Before I started gardening, I thought I was fulfilled.
However, my Experiments with Plants directly and indirectly filled voids that I hadn't even recognised, lifting my happiness to a higher level.
This is a blog about a garden near London, England, and how it is changing my approach to life.
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 :