Saturday, 26 February 2011

Apple (26 Feb 2011)

If it's possible for a plant to become a member of one's family, then for me it would be this apple tree in my mother's garden. I've eaten it's de-maggoted fruit, stewed with crumble-topping and custard, for as long as I can remember being alive - my soul food. 

As children, my brother & I spied on the neighbours from a crate perched in its branches, until it cracked under our weight, and as a teenager I stared at it from my bedroom window, when I should have been revising for exams. Then several years passed by when I didn't spare it much thought (except briefly when tucking into  crumbles), however since I've become a gardener our relationship has been rekindled.

When I'm pottering around in my own garden, I sense that something is missing, and whenever I'm at my mother's, I pity its broken, bent form but dread to imagine the garden without it. I guess it could be easily replaced, if I knew its species - bigger, tarter and more fragrant than a braeburn from the supermarket, but this is one garden plant that I wont be attempting to classify because I would rather consider it unique.

In the summer, I noticed that not far from the base of the tree, there was a little plant which seemed to sprout apple leaves. My heart leapt for joy, then sank when I realised that the parent could just as well be the neighbour's apple tree. When I tried to dig it out, it tugged back with a much stronger resistance than I expected, digging deeper, it appeared that the plant was a sucker connected to a large root. I convinced myself (due to its direction) that it was the root of my family tree and cut the sucker off. It had its own rootlets intact, so I potted and watered it, but over a period of two weeks, the leaves dried up and the plant died. I was relieved in a way because after potting it, I kept picturing a scene in my head, decades from now, when I bit into an apple and was disappointed when the memories of my childhood didn't come flooding back because it tasted like the neighbours'.

In late autumn when the harvest was over, I was scraping up the rotting windfalls when I found a whole apple which hadn't even been riddled by one maggot. Out of curiosity, I cut it open to check if there were maggots inside, but there weren't any, just dark brown seeds. I thought this was a sign from Mother Nature instructing me that it was about time I did something productive, so I collected the seeds and left them to dry out on a window sill.

Back in my own garden, I set about preparing to plant the seeds but I had run out of compost, so I took an old pot with some winter sown seeds, poked in three of the apple seeds then left them unattended in my little plastic greenhouse over the winter. I didn't expect anything in there to survive, especially after it started snowing, but a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that the soil was seasoned with unlabelled green growths and above them a brown apple seed was sticking in the air with a pinch of green seedling.

I wondered how long it would take for the seedling to mature enough to bear fruit. I researched on the internet that it would take 6-10 years, but also discovered information which makes this post less a fairy tale and more a prologue : If my apple seed came from an orchard where all the trees were the same completely true species, then this story would end happily ever after. However, it is more likely that my family apple tree is a hybrid in itself, which means that the seeds have varying levels of genes from its ancestors. Even if it was a true species, the insects pollinating it may have transported pollen from the neighbours tree, hybridising the seeds. This means that there is a very low probability that the seedlings will grow to produce the apples which have been feeding my soul.

Fruit growers succeed in reproducing varieties of apples by grafting stems (scions) of fruiting trees onto rootstocks by cutting interlocking faces into the mating parts and taping them together. Dwarfing rootstocks are specially chosen because apple trees would naturally grow up to 30 feet tall.

So what should I do with my apple seedlings?  They germinated so easily, and they look more robust compared to my other ones, I have no choice but to let them live for a little longer at least.  The answer that I can't extract from the internet is whether these seedings grown from one apple are identical or non-identical triplets. Either way, I can't rely on them to grow into rootstock or scions. As buying a rootstock would be cheating (according to my Promises), I'll wait for another sucker to grow in my mother's garden, it wont matter if it comes from hers or the neighbours' tree, then I'll graft on a scion from the family apple tree. I'll keep you posted ...

These articles explain why you are unlikely to get the same apple by growing its seed :

This article clearly explains how to graft a scion (of your favourite apple) to a rootstock :
http://apps.rhs.org.uk/advicesearch/Profile.aspx?pid=443

For more Pinch of Green  posts visit  Roses and Stuff

27 comments:

gardenwalkgardentalk.com said...

Sounds like a plan. Hope you get the plant you desire.

Karin / Southern Meadows said...

What a journey! I hope that you have luck grafting your sucker. I will be interested to see how that works. You now have me craving custard with fruit crumble...yum!

Edith Hope said...

Dear BAG, Yes, I can completely identify with the notion of becoming so endeared to a plant that it almost becomes a member of one's family.

I have been entranced by your story of the apple tree in your mother's garden and can readily appreciate how this has a very special place in your memories and, indeed, in your heart. It would matter to me not a jot that the seedlings may not be true to type...what matters is the sheer joy of achieving a mature tree from a tiny seed. Miraculous!

Carolyn ♥ said...

I love this post. I share your sentiments completely. My plants do become like members of my family. Each one has a story that I love to share. My present gardens contain plants that were once starts from previous gardens. It brings great joy to walk through my gardens and recall the memories associated with each of them. I will enjoy hearing more about your little apple seedling.

b-a-g said...

Thanks GWGT.

Karin - I always add an extra slab of butter to a crumble recipe, to make it extra delicious, along with sugar and cinnamon. I only add minimal sugar to the apples themselves so their flavour is unadulterated.

