The Spiritual Gardener: Summer Fruit – A Personal Snapshot

David Jensen | August 8th, 2013

"In early summer, my mother would come home with paper bags full of local apricots for us kids and they were the big, juicy apricots that have a flavor that only local, ripe-picked apricots can have." Photo: David Jensen

Summer draws quietly to a close, and the heat obligingly abates somewhat. We had a few mornings already last week with the temperature in the 60s F, very fresh indeed. It was mild and sunny all weekend, low humidity, a bit of relief finally from one of the hottest summers here, which followed one of the toughest winters, so naturally the garden is looking rather shabby lately.

Saturday, I worked my way methodically through the hedgerow between the two driveways, cutting out all the deadwood and yielding a pile of brush about the size of an SUV. Both days this weekend, I worked at pulling up the vexing, creeping weeds that are infesting the lawn. It is called ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) and is extremely tenacious, the evil thing (see picture, below). If you see it in your garden, you should be alarmed, very alarmed. Then, for good measure, I watered everything as it has been very dry, and I started collecting cleome seeds to scatter next spring.

This is what ground ivy looks like, in case you are lucky enough never to have seen this in your garden. I got mine in the form of seed in a lovely load of manure and I have never had a dull moment – or minute’s rest – since that dark day.

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I really made an effort this summer to eat more summer fruit and have gorged on cherries (we got some fantastic ones from the Pacific Northwest that were dark and sweet and almost as big as walnuts), blueberries, cantaloupes and now pears. And even our poor raspberry canes, ruthlessly exploited by the birds, have managed to yield us a bowlful of berries every now and then.

Our tomato strategy has paid off only moderately; they were delicious but not very numerous because of the dry summer and because the gardener has another less important but still full-time job and cannot be on hand twice a day to give the tomato plants a deep and refreshing drink, though both the tomato plants and the gardener would much prefer that arrangement.

What I find myself really missing are the fresh peaches and apricots of my youth. I grew up in a fruit-growing region where fresh summer fruits were taken for granted as part of the natural rhythm of life. Late every summer, my mother would pile the kids into her station wagon, and we would go to the roadside fruit stands in Palisade and on Orchard Mesa to load the car up with the peaches and tomatoes she would preserve and the cucumbers she would pickle.

For days, our house smelled interestingly like a cannery, with the sickly sweet smell of sliced ripe peaches, the parboiled tomatoes and the sharp tang of dill and boiling vinegar for the pickles, with the kitchen full of steam from the boiling Mason jars. We had a room in the basement under the stairs where our freezer was kept, and that room was called “the fruit room” because that is where all the jars of preserves were also stored, glowing red and yellow and green like traffic lights for tomatoes, peaches and pickles.

In early summer, she would come home with paper bags full of local apricots for us kids, and they were the big, juicy apricots that have a flavor that only local ripe-picked apricots can have – not like the sad and tasteless, merely apricot-coloured things we have to buy in grocery stores these days. I am sure the modern ways are much better, though in some not very obvious respect.

One summer, when I must have been nine or ten years old, I was sitting on our front porch with my brothers and sister; we were eating our way through a bag of these amazing apricots and spitting the pits into a planter near the front door that held a tangle of honeysuckle and vinca mixed together. A few weeks later, I noticed a tiny sprouted seedling there when I was pulling some weeds and I must have seen the cracked apricot pit because I decided it had sprouted from that day of the apricot feast a few weeks before.
I carefully dug it up and moved it to our backyard and planted it in a tiny little garden I was then tending that didn’t have much in it at the time except a few irises I had scavenged from the neighbours’ yard. That was also where I buried my tropical fish when they died, after a brief but heartfelt and tearful religious ceremony that usually consisted of a grave and sonorous reading of the 23rd Psalm over them and trying to get my sister and our Boston terrier to be suitably reverent or at least to sit decently still, something that was just not in either of their natures, my sister squirming even more than the Boston terrier.

The apricot seedling liked that spot and rapidly grew into a whip-like stripling. Eventually, it became a very large tree, whose spreading canopy was more than 20 feet tall and 20 feet wide. And to my childish delight, it always fruited heavily, though I never did anything more to it than find it in the first place and water it fairly regularly when it was small.

One year, much later, we had a perfect season for apricots, and this great tree fruited much more heavily than it ever had before, with every large branch burdened with its golden freight of fruit, some branches bowing down almost to touch the ground. At that time, our backyard was a dog run for a brother and sister pair of standard schnauzers. The female had a weakness for these sweet apricots; she stripped a branch bare as far as she could reach. She was in perfect apricot heaven, a place I knew well, carefully spitting out the pits and, amazingly, she suffered no ill effects from her golden binge.

That tree became the tallest and shadiest tree in our backyard, and I spent many happy hours in its cool shade as a boy, reading. For all I know, it is there still, and I hope it is, despite the dereliction and neglect that our old family house has been subjected to by later owners over the years. But the tree, I hope, still stands, as I say, bearing mute and lasting witness to the way small things in our lives become big things and the way that some of the best things that happen in a garden are not planned or even foreseen or dreamed of.

And so the gardener goes on being humbled over the years, man and boy, and the marvels of horticulture continue to fall promiscuously from heaven or from a brown paper bag of cool summer fruit, held for a brief moment of time between the bare feet of children on a hot summer day.

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David Jensen writes the popular American blog “The Garden Interior,” which chronicles his garden in southern New Jersey. Please visit at www.TheGardenInterior.com. You can follow David Jensen on Twitter at @GardenInterior.