The sun lifted itself high into the sky this morning and has stayed there, for once not cloaking itself with a thick grey blanket, instead letting the clouds wash over and away in quick waves. The breezy warmth has pulled some local residents out of deep slumber, hungry, to compete at the bird feeders. In another month the feeders will be pulled, the bluebird boxes set into the fields, the warm spots in the garden awakening.
But not yet. It’s in-between time. The almost.
Perfect time for pruning.
And so out I went this morning, into the chickadee hubbub, to bring some order to the cherry trees, the apples, the plums and peaches, and especially the two espaliered pear trees. I’m not a natural pruner–I find it hard to throw anything out or to mess with the natural way things grow. After all, I don’t believe in dying hair to mask the gray or in using make-up to mask the imperfections. I am what I am. My gardens are what they are. Build health from the inside–good soil, good nutrition, good space–keep the weeds and blow-ins in check, but resist the urge to meddle. Pruning? Kind of extreme for me.
But my friend John used to scold me for not pruning the fruit trees sharply enough — I needed a firmer hand; I needed to keep the air flowing to the center of the branches and prevent them from crossing. I needed to cull the trees of rogue suckers and shoots and an overabundance of branches. All in the name of the health of the trees, not out of any human notion of order and aesthetics, he assured me, though those would be good, too, he added slyly.
Out of curiosity, last February I conducted a little experiment with the pruning, to see just how much of a difference it would make to the espaliered pear trees if I cut one back severely, just as he had shown me, and let the other one do its thing. And then watched.
Lo and behold, the pruned tree produced over 60 pears; the unpruned tree, wild shoots and wiggy branches and three–yeah, count ’em, three–pears. Huge lesson learned. Domesticated fruits and vegetables and flowers and people and animals, well, we need a little order, a bit of tending to for our health and well-being. A bit of pruning.
And so today I pinched and sawed and snipped and cleared and didn’t even apologize too much to the fallen branches that will become fragrant kindling once they have dried. Waste not want not. It felt great to be outside working. For a minute there I thought about pruning some of the wild fruit trees on the land that have stopped producing much fruit. Perhaps conduct another little experiment for the foxes, the deer, the turkeys, who depend on the wild fruit trees.
While out there, I checked on my experiments with trying to overwinter the artichokes, rosemary and lemongrass under the tunnel. The rosemary has thus far survived the winter in there. We’ll see about the others, if they’ll come back. Experiments are infectious. One can lead to the next. Lop off a branch here, play with something there. Who knows where it will all lead!
Not to worry, though. I’m not letting all this February sun go to my head. I haven’t scheduled an appointment to color my hair or get a face lift. There are limits to my tinkering with Mother Nature.