July 2010

Planting an orchard: An act of faith

By Jude Schuenemeyer

On a Monday this past June, Gillian Rose and I planted an orchard. Well, not the whole orchard, but the first young grafts that are to be a part of this new orchard. Planting the trees is the easy part of a many-year project that will take at least one lifetime to finish.

These are the trees that are grafted from scion wood taken from orchards across Montezuma County. Some of them are rare trees that are among the last living of their kind to be found anywhere. Others are unknown variants from historic orchards; many of the original trees are still living, but some have since died.

There are Early Strawberry and Raspberry apples, winter pears, and sugar pears. There is an unknown apple tree from the Gold Medal Orchard in McElmo Canyon, the trunk of the now-dead original being of the greatest in diameter for any apple tree that I have yet seen. We have a tree called 'By Kenyon's Drive About to Fall' which produces large, crisp, phenomenally juicy apples, a Summer Sweet from George Kelly's Place presumably planted by George himself, and a chance seedling from Duncan Springs named Addie's Pumpkin Spice because that is what Addie said the apple tasted like.

It took years to collect and recollect scion wood, for not every graft takes. This is hours spent driving slowly down county roads discovering remnants of a past still living for a hundred years or more. It has been an immersion in the histories of the families that settled this land generously provided by the salient generations that remain. It is that perfect union of people, and place, and plants. Above all, it is the trees.

As Gillian's little horses galloped imaginatively across the mud flats and through the trickle of irrigation water I spaced and eyeballed the rows of trees. I remembered with great pleasure on being in trees with the great orchard man Tom Burford and his comment that too-straight rows made him nervous. So I sighted in on the older peach trees for guidance and moved the new trees this way and that; straight enough to honor Jasper Hall, not so tight as to offend Mr. Burford. I planted the 'Pear Next to Apple' next to the 'Apple Next to Pear.’ I put 'Jeter T-2'  beside 'Jeter T-3.’ The grave of Rambo the ram received a pear from Duncan Springs SW of house. An old Galloway Wolf River anchors the center.

Planting an orchard is an act of faith and imagination. The fruit of our labor will take years to mature. Failure will be quickly revealed but success is difficult to asses. A century from now will a tree remain? Will varieties that are now all but extinct be found common in orchards and home plantings again, and will people remember the passionate labor of those who passed these trees to us unknown and unseen across the slip of past and future?
In the hot sun of McElmo Canyon, questions of generations lose importance to the basic act of roots in soil, for ultimately potential is limited to the initiation of vigor in motion. So on that Monday, Gillian Rose and I planted an orchard.

Jude Schuenemeyer is co-owner of Let It Grow Nursery and Garden Café in Cortez, Colo.