Saturday, March 1, 2008

Festival of the Trees, March 2008

Welcome to the March 2008 edition of Festival of the Trees!
For this month's festival, I put out a request for submissions that were related to a theme of fruit trees and/or orchards, which seemed like a good idea for several reasons.

First, the time of year (at least here in the Northeast!) is one that has many of us nature-oriented bloggers thinking of blossoms, flowers, buds, and other signs of spring. We'll have them soon enough, but as frozen February slouches towards changeable March, our psyches yearn for color and fragrance and signs of plant life. What better symbol of burgeoning fertility than an orchard in bloom? Secondly, I think the theme of trees calls for focused blogging when possible, simply because there are so many possibilities: environmental, horticultural, gastronomical, scientific, mythological, artistic, literary, historical, et cetera.

“A real writer learns from earlier writers the way a boy learns from an apple orchard-by stealing what he has a taste for and can carry off."
--Archibald MacLeish

And third, the name of my blog screams out for it.

So now, without further ado, I bring you the Festival of the Trees, the Fruit Trees and Orchards Edition! Many, many thanks to those who sent links to their own blogs and material from the blogosphere. It is a veritable cornucopia of sources which augmented my own compilation beautifully (I hope so, anyway). I hope you will excuse me if your submission was not used; it simply may not have fit the theme, however wonderful it may have been! (and to those who sent me submissions not even related to trees, shame on you). Please enjoy!

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”
--Martin Luther

Orchards: International Treasures
My purpose in creating a blog that is occasionally focused on orchards and fruit crops is basically two-fold: to celebrate the beauty and usefulness of these wonderful trees, and to highlight their plight: namely, large orchards are disappearing at an alarming rate and fruit farming is undergoing changes that signal a dying way of life in America (and other countries).

The reasons are complex: skyrocketing real estate prices make condos more desirable than orchards (I saw this horrifying trend take not far from me near Poughkeepsie, New York; signs advertising the construction of new condos were erected right in front of orchards scheduled to be destroyed). Apples imported from China are cheaper for juice production than American drop apples, so growers are scrambling for ways to replace this lost income. As families in general do not engage in outdoor pursuits, or home cooking, the idea of spending a Sunday afternoon at a pick-your-own orchard has become a quaint footnote in history in many comunities, even as it is undergoing a revival in others. (The photo below was taken at Indian Ladder Orchards in Altamont, New York).

Some apple growers are finding dwarf varieties to be easier to maintain and more productive, not to mention easier and safer (therefore less litigiously risky) for you-pick operations, and so are razing old orchards to make room. Other farms are finding so-called "designer crops" (like heirloom tomatoes or garden annuals) to be far more profitable and less time-consuming to grow than tree fruits, especially as states like Washington continue to export to areas where apples were traditionally grown in abundance, like New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. (Although, it may be that shifting weather patterns due to global warming may change that, as apple trees need a good late autumn cold snap and sufficient spring warmth to protect bud growth and produce effectively.)

Paul Kingsnorth writes about the loss of orchards in England and efforts to revive interest in the festivals of yesteryear that celebrate England's most famous crop (in fact, apples are not indigenous to North America; they were first brought here from England and then planted far and wide by visionaries like Swedenborgian and horticultural entrepreneur Johnny Appleseed, nee John Chapman.

Legend has it Mr. Appleseed planted apple trees far and wide across America sheerly for love of the fruit and joy in travel. But in actuality he made a good livelihood out of growing saplings and selling them pioneer settlers as they moved westward across the country. By travelling westward several years ahead of the larger migrations of settlers, Chapman was able to have healthy ready-to-plant trees available, for a modest fee, to those who saw these plants as absolutely crucial for a homestead. After all, in those days, the main household drink was not water or milk; it was cider.

Johnny Appleseed was certainly a personal hero of mine as a child. My family grew or harvested local foods all the time, in addition my eating the bounty of my dad's hunting and fishing trips. Taking my niece and nephew apple picking a few years ago in my hometown was a real eye-opening experience. The dwarf trees seemed strange to me, having grown up picking apples in old orchards full of fat, gnarled old trees. We went home with our booty and baked a pie from scratch. They had never done this before. They proclaimed me "the best aunt ever!"

I realized I gave to them something that has always been among my favorite childhood memories: the joy of gathering fruit on an autumn day, biting into that first crunchy apple of the season, enjoying the knowledge that a stash of shiny, tasty fruit was sitting in the cold cellar, any time I wanted to relive that day. My mom baked constantly; their mom, almost never. And even though baking is undergoing a renaissance among foodies, it's not the same as the habit-forming activity of our female ancestors, devoid of glamour and pretension, done for simple reasons involving seasonal observation, thrift and pleasure.

