Tree Time

Continuing with National Tree Week here’s something from the archives about a memorable tree from the garden of the house where I grew up.

Thanks to Blacktop Rain for reminding me of it  (the article that is, I couldn’t forget the tree).

A long garden, defined by trees.  The forked apple tree at the centre is the focal point that pulls the eye, the point to which all garden-doings seem to gravitate.  Birds make it their stopover on route from hedge to hedge, like children touching base in a game of tag.

It marks the time, this tree, standing like a sundial in the centre of the lawn, its shadow marking out the hours, its changing appearance marking out the seasons.  In winter it’s a bare framework, mushroom coloured and silvery, smooth on the newer branches, patched on the older trunk with flakes like burnt bark pastry.  An ancient scar is filled with cement.  A newer opening is plugged with netting, a deterrent for the great tits who otherwise insist on nesting there to their great peril and the pleasure of the local cats.  One side of the Y-form trunk is clad with ivy, its dark leaves textbook-perfect shapes.  It’s still smattered with sawdust from last summer, when a wasp colony bore into the trunk, thousands each day zipping in and out of the dreadlocked ivy stems.  One year it was full of stag beetles, clattering mechanical beasts three inches long, labouring up and up the trunk only to drop to the floor under the weight of their own armour and lie helplessly on their backs, antlers and legs waggling.

Springtime brings the leaves before the blossoms, unfurling almost overnight to a fresh canopy, pea green and waxy as a crayon.  Then the buds appear, creamy and close packed with ripples of deep pink.

In summer twenty years ago, before the tree lost most of its limbs to an aphid infestation that left it blackened and blighted with a cotton-woolly growth, I swung for hours, higher and higher, right up into its arms: the plastic swing-seat sticking to my legs, nylon ropes burning my hands.  Games would lead me round and round the circle of brick pavers at the base, that separated roots from lawn.  Between the bricks and the tree is space for a flowerbed: grape hyacinths in spring, then wild strawberries to follow.  Their neat flowers heralded tiny treats: don’t be fooled by their size they are the best strawberries you’ll ever taste.  My brother and I still eagerly await them every year, checking the backs of each ripening dot to be the first to find one red all the way round.

Later in the year the tree itself provides the feast: huge fruits, each one a handful.  Their skins are thick and coated in an almost sticky mist, that polishes off leaving a green smear on your jumper.  Fifty years ago this tree belonged to an orchard.  Under the flowerbeds remains of their roots tangle among the peonies.  Now just the one tree remains among its newer neighbours, arboreal and otherwise.  There’s no knowing how old it really is, or how long it will go on, keeping the garden time, and keeping us in apple pie well into next spring.

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