Edith - I didn't think of the miracle of life, as I was selfishly focussing on replicating the fruit that makes my tastebuds tingle. A thirty foot apple tree could be problematic, but bonsai techniques could be applied. Thanks to you, the seedlings have been saved from a miserable death in my garden rubbish bag.

Mark and Gaz said...

Good to know you've kept the seed, whatever variety of apple may come out of it at least you know it came from the beloved tree your mother has.

Goodluck with the grafting, it's still the best way to ensure you get the exact variety. And you can grow several varieties in one apple plant too!

b-a-g said...

Thanks Carolyn - In Britain there's a growing trend for people to take their garden plants when they move house. Luckily, the previous owner of my garden didn't.

Mark & Gaz - Several varieties on one plant, that sounds like a mega-experiment.

One said...

Your apple story reminds me of my Mom's mango tree. The mangoes are absolutely delicious but I have not been able to graft successfully. Since I found a seedling in my compost pile, I transferred it to the ground and it is growing healthily. Like you did, I searched the internet and realized it may take ages for the tree to bear fruit and the taste may be far different. :)

b-a-g said...

One - It sounds so exotic to find a mango seedling in your compost pile. I wonder what mango crumble with custard would taste like...

Tatyana@MySecretGarden said...

I love this story! 6-10 years are not so much!

lifeshighway said...

I learned so much from this story. For one I never stopped to think that fruit tree would cross breed (and why wouldn't they). I just never thought in terms of "breeds" of fruit trees.

I love this experiment and you would have to be a very committed blogger to inform 10 years from now how the experiment worked. I'll wait.

Good luck with the grafting. I have considered it before when dealing with roses.

b-a-g said...

Thanks Tatyana - Yes, it's not too long. I was expecting to wait for decades.

Thanks Lifeshighway - Who knows what the future holds ? Ten years ago I didn't think my biggest dilemma would be deciding whether or not to photograph someone else's garden gnome.

lifeshighway said...

10 years gives me a long time to break you in.

debsgarden said...

Thanks for visiting my own blog! I enjoyed reading a little about you - The Secret Garden is my favorite, too!

I can understand your desire to have an apple tree just like your mom's. There is so much more than the taste of a good apple represented in her tree. i hope you are able to get just the tree you want, but I would have to let those seedlings grow. Too bad you don't have space for an orchard!

Plantaliscious said...

What a lovely story. It simultaneously reminded me of climbing the lime tree in the garden of my childhood home to spy on the neighbours and of the gnarly old apple tree in my Nan's back garden. I love it when plants have stories. Good luck with your grafting.

Alistair said...

Hi b-a-g, a truly interesting and informative post. Trees do indeed stir the memories. For me it is the Rowan tree in grandmas garden. That as you know could not have been yesterday. I agree with Mark and Gaz regardless of the results in ten years or so, the satisfaction and knowledge of where it came from will be with you. I still think of you when first I came upon your site measuring your Foxgloves, great enthusiasm and a gardener going places.

PatioPatch said...

Dear B-a-g - so glad to have caught up with this evokative tale of taste bud memories and childhood antics. The ending is very heartening and I wait with bated breath for the continuing story of your apple
Laura
p.s. glad to see you linked up with Festival of Trees too - a worthy contribution.

Country Mouse said...

I remember my grandfather's cox's orange pippin - wonderful apples. Have you seen or read Michael Pollan's "The Botany of Desire?" It has an essay on apples that is very interesting.

b-a-g said...

Deb, Since my recent introduction to the world of hellebores, I can't get enough of them. Yours are stunning!
There would be room for a tiny orchard in my garden if I dug up my useless, weedy patios ....

Thanks Janet, In my mum's garden every plant has a story, mostly about friendships which have spanned decades.

Thanks Alistair, I credit you for some of my enthusiasm. I don't take your support for granted. I increasingly use your blog for plant references, but also look forward to the posts when you take a break from the plants and give us an insight to your thoughts & life with Myra.

Thanks Laura, I got the idea after reading your brilliant post http://patiopatch.co.uk/2011/02/natures-green-estate/ the day before the dead-line for the blog carnival Festival of Trees.

Thanks for the recommendation Country Mouse, I've just checked critiques on the internet. It sounds like my kind of book and will be added to my shopping list.

Chef_uk said...

Nice post but i fear you have no other alternative but to grow it on. Even if its nothing like what you remember, it could be someone else's first. :) Would love to follow the story of how it got on although you may grow sick from doing so lol.

b-a-g said...

Thanks Chef_uk - Yes, it seems I have no other alternative but to let the seedlings grow on ... Don't worry, I wasn't planning on giving weekly updates .... unless I run out of plants to blog about.

Carolyn @ Carolyn's Shade Gardens said...

I am a little behind in my reading, but I wanted to say I loved your post. There was a hemlock tree along our neighbors fence by their garage area and my brother used to sit in it for hours spying on them. I even had a little notebook where I took down observations. So funny.

b-a-g said...

Thanks Carolyn, I bet you were noting observations on hellebores even at that young age.

Katarina said...

That's a lovely story!

b-a-g said...

Thanks Katrina - What would I do without your Blooming Friday themes !

Folk Farm Daily said...

Apples really are one of the most natural and ideal foods for the human being. Certainly a perfect gift from nature.

b-a-g said...

.... an apple a day, keeps the doctor away.

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