“The apple tree never asks the beech how he shall grow, nor the lion the horse, how he shall take his prey.”
--William Blake

I have learned not to take my close-to-nature upbringing for granted, because it seems to me that childhood rites of passage are changing dramatically. The loss of old orchards is a tragedy and a travesty, and it may be diminishing the palette of experiences we amass to create our memories and awareness of our human connection to nature. The sensual imprint of being in an orchard in autumn cannot be overestimated, and it is an experience that may be soon be lost to all but a lucky few.

A childhood memory of apple orchards is described in the blog The Clarity of Night. I am not one to consider myself a devotee of today's histrionic Cult of the Child, in which we overshelter and overindulge them to the point where they become neurotic, fearful, shallow shadows of their potential selves, but I would passionately defend the notion that that are certain things We Owe Our Children, and taking them apple picking is one. The cutie pictured below looks like she could not be having a better time! (Image from

The memorable magic of the orchard is something that can connect us to generations past. I daresay the co-founder of this blog carnival can relate to this, as demonstrated in this lovely post from his blog honoring memories of hawthorns (a magical tree if ever there was one) he knew as a child. Here also is a moving tribute to a Polish pomologist by his grandson. And for a truly international offering, here (in Portuguese) is an entry about the odd and beautiful jaboticaba fruit tree (translation may be forthcoming).

Above are pictured some majestic hawthorns in Chicago's Garfield Park Conservatory. See more beautiful ancient trees in this location here--thanks for this, Dave! The hawthorn is a tree with a great deal of folklore attached to it, like its sweeter sister the apple. Read more about the folklore associated with the hawthorn here, and here.

Orchards for Future Generations
I was gratified to see a number of submissions acknowledging the importance of fruit trees to creating experiential natural opportunities for children. For example, the writer of the Tree News blog is treating February as a month to teach his son about natural cycles by focusing on a local pear tree.

An Australian blogger writes of honoring the birth of his son by planting an apple tree in a post discussing his take on the importance of apple trees. This echoes my own decision to plant apple trees in honor of my father, an avid gardener and apple lover who passed away a year ago in October. My partner and I will be purchasing trees from Trees of Antiquity, a farm that provides an astonishing variety of heirloom fruit trees.

“We plant, upon the sunny lea,
A shadow for the noontide hour,
A shelter from the summer shower,
When we plant the apple-tree.”
--William Cullen Bryant

This California-based organization offers kid-friendly activities and classes geared towards forging closer connections to nature and foodways. As well, Jade Blackwater shared info on planting native fruits from the great blog Earth Friendly Gardening, which may prove useful for those whose climates will not support apple trees. (And for those that like some nice healthy fat content in their fruit, let us not forget the ugly but delicious avocado! Oh, and that other all-important food group caffeine is contained in the delectable berries of the coffee tree, featured at The Seeded Earth blog. Ah, and for those wanting to know more about the fruit tree whose name, known previously as an evocative color swatch choice but enjoying increased popularity as an actual, you know, fruit, meet the inimitable, if shy, persimmon).

Passion for Pommes!
What better message and invocation to kids who are hungry to turn off their computer games and dig in the dirt (even if they don't know it yet!), and adults yearning for making a difference, than "C'mon, Let's Plant a Tree"?

This excellent and informative guide to maintaining abandoned orchards may prove useful to those who own land with older fruit trees, or who know of such properties and might want to purchase and revive and repurpose them. Our culture has seen an explosion of interest in organic and local foods, thanks in part to writers like Michael Pollan, as well as the proliferation of natural and gourmet food blogs (yes, both links are for apple pie recipes!).

Still, there is perhaps no single experience which links us to our food like the act of picking an apple from a tree, or hoisting a half-bushel of freshly picked fruit into our cars from the local farm market. Pollan, a journalist whose research skills and writing are both impressive, has even demystified Johnny Appleseed for us, and, a gardener and cook himself, colors his journalism with that crucial flavor: a personal perspective colored by hands-on passion.

"Lo! sweeten’d with the summer light,
The full-juiced apple, waxing over-mellow,
Drops in a silent autumn night.
All its allotted length of days
The flower ripens in its place,
Ripens and fades, and falls, and hath no toil,
Fast-rooted in the fruitful soil."
--Alfred Lord Tennyson

This intriguing and often shocking article discusses the changing nutritive value of orchard-grown apples due to overuse of pesticides and offers information that may prove helpful in the long run, as we plan for a future that includes an abundance of fruit trees.

The Apple Journal collects all sorts of odd and intriguing news stories about apples, as does All About Apples.

