Fantasies and Follies

Garden of Hesperides
The Garden of the Hesperides c. 1892,
Frederic Leighton (1830-1896).
Lady Lever Art Gallery, National Museums Liverpool

Some of us have a fantasy garden, perfect soil with the perfect climate for whatever we wish to grow. There are rolling acres extending beyond the horizon, an unlimited supply of labour and of course a bottomless pot of gold. The reality is a constant battle against the elements, unspeakable soil, plagues of pests, invasions of rampant weeds and back-breaking hard work. So why do we do it? The reasons are as many and as varied as there are gardeners, but I suspect it is because we are dreamers at heart.

I have always longed for an orchard, not a few scrubby old apple trees at the bottom of the garden, but a field filled with venerable gnarled trees, producing Hesperidian golden apples, growing in a mist of wild flowers. I was obviously exposed to too much romantic poetry at an impressionable age.

To be more pragmatic, I like apples, the old-fashioned kind with a crisp texture, a little tartness and a complex flavour with subtle hints of nuts, honey and citrus. In this part of the world it is a case of  la recherche du temps perdu and the probability of my finding a hero to send on a quest to Hesperides in search of golden apples is probably equal to finding a box of Roundway Magnum Bonums in the local supermarket.

Fortunately dreams do sometimes come true, but perhaps not always in the way one envisages – the old Chinese proverb of being careful for what you wish for usually applies. Now in my case I ended-up with two heroes, not the golden youths of classical literature, but then I passed the goddess stage some time ago too! Last October our friend Bill arrived with a bag of small green apples grown in his garden some 10 miles to the south of here. He was carefully interrogated by the Head Gardener on the history and techniques of growing apples in the Outer Hebrides while I munched blissfully transported by visions of apple boughs heavy with blossom unaware of what was to come.

Part of the croft vegetable garden was scheduled for redevelopment – Grand Designs part 2, and my original request had been for a new herb garden. However, in the time it takes for the Head Gardener to look wistfully into the distant horizon and get out his measuring tape I had the blueprint for an orchard. My old and well-beloved hero was going to build me an orchard.
Did he succeed or did he spend the winter in the shed building an ark?

26 thoughts on “Fantasies and Follies

  1. Be careful what you wish for indeed. I always dreamed of an old orchard, one full of picturesque, ancient apple trees laden with the fruit of long forgotten varieties. And now I have one. It is well over a hundred years old, probably centuries old. And it is riddled with the dreaded honey fungus which thrives on trees of the Rosaceae family. I bet your fantasy never included honey fungus. It is the stuff of nightmares with its black bootlaces wriggling their way underground to find yet more trees to consume. It seems to be sated with apple trees now and is working its way through my grove of birch trees.
    Anyway, good luck with your orchard plans. How exciting!

    • Fortunately in my fantasy orchard there is no pruning, no horrible diseases or pests and certainly not honey fungus. I’m really sorry to hear about the infestation, particularly as it appears to be spreading.

    • In a dream world there would be no disease to wipe out our beloved plants and trees but sadly that’s the way it goes.

  2. Hello C,
    I do agree about the gardeners being dreamers point. At least we are!
    Re the orchard, I wonder how far it’s progressed already, re cultivar selection, and numbers?
    We dreamed of high altitude apples in a high rainfall area, and this year I’m thinking of ripping out some varieties which after 10 years plus have yet to yield anything..edible or not. On the other hand some do work, and we’re still eating our own apples…. Just…
    I read a couple of books avidly before and during the process as well as consulting the local apple propagating nursery….but still only a few were worthwhile. Pears were a complete waste of space.
    If you’re interested I could let you know a few of the cultivars which do yield where we are, (which is quite extreme though probably a longer growing season) and with some protection (my spiral training method might be good for a windswept location, though with some modification, since i sense that you’re very much tidier than me)!

    • Hi Julian,
      Thank you for the offer of advice. When it comes to the orchard, mine is the dream and the rest is the Head Gardener’s domain! I’ll do part 2 of my orchard up-date soon – much more interesting than tackling my IACS (Integrated Administration and Control System) form for the Scottish equivalent of DEFRA!

