March 19, 2012

Spanish Weather & Borrowed Orchards

Suddenly the weather has turned almost Spanish – clear blue skies, 18°C and a fresh light breeze to make your heart sing. Lying on my back in the dry grass beside freshly dug earth I can feel the land holding me, the light blessing me and the fresh air clearing out all the dust and cramps of life in a flat in town.

To my left is a huge heap of dead branches stacked rather haphazardly into a thick hedge supported by a row of severed poplars. It is blocking a lot of light from the apple trees directly behind.

So using body weight to compact the stack as much as possible, we cut the stumps to about three feet high and tidy the branches to form a long, low mound. This will then be covered with leaves and dry grass. Once soaked by rains (bound to come soon!) it will in time rot down into a natural low boundary that still allows plenty of light to reach the little orchard.

To my right is the earth that has been cleared of its' winter mulch and dried out enough to be worked. Next to the elephant garlic now lies a row of sprouting beech nuts gathered from amongst the leaves in the town park. These will become the first seedlings to contribute towards the hedge that is planned for the upper field.

In the next ridge we begin to transplant wild apple rootstocks purchased from a nearby nursery onto which we have grafted an array of apple varieties, respectfully 'borrowed' from another park in town. All of the trees there are labelled, making the process of developing our orchard a lot easier.

Whilst keeping an eye on our adventurous toddler I now take on the fun job of shaping nursery beds outside the north entrance of the farmhouse. Using rocks unearthed from mounds of rubble and discarded heaps, I create small dry stone walls along the edges of the beds before laying mulch and cardboard and then more mulch to kill off the weeds and provide fodder for the worms.

Today a friend is here to help and the work progresses quickly. Five children play down by the stream, laughing and squealing together. Three hours later five children emerge dripping wet, cold and starving hungry, but still happy!

Making the most of the stunning weather we decide to gather all the good wood we can find before it inevitably gets wet again. Whilst clearing out the woodshed to make an orderly stack of the salvaged logs I come across a wooden grave marker commemorating the life of a man who died in 1945 by stepping on a landmine.

Distracted once again by my all too active little daughter I have no choice but to sit in the sun with her clambering all over me demanding cracked nuts and tea. From this vantage point I look directly onto the corner where the house joins the barn. A stable has been built here, tucked in between the ends of the two buildings, rather ramshackle but certainly useful.

If I magic it away in my mind’s eye I see the perfect fair-weather social space! Reopen the original arch of the Hall’s back wall, strip off the plaster from the lower part of the beautiful old brickwork on both sides, and you have a natural outdoor enclosure, extending the capacity of the hall and creating flow through from the courtyard to the plant nursery and the back garden. I risk criticism from my husband for putting our social life above the welfare of the animals, but really, there’s plenty of space for us all.

Weekly column 'A Taste of Earth' published @

No comments:

Post a Comment