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Column: Gardening Metaphors and Jeffersonian Wisdom

By: Anne Boulton – Greenboots in the Garden

 | Aug 14, 2014 - 11:21 AM |
Mourning her Japanese maple, NorthernLife.ca columnist Anne Boulton talks cross-pollination, bees and gardening wisdom this week. Photo by Anne Boulton

Mourning her Japanese maple, NorthernLife.ca columnist Anne Boulton talks cross-pollination, bees and gardening wisdom this week. Photo by Anne Boulton

So it turns out my Japanese maple didn’t make it after all.

After a proper mourning period where I dressed only in maroon, my mind began to wander into the realm of possibility. This great box planter that had originally held Andorra juniper and the maple had to be re-thought. It is my opinion that this cycle of death and renewal is one that a gardener cherishes most of all.

Thomas Jefferson said it himself: "No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden. Such a variety of subjects, someone always coming to perfection, the failure of one thing repaired by the success of another, and instead of one harvest, a continued one thro’ the year.”

This “failure succeeded by success” is a great metaphor I like to rely on in tough times. (Poor Harrison is often the recipient of my gardening wisdom. He likes to tell me “he doesn’t understand my gardening metaphors, but secretly, we both know he does.)

Here was an opportunity like the one Jefferson knew well. I knew soon enough that what I would plant there would be less specious and more life-giving. I would create a fruit box.

In said fruit box, a gangly, branching Haralson apple tree stands sophomorically between robust raspberry bushes and high-bush blueberries. Four well-developed apples weigh down its scrawny limbs. But with the right encouragement, this