      • Hello C,
        I don’t like the sound of that IACS, goodness knows what it relates to! Sounds like something you’d use to launch missiles…. Good luck,

        • Launching missiles is what my neighbours do! IACS is the Scottish Government by way of Brussels asking for a mm by mm account of how I manage our croft. A croft is a small holding surrounded by a sea of bureaucracy – more like an ocean the size of the Pacific!!!!!!!!!!!!

          • I was hearing from our neighbouring farmer yesterday that he’s just registered for the latest incarnation of such bureaucracy in this neck of the woods (they call it Glas Tir) for ‘funding’. But it seems that a similar army of officialdom then crawl over and dictate in the minutest detail what you can and can’t do on your patch of land.
            I’m sure life used to be less complicated.
            Didn’t it???

          • I suspect that there has always been “the Man from the Ministry” harassing some poor peasant. However you are right the burden of pointless bureaucracy and mindless box ticking seems to get worse.
            It’s raining today, but I’m still not going to do the wretched form today.

  3. Old and well-beloved hero… what a lovely description of the Head Gardener! My breath is well and truly bated whilst we are all left in suspense – ark or orchard…..?

    • Even Head Gardeners need a little TLC from time to time. Ark or orchard – why not both? I wonder what is under wraps in the HG’s shed?

      • You are trying to convince me that you haven’t had a peep – or is it under lock and key?! 😉

        • It’s part of the “Birthday Project” so it could be an ark or something else, but I’m not allowed to peek – Honest Injun!

  4. I think I encountered your dream orchard once Christine. It was on the outskirts of Cambridge and there were mismatched deck chairs spread under the apple trees and a kiosk where you could get a cup of tea and a piece of cake. If I could have wished away all the other visitors it would have been perfect! Good luck with the orchard!

    • There was a version of my dream orchard just outside the village in Herefordshire where we lived when we were first married. Alas it is no longer but lives on in my memories.

  5. There are hens scratching about under the trees and bees buzzing among the wildflower in my dream orchard – where it is, of course, always warm and sunny with just a gentle breeze! Good thing we are dreamers or we’d never bother going out of the back door to tackle the reality of the gardens we have… And good luck with your orchard, new plans are always exciting.

    • The dreams and the visions keep us going and give us the drive to keep going and survive the setbacks.

  6. There used to be an orchard behind our house according to an old map. Then our predecessor came along and replanted it with 50 foot high conifers. When we chopped them down (they were at a height that was now posing a danger to the roof), two scrawny apple trees remained buried in the middle. I am trying to save them, one is roped back to vertical. I think the other is a crab.

    • I do hope you manage to rescue your apple trees. Old orchards are so under-valued, even if their fruit producing days are over, they are wonderful for wildlife.

  7. I planted my dream orchard and it is slowly struggling into life. At least now the trees are big enough to look like trees (well apart from the mulberries which remain obstinately small and sticklike.) Give it another ten years and it might be getting somewhere.

    • Fruit trees seem to take a while to get established. I adore mulberries, so I do hope that they thrive – have you been brave enough to try a quince?

      • Yes we were brave enough! We have the quince and it too is now the height of a real tree if still very slender. Sadly it has suffered from quince blight every year so far. It looks fine at the moment and the new foliage is green and clear but last year it gradually succumbed and spent most of the summer looking hideously tatty. Not prepared to give up yet. I have bought Bordeaux mixture but not yet dared use it.

        • Perhaps it’s just teenage angst and it will grow out of it. I do hope so as a home grown quince is worth all the effort.

  8. I too always dreamt of an orchard; my fantasy has a couple of elderly donkeys living out a peaceful old age in sybarian contentment (and keeping the grass cut for me at the same time). Look forward to seeing the next installent :}

    • I’d not thought about livestock, just the birds and the bees – a little easier on the ear than donkeys! Next installment soon.

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