead, damaged and diseased branches the true personality of the tree begins to reveal itself. Next I look for crossing branches, pausing to consider which one to take out. Similarly I try to reduce branches growing inwards to produce a crown that spreads from the centre outwards. Both trees and minds function much better when not congested, ten thousand tangled shoots like ten thousand tangled thoughts slowly suffocate the ability to produce fruit.

It is a gradual process renovating trees, and as with many things, taking time to stand back and just look is invaluable. It takes a while for me to get to know the tree and see its inherent form, and this greatly helps me to prune sympathetically. From a strictly productive viewpoint it is often quicker and simpler to remove an old tree and replace it with a new one. However to do so is to ignore a deeper side of gardening, and very few gardens are ultimately tended for commercial reasons.

These trees make for a disparate collection, some young, some old, some twist and lean acutely as though frozen in dance, while others remain straight and true like young inexperienced soldiers on parade ground. Yet individually and collectively they tell a story, in which I am but a minor character appearing for but a few intermediate chapters.

It is a large job, and one that will slowly settle into a gentle rhythm over the following years. In summer I will need to deal with the profusion of water shoots that is the natural and inevitable reaction to such an extensive pruning, as well as further removal of dead material not always apparent in dormancy.

Over the succeeding winters and summers I will continue to fine tune my work here, and maybe in years to come I will be able to take a quiet satisfaction in the movement of light and air I have been able to bring back into the orchard. Now as spring gathers pace it is time to step back again and just watch, as daffodils speckle the ground and buds begin to swell and break.

“The orchard looks happy now”, my client reflected as we chatted, and in some indefinable way this observation is as important to me as the continued productivity of the trees. In my experience gardening is not always a tangible thing, and more often it is guided by a half sensed feeling than by hard knowledge.

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