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October 18, 2010

Autumn is the season where I spend most time thinking about trees. Looking at, looking under, and thinking about trees. Partly it’s the changing palette of colours – wilted greens, pallid yellows, vibrant oranges and crispy browns. Partly it’s the great heaps of kickable crunchy leaf litter. But mostly it’s because autumn is the peroration of the growing cycle, and eager-to-reproduce trees hang heavy with fruits of a summer’s labour. Autumn is about food in trees.

Apples and pears are blushing to ripeness in the nation’s orchards, cobnuts being stolen by squirrels, chestnuts falling to ground with little thumps. Trees which have been contorted into hedgerows droop with a heavy crop of fruit – sloes, haws, crab apples and damsons. Here and there in the city, lonely fruit trees are dropping free food onto the pavement. An apple for your commute?

A fruit tree is a truly wonderful thing. You plant it and in a few years it starts producing fruit. Then it carries on doing that for the rest of (and probably beyond) your lifetime. There’s no need to plough or scatter, not once it’s in, and you don’t even have to prune it that much, unless you want maximum yeild. Indeed, there’s really nothing that needs doing which you don’t have to do to a normal tree, which begs the question – why would anybody plant a normal tree? Just think, if all of the urban trees (not just in my fair city but in the UK) were fruit trees, how many hundred thousand tonnes of apples, pears, plums and cherries would be available in these urban orchards? Imagine further, if every garden had a fruit tree, or two. Imagine what a haul that would be, how many food miles would be wiped out in a trice.

I’ve heard what the council think about this. They think that people don’t pick the fruit, that it rots and falls on people’s heads and creates mess. People don’t pick because they don’t know. Perhaps every tree should have a little brass plaque which says something like “Bramley, cooking apple, please help yourself and use to cook with” or “Laxton’s superb – a fine eating apple. Pick late in the autumn and eat in slices.” Because then people will know not just what to do, but that they should do. Education is, I think, key. If councils made an obvious point of only planting fruit trees in places where they are planting trees, perhaps that would start to create a culture where people feel comfortable picking fruit from trees in the city, make the city an orchard.

I’m moving house in less than two weeks which brings with it a little blank canvas of a garden, and I’ve (we’ve) decided to plant an apple tree. It’s not so much to get apples – I doubt we’ll be in the same place by the time it fruits. It’s because one more apple tree in the world means a few more apples in the world, and a few years down the line someone is going to be dead chuffed to move in and find an apple tree in fruit. It’s fanciful, but I’d like to think that me planting this might encourage others to do the same. Then maybe, it’s just possible that one day I’ll move into a house where someone else has planted one, and I can reap their planting like people might reap mine.

Plant a fruit tree for the future.

Who’s with me?

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 18, 2010 14:11

    I’ve very happily inherited an allotment with two mature apple trees on it so can just imagine how your imaginary future home-dweller will feel. It’s a real gift. I like your phrase ‘make the city an orchard’. Fruit trees and bushes are so easy once they’re in and established. You literally just pick from them, that’s it. Same goes for nuts and fruit bushes of course, it’s so different to the trials involved in growing annual veg. I’ve planted hazel nuts, a chestnut, a gage, kiwis, and apricot, a vine and more in my fairly average Bristol garden. Not much produce yet, but like you, thinking of the future.
    Lovely post.

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