Saturday, 30 April 2011

When a whim becomes a reality (or the quest for maidens with whips in hand)

It has been several weeks since I wrote a post on this blog, much to my chagrin.  But an extended respiratory infection, business travel and other sundry activities and commitments somehow got in the way and conspired to keep me from getting started.  There is also the fact that we've had a cool start to the spring, and given that my primary purpose for this blog was to document activities in my garden to help me remember from year to year what is and is not working, there has been little activity as yet to sink my teeth into.  Having said that, at least the big early project I planned for this year (removal of the increasingly domineering locust tree from the front yard) has been accomplished, opening up the garden to much more light and sunshine, and in turn opening up some new possibilities for re-organizing and replanting what had increasingly become a sun-starved spot in recent years.  In my last post, I mused about replacing that sprawling arboreal mass with a more dimensionally appropriate espalier apple, providing much needed form to my tiny garden, along with the functionality of fruit production.  That little whim has become a veritable bee in my bonnet, and much Googling has ensued, to learn more about the techniques involved, and the history and aesthetics of this centuries-old form.  The Googling, as well as several trips all over Toronto to find suitable starting materials (one year old maidens), has revealed that the generalist fruit tree purchasing public has little interest in such early saplings (who wants to wait for years for a fruit?), or even for more interesting varieties.  The common or garden suppliers seem stuck with little more than Macintosh Red and Golden Delicious, or else nifty, space efficient, multigrafted specimens with 5 different varieties on a single plant.  Highly productive, and an excellent idea for a small space like mine, but unsuitable for re-engineering into the highly trained forms I have in mind.
Apple Journal Photo Gallery - The Smokehouse

Finally, I discovered Siloam Orchards, just north of Toronto, near Uxbridge.  They have scores of heritage and rare apples and other fruit trees available, and available as "whips", which means 1 year old, non-branched trees, which are the perfect starting material for my project.  A quick perusal of their listings reveals that they have beautiful red-fleshed apples, reinettes and pippins. There are ones which taste like pineapples or are reminiscent of bananas,  coddlings, russets of all sorts, and dozens of varieties that were popular at the time of Queen Victoria, and with names to match (the Blenheim Orange, the Smokehouse, or the Knobbed Russet).  After realizing that it's almost May 1st, and that my initial and critical first pruning steps should take place before the buds burst, I made a hasty call and discussed my plans with the kindly folks at Siloam, who have promised to set aside 5 or 6 recommended varieties for me to choose from. I'm heading up there today, and we're promised sunshine and 15 degree temperatures, so it should be a pleasant drive.  I may do a bit of sightseeing on the way, never having been to Uxbridge, and I've scoped out a couple of restaurants for lunch, so it may turn into a very pleasant day in the country, to kick-off what will undoubtedly be a longer term garden project.  Wish me luck!

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