Tree Hugging

Tree Hugging
Images by Philip Solman

Images by Philip Solman

Images by Philip Solman

Images by Philip Solman

By Andrea Bellamy - heavypetal.ca

For so many of us, trees are powerful things. We imbue them with meaning and purpose. With spirit. We anthropomorphize the gnarled trunk of the old oak, and we imagine the march of time the ancient cedar has witnessed. We feel called to protect them.

I have a theory that everyone has a memory about a special tree. The cherry tree on the property your parents rented after your dad lost his shirt. The apple tree you climbed to rise above the arguments. The hollow tree you hid inside and felt you’d discovered a secret world. The Douglas fir you named and climbed just to see how high you could go. Trees root us to a place. 

The house I grew up in had a tree that produced an excess of delicate, juicy peaches. You couldn’t really even call it a tree; it was more of a thick, knobby limb propped up with a two-by-four, forgiven for its ugliness and unclimbableness because of the sweetness of its fruit. 

Peach season meant two things. The first was that my dad would be called to reinforce the tree, which was forever threatening to split in two because of the heaviness of its crop. The second was harvest. Peaches for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; juices running down your arms; my mom bringing out the canning pot and spending the day in the kitchen, windows flung open, the floor sticky with fruit sugar.  

I want my daughter to have tree memories. To feel rooted. To feel her connection to the natural world. The house we live in has only a single, young tree in the backyard. It’s a Styrax japonicus (Japanese snowbell)—a perfectly decent, acceptable tree. I can find no fault with it, other than that it is completely uninspiring. Too young to climb or hang a tire swing from, too small to be impressive: our solitary tree needs shoring up. It needs metaphorical two-by-fours. 

With winter rain encouraging roots to get established, autumn is an ideal time to plant trees. And in my mind, fruit trees offer a lot to get excited about. Like some of our most popular ornamental trees, many fruit trees flower in spring, with the added appeal of fruit in summer or fall. Dwarfing rootstocks mean that those of us with even the tiniest of spaces can grow fruit—including in containers—provided we have the sun-drenched location fruit trees require. 

This fall, my Japanese snowbell will be joined by an apple (grafted and espaliered, boasting six varieties on one tree) and a Brown Turkey fig. The rest of my little orchard is still undetermined, but I know it will include quince, plum, and of course, peach. Perhaps my daughter has her own ideas. 

A garden checklist for fall

  • Plant a tree or three. If apples are on your wish list, a good place to find new and heirloom varieties is at the UBC Apple Festival.
  • Plant garlic and broad (fava) beans for harvest next year.
  • Nourish your soil by mulching with compost, manure, or leaf mold. Or sow a cover crop in empty beds and till it under in spring.
Andrea Bellamy is the gardener behind HeavyPetal.ca and author of Small-Space Vegetable Gardens: Growing Great Edibles in Containers, Raised Beds, and Small Plots.