We had an orchard in the first house I remember. A red-brick suburban house on a red-brick suburban avenue at the edge of a mining town. We had a front garden given over to flowers, and a back garden with a long lawn and an orchard at the bottom. We called it an orchard. I’m struggling to remember how many trees we had. Four, maybe?
It was a liminal space. Not garden, not wild. It was the place where we made rose petal perfume and buried a time capsule. There was a national obsession with time capsules back then – I’m not sure why. I don’t remember harvesting the apples, I just remember that you had to pick up the windfalls first.
At our next house – the old stables to a minor stately home – we had a proper orchard, with an old brick wall. We had geese down there, and chickens that we shared with the neighbour. When we first got the goslings they were imprinted on denim, and used to follow me around – and then there was a day when I went down there, and I was no longer their surrogate mother, I was a threat to be hissed and flapped at. I think my dad had some kind of self-sufficiency dream: chickens, bees, vegetables, raspberries. We are not great gardeners, but we are orchardists.
I spent a summer pointing that wall as a teenager, the hot sun on my back. Pointing is a useful skill.
After that, I lived in cities. And then we came here, to Devon, to the middle of nowhere. At the end of my first chemo year, we planted an orchard. We already had some apple trees – a Bramley, an un-named cooker, a couple of eaters, a plum tree, a damson tree. We planted more – we found a supplier of local varieties – an Oaken Pin, a Luccombe’s Seedling, a couple of pears, a couple of plums that have never taken off fruitwise, a Cornish Gilliflower, a Farmer’s Glory. The catalogue was a list of wonderful names.
In spring, I look out for orchards. So many were grubbed up here, but there are still a few around. I look out for wildlings in the hedgerows. A friend has planted a cider orchard – a small, commercial concern – and he turns our spare apples into juice for us – because we have far too many apples.
We’ve learned to prune. We’re slow and careful, but it’s such a pleasurable job.
When we drive up to Bristol, we pass a big, commercial orchard, right by the motorway, all straight lines and short trees for easy picking. I look out for it – watch it change through the seasons.
I take photographs of blossoms. Everyone takes the same photographs – blossoms against a blue sky. I have pictures of almond and apricot blossoms in Northern Pakistan – white blossoms against a blue sky – the shock of flowering abundance in that stony landscape – small clusters of trees in rocky places. Orchards.