Will it be hard to leave my garden--13 seasons of mud, sweat and, um, cheers or beers or deers? Sometimes just the right rhyme isn’t there, but, as anyone who listens to country music knows, you have to try. I have my moments of conflict, but they don't linger.
I am deeply inspired by the new farm's potential, but I do gaze at my charges now and then, in all their oddly juxtaposed suburban organic splendor, breathing in the intensity of my good fortune. Hard not to feel good about having carved a haven of polycultural productivity and sensible cultivation out of what once was grass carpet, plastic lawn edging, washed stone, spireas and daylilies.
A disturbing thought is that the next owner will beat my land back into submission, paving it with lawn before the first piece of furniture comes off our moving van. What are the odds that my garden, its fertile soil, native perennials, biodiverse lawn, worms, frogs, butterflies, dragonflies, snakes and hummingbirds will not succumb to a conformist’s vision of beauty? Pretty low.
But I have a plan. It comes into sharper focus every week. I am taking everything I can to the farm. Some of it will not survive the move, but I know enough of the resolve of plants to predict that they will do their best to live. It started last summer with a few digs of rhubarb and a single asparagus plant. I cannot predict where it will end.
In August, just after we closed on the new land, I moved the foundling apple tree. I call it that because it began its life as a seed in my compost bin. That's where I found it. That's where it first compelled me to recognize its initiative. I wondered if it was sensible to dig up a six-foot-tall tree and move it to a remote location, but I chose not overthink it. Within a year or two, my foundling apple would be dead on the curbside, trunk facing the street, anyway. Besides, it has already survived moves from compost bin to yogurt cup to 12-inch planter to its home in the annex, that patch of city property on loan to me by virtue of covert agriculture and my willingness to make it good. This tree wants to live. What's one more move?
I waited until heavy rains softened the soil. Even so, it was an arduous task to dig a hole large enough to extricate the tree from the earth. I soaked the roots in a bucket of water for an hour, then wrapped them in a sloppy wet towel (not a good one, Kelly) and loaded the tree into the car. It stuck out a foot or so from the back window as I drove off.
I picked a spot in what used to be the front yard of the old farmhouse, about 30 feet from the mailbox. I discovered the first time I dug here--in this quarter acre peninsula of fertility flanked by expanses of compacted nutrient-poor corn field--that the topsoil is dark and deep. My tree would have a chance here. I buried its roots, pruned it back to about four feet. The rest would be up to the tree.
I can’t yet tell if it has survived the winter. No leaves or swelling buds, but the branches don’t snap off when I bend them, so maybe that’s good. I remember from other seasons that the apple tree took longer than I thought it should to break dormancy. I hope it survives because its a good story, and I want to find out if it will beat the odds and produce an edible apple. More likely I will use it for rootstock and graft cuttings (scion wood) from a known good variety onto parts of this tree.
More transplants will follow: branch cuttings from the mulberry, prairie willow and pussy willow, more rhubarb, garlic, perennial flowers, some annual vegetables and flowers that I will start in the soon-to-be old garden. I am constantly scanning the ground for small native plants that have come up from the seeds dropped last fall. I am even moving some of the soil from the raised beds, which isn’t that easy, but at least satisfying in its difficulty. If I could bring the animals too, I would. Maybe they will follow me or stowaway in containers or the back of my truck.
From the perspective of building a productive farm, moving handfuls of plants is hardly a good use of time. But it feels right, so I do it anyway.
Hey, this just in...As of last week, the foundling apple tree still wants to live.