In the past five years, I have planted nearly fifty apple trees. Not the typical orchard varieties you can climb with or without a ladder, but rather apple trees suitable for suburban backyards. The idea came to me when traveling on bicycle through the French countryside in Normandy. Kilometer after kilometer I noticed lovely “tree fences”. At a cider tasting along the route, I asked the proprietor what trees were growing along the border of his property. He explained that the fences were apple espaliers and in addition to producing up to 100 apples per tree, they were designed to create landscape architecture and delineate his farm from his neighbor’s. From this journey my apple obsession sprouted. At first, I planted just six small trees I purchased for $30 each. For several years I pruned and trained them to grow between the arches of two pergolas. It took three years for fruit to begin growing and my patience wore thin. While lovely, I wanted enough apples to make pies, to eat out of hand, and to share with friends. A delicious bite of apple tart later, I began drawing my own espaliered backyard. Soon a sprawling pencil sketch of a Belgian jump fence emerged. Impatient for fruit, I sought the expertise of apple growers and learned that fruit producing espaliers growing several varieties on one tree were available in early spring. The order went in that November day.
Apple trees should be planted in very early spring when New England land is just barely waking up. However, my hopes were dashed when April, and then May, arrived and twenty four inches of snow still covered the entirety of our acre plot. The day my gorgeous specimens arrived, the land was clearly confused. Bulbs planted in late October (daffodils, tulips, hyacinth, crocus and allium) already dappled the garden beds. Color that was meant to begin in late March bloomed all together with their April and May cousins. The beds looked gorgeous, yet crowded. The land was confused. Crossing my fingers, I lined up the apple espaliers, grabbed a shovel and began to dig their new homes. A week later, the satisfaction of a breathtaking image, far exceeded my black and white drawings. Inspecting these cherished trees with their healthy, already heavy fruit weighing down their branches brings relief that the earth knows what it is doing even if I am uncertain. Twenty varieties will be ready for harvest between late September and mid October. The anticipation of the first bite of my apple dream makes my mouth water.