When we moved into this house six years ago, we were delighted to discover an apple tree in the back garden. That very first year I picked the apples, and as I recall, though it wasn’t a bumper crop, there were enough of them to make it worthwhile rustling up some pastry and making a couple of pies. Small as these apples were, (and generally green with only a faint copper blush), they were extremely tasty.
One year I counted over a hundred apples; My freezer was overflowing with chutneys, pies, crumbles and fruit compotes; we were still eating apple sauce from our own tree at Christmas that year.
I felt I should offer something back to my hardworking little friend. So I bought some fertiliser for fruit trees, and the following spring, when we were late setting off on our spring cruise, I liberally dosed it at the appropriate time.
And that was the beginning of the end. When we returned in mid-summer, the crop was disappointing, given the effort I’d put in, but still there was enough to make a pie or two. And we noticed that a lot of the leaves seemed to have died back.
The following year the tree gave up a dozen or so apples, and the leaves quickly curled, blackened, spotted, and fell off.
Last year the tree offered five very small apples the size of kumquats. These few apples lingered in the fruit bowl whilst I decided what to do with them, and when I finally picked them up to stew them, I discovered a series of little holes dispensing brown powder into the fruit bowl. Yuk! Into the bin with them. We’d sprayed with insecticide early on that year, but sadly we’re never around at the time when the serious treatments need to be undertaken in April and May.
So in early April this year we gave the tree a good pruning, opening out the middle, hoping for the best, whilst resentfully eyeing the apple tree the neighbour’s garden. That tree never gets pruned, doctored or fertilised, yet year after year it produces an abundant crop of golden brown apples that droop unpicked from its branches, before rotting richly beneath its pristinely leaved branches.
We returned from our spring cruise a few weeks ago to find our tree was a mass of withered, curled, blackened, spotted, sticky leaves, not to mention the lawn beneath it. Not a flower nor a vestige of an apple in sight. It was time to call it a day, so we decided to cut right back to the old wood, and if it survives, all well and good. We don’t think it will, given the severity of the pruning, and we’ll chop it down completely next year if that’s the case, but we’ve reached the conclusion that our life-style at present doesn’t support the care and cultivation of fruit trees.
Clearing up the mess after the assassination, I confess to getting a lump in my throat when my husband shamefacedly brought into the house the single fruited offering he’d found amongst the carnage, together with evidence of a vain but valiant attempt at a second flowering.
Never more than a heart-beat away from anthropomorphism, now I really do feel bad.