We have lived in our house in a small village on the edge of Salisbury Plain almost 2.5 years. Gradually we make it and the garden our own, by giving both much of our time and money. We do so willingly, we are happy here, and feel lucky to have found this home. Last year I demolished a brick shed and used the recycled brick to lay paths through our vegetable garden. In February I planted a hornbeam hedge. This week-end, in real spring weather, I began my new project: planting an orchard.
The word ‘orchard’ is generous – really I am going to plant as many trees (apples and cobnuts) as I can squeeze into one end of our garden. Since we moved in there has been overgrown shrubbery and bushes, a bonfire, discard from nearby maple and lime trees, and wild ground. Now there is cleared ground and a huge ash pile from the terrible fire I had made yesterday evening to consume everything I dug up with mattock and crow bar, and whose embers are still smoking this evening, 24 hours later.
I am slowly working through the desolation, mattock in hand, breaking earth that is compacted and knitted with nettles and cow parsely and a wiry ground cover of ivy. It is hard, slow work and the sweat drips from my brow and I have to break off at regular intervals to gulp down cold water from a bottle but I don’t mind it because I am working my land and because I am preparing to plant an orchard. While I work I am reminded of a scene I witnessed in the mountains of north east Albania in 1995. I wrote about it in Slow Winter. When I look it up it isn’t much but it’s also quite a lot when one thinks about it: “We drive up above the village, along a rough track. A small field is enclosed by dry stone walls. On the wall leans a man, smoking. He nods as we drive by. Behind him in the field the bent figure of his wife is turning the heavy brown earth.”
Back in Wiltshire, my wife nowhere to be seen, I am working the mattock through the yellow nettle roots and calculating that I might find room for 16 trees. These will over time add depth to our garden and blossom for the bees (my neighbour Mark makes the best honey in England) and autumn fruit for eating and juicing. One day we will have family picnics in the shade of our fruit and nut trees. We will plant wild flowers in the intervals. Maybe I will patrol the orchard with an air rifle to ward off squirrels after the cobnuts, maybe I won’t.
Now, what apple trees to plant? We want eaters – any recommendations?