In the 1750’s, when posted in Winchester, VA, George Washington did three things to strengthen the area: built a fort (Fort Loudon), restored a sense of order and hope, and had every household plant hundreds of apple trees.
Today, Winchester, VA boasts that it is the apple capital of the nation, and it hosts an annual, blow-out Apple Festival. All told, the county has 700,000 apple trees, courtesy, no doubt, of our founding father’s foresight. (This was a full 40 years before the legendary Johnny Appleseed set forth on his historic crusade.)
I was delighted to hear this as I thought about my paltry but valiant apple “trees” on my front lawn.
This past March, I planted 8 apple seedlings. No more than twigs, some only 1 foot high, the others a towering 2 feet. Lodi, Jonathan and Winesap - a necessary trilogy for proper fertilization, or so I was told. I lost one tree to the voracious nibblings of our large four-footed friends. The others are recuperating from their tops being unceremoniously lopped off by darling deer dentals, so that they lost a full year’s worth of growth and are enduring the botanical equivalent of PTSD. After that, I began to spray the trees with Deer Off, an environmentally-friendly, non-toxic repellant (evidently, deer don’t like garlic).
Now, the survivors stand, straight if not tall, waving their fistful of leaves as if they were banners arrayed in a tiny parade. It will be years before branches develop, never mind fruit. But I planted the trees for the long haul.
When my family first moved into this Stevenson area in the 1950’s, the area around Fort Garrison was all apple orchard. Planted, no doubt, like the trees in Winchester, in an effort to provide the local residents with harvests that could provide nourishment all year round. These orchards were part of the landscape and beauty of the area. When the houses were built, the trees were brought down.
But why, I wondered, couldn’t we re-introduce them on our lawns? There is today a cultural conceit that demands that front lawns be pristine, emerald swatches of constant demands. And polllution. The fossil fuel we use to mow the lawns (never mind to transport the man and machine to tend to them); the pesticides and herbicides we use to treat them; the money and time we squander on them, make them not at all the nature-friendly areas we imagine.
There is, in fact, a nascent guerrilla effort to take back the lawn and turn us all into gentlemen farmers. I will confess that neither my lawn - with its lack of full sun, nor myself - with my lack of ability, are good for vegetable gardening. But fruit trees? In the spring they offer luscious fragrance; in the summer, budding promise; in the fall, the fruit of their labors; and in the winter, their gnarled beauty. What is not to like about fruit trees?
So for better or worse, I have joined the ranks of others out there somewhere who are also bucking the manicured front- lawn idolatry of our nation and planting fruit trees there.
It will be five or six years before my “trees” develop sufficiently to bring forth their first harvest. And even then, it will only be with the cooperation of my deer friends.
But I look forward to inviting you all to the first annual Cardin-Reisner Apple Harvest festival, hopefully well before my dotage. And if you too plant now, I would be honored to come and celebrate yours.