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Green Acre #2: Cherry Blossom Time


Pond snow: A backyard water feature a/k/a a pond is shrouded in cherry blossoms. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

Pond snow: A backyard water feature a/k/a a pond is shrouded in cherry blossoms. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

I HAVE NOT EATEN an apricot in more than 30 years. The very thought of those sickly-sweet little fruits, the mushy texture of the ripe pulp, raises bile in my throat, a gag that begins just below the sag of me jowls.

Though the apricot tree died years ago,  the painful memories remain keen.

See, a stick that was off-centered in the garden of our brand new (to us) house and was said to be an apricot tree eventually became one. Lo it developed a habit of prettily flowering and then, after several years of pleasurable scent and blossom, began spurting forth fruit, bushels of fruit, which you might think was very exciting and pleasant and tasty but was instead utterly disgusting and grew increasingly vile with each passing year.

But in the beginning, how we thrilled that the skinny little sapling would eventually yield our very own apricot crop.

As it happened, just the summer before we bought the house we’d been visiting friends in California and spent afternoons sitting stoned (or at least one of us was) on a deck plucking peaches from the branches of a tree that hovered deliciously overhead, sweet juices dribbling down our chins.

We had a vision going here—and didn’t that apricot waltz right into the picture (funny what makes you buy a house, isn’t it? It’s all in the romance).

So we bought the house and watched the tree grow, fertilizing and fretting year after year
when no fruit appeared. It never would, the tree experts informed us, because there was no other apricot in the vicinity and cross-pollination (or was it fertilization?) would never occur.

Well, clearly someone must have planted one because there came a year when the tree-top had lofted itself above reach and it was in that year that the fruiting began. The tree’s height is essential information because fruit ripens (logically enough) from the top down.

I am no end of information.

The squirrels loved it. We attracted dozens of new furry friends who’d scurry up the branches and snatch the fruits, chittering and gnawing and then tossing the pits—at me, I swear—during the few fine days before the rot when I could sprawl with a book on the  flowered cushions of the wicker sofa. Plink on my head and plink again followed by a chorus of squirrelish laughter.

But they could gobble only so much, and since no human could reach the top branches—among other things we don’t have a deck—the fruit would ripen and putrefy and fall to the ground and would squish underfoot and stink and be crawling with flies and maggoty things. Year after year, every May morning began with me donning galoshes, grabbing a large black plastic trash bag and gagging as I shoveled the slops.

By the time it dropped dead of some blessed infection, the tree was well over 30 feet tall. Imagine the crap that falls from a tree of that size. Also imagine The Prince, teetering on top of the fence wielding a chainsaw,  taking it down. You’ll need to imagine it because I wasn’t watching. Among other things, I figured if he fell I wanted to give him time to be really dead, not just critically injured and hospitalized and in permanent traction with me as nurse for the rest of my life because he’s sure to outlive me out of spite.

A certain death and I’m out of here with the life insurance, on a tropical beach, with a fresh facelift and a gauzy caftan.

That was an aside. While I cowered in the kitchen, he took the tree down and chopped the branches into firewood.

The only good thing about the apricot was that it grew tall but spread little. Just enough to screen our yard from the blight of new townhouses that went up behind our place and obstructed a clear view of the sky.

That strong vertical aspect was something we should have kept in mind, but didn’t.  A rather large mistake ensued.

Oh, the Kwanzan cherry tree that replaced it is, in fact, a sight so splendid when in bloom that it’s difficult to heave my brain around the idea that it is mine. There’s always a frightening beginning, when I swear this year it must be sick . . . that limpish first fringe of buds, rather pale in color, looking pretty insipid. And then, like Miss Marmelstein removing her glasses, it bursts forth in such a splendor of blossoms that one is absolutely agog.

And then commences, depending on the heat and the wind and the rain, a couple of days or (with great luck) weeks of floral ecstasy.

Garden full

The Cavanaugh garden today. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

But once the bloom is over, there are another 50 or so weeks to contend with. And over these weeks the cherry feeds and grows at an alarming pace—a pace that was fine for the first year or so as I watched in self-congratulation as it blotted out the unpleasant view of the townhouses. It is now, 10 years later, beginning to eclipse the garden itself.

About this I was warned, I tell myself. And how many times in this lifetime am I not going to listen but run pig-headedly into trouble that I could have avoided if, if . . .

On the other hand, it just as frequently turns out that I shouldn’t have listened and should have pig-headedly gone about doing what I was doing.

Oh mercy, what a muddle life is.

One might ask, where was my Prince in this decision? Right by my side, sucking a cork and deferring to me and my carryings-on about gardening and trees, which are highly imaginative and only occasionally approach realism. It wouldn’t have mattered had he argued, because I would have managed to buffalo him into this, hopping up and down in my rightness. Poor boy.

The guy at the plant center was absolutely right when he told us this tree would eventually be rawther large in our small garden.

That there was a vibrant hint of future disaster just a few blocks away, was ignored. There a cherry is full blown and growing half outside the yard (one twice the size of ours) shading the sidewalk and reaching into the street, about to sweep cars up into its branches, belch and grow forth . . .

What I/we chose to hear was that the cherry blooms beautifully, grows quickly, bears no fruit—and was safe to transplant even though it was already quite tall (when it is usually recommended to start trees off small, it’s healthier and blah di blah).  But I/we couldn’t wait (didn’t want to wait) the additional season or so it would take to get the tree up to a view-obscuring height.

Which it rapidly did. Oh, what an insanely happy tree it is, stealing the dribble of light that leaves the once glorious lilies limp and allows the roses to bloom a little before succumbing to black spot.

The ferns are splendid, though.

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

Next week in Green Acre, Gardener Cavanaugh tackles the irresistibly invasive wisteria. Stephanie is currently at work on a book about life in a small city garden.

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