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?