Orchard Art and Nostalgia

Many fine folk sent me terrific links paying tribute to the apple in art, literature and history, or simply their own personal observations or homages. Over at Riverside Rambles is mention of a perfect old book on apples for the enthusiast. Fellow blogger Susannah sent these intriguing pictures of currency with fruit trees. This blog post features some intriguing images and words on "musical trees" from an artist's perspective. And here is an intriguing post about "black knots", unusual growths that only appear on cherry trees.

Perhaps a way to interest your children further in orchards might be through images of fairies, such as those found in the art of Cicely Mary Barker, pictured below. Barker's playful yet intricate work is well-loved and has been undergoing a revival in popularity in recent years, inspiring contemporary artists like Jessica Galbreth, or the haunting work (see example at left) found on the "Art and Ghosts" blog to create artworks that seem inspired by her childlike, colorful images.

It is said that no "fairy garden" is complete without an apple tree. Fresh apple juice is also a traditional gift to be left for the "wee folk" on the eves of their favorite seasonal festivals, Beltane (May 1) and Samhain (October 31). Set the cup of juice and some freshly baked bread or cookies out for the fairies, and, legend has it, they will protect your home in the coming year.

Hail! Wassail!

Those interested in the spiritual side of things might find it interesting to know that orchards have their own patron goddess, Pomona (is she not beautiful? That is Fouche's painting of her).

The magic of apple orchards is well-known, of course, if for no other reason than their presence in the Arthurian legends. If you ever have a chance to visit Glastonbury and see the old orchards at the base of the Tor, you will see what I mean. Of course, apples bring forth their "spiritual" side in more ways than one: see this informative yet humorous guide to the lore of apples and Glastonbury, The Quest for the Cider Holy Grail, from some famous English makers of tasty dry cider, Black Thorn. An age-old custom in England, which has inspired many seasonal songs, is the Yuletide tradition of wassailing, or blessing the orchards and animals at the new year. Here is a very thorough article on the folklore of wassailing. Not to be outdone in writing on Celtic apple lore, some modern Druids have also put together an impressive page of folklore on apple trees.

Here is a post from on Apple Day in the UK, with photos from orchards in Somerset. And lastly, if you want to forge a more down-to-earth connection with the spirit of the apple, Mother Earth News teaches you to build your own cider press! Don't those guys look like they're having a blast?
Of course, many of us simply love apple and other fruit trees for the pleasure they provide. Delectable, health-giving fruits, gorgeous blossoms whose fragrance and nectar attract our all-important honey bees, the sight of deer nibbling (and occasionally getting drunk on) their fallen fruit in autumn, the comforting and pretty shapes of their bare, twisting branches against winter skies, the first glimpse of their fat buds in early spring. These simple joys are embodied in the images and words of Silvia/Salix, whose post entitled "I love my apple trees" is an impassioned love-song with gorgeous photos.

I hope you've enjoyed this month's carnival, and will go forward with a bit more appreciation and passion for those trees that provide us with so much beauty and bounty.

Next month's Festival of the Trees will be hosted at √Ārvores Vivas em Nossas Vidas, and you can send entries to arvoresvivas [at] gmail [dot] com. See you at another carnival soon!


Dave said...

Wow, Peg, you really outdid yourself! great job! I look forward to spending a lot of time with this. Thanks for all the work you must've put into it.

Dave from FOTT

Dave Coulter said...


This is just spectacular! Thanks for making me a part of it. I can't wait to read it in depth and share it with many others!

Jade L Blackwater said...

This is a really lovey collection Peg - thank you so much for such a unique festival!

Jesse Milton said...

You have raised the bar, uh, branch...

Excellent and coherent presentation of diverse material. Great job, Peg.

Loribelle said...


Thank you for mentioning us on your Web site. We’re glad you enjoy Mother Earth News.

Loved the post on building your own cider press. Glad it was helpful.

Laura Evers

Mother Earth News

For more great articles, check out our brand new Web site!

Lauren said...

Thanks for the insightful posting. Just wanted to let you know that there is a new exhibit at Garfield Park Conservatory called Sugar From The Sun, which explores the process of photosynthesis and features a ton of beautiful plants and trees. I hope you are able to visit soon!

A Larrapin Garden said...

WOW! This is just wonderful. Thank you so much for lavishing this attention on such a lovely topic. I think I'll go out and toast my three young apple trees now!

Leigh, over at
A Larrapin Garden
Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA

A Larrapin Garden said...

Follow up to previous comment: I did indeed go out and spend the afternoon pampering my infant orchard with a helping of compost and renewed mulch and general fussing and praising. Thanks for the reminder and inspiration to celebrate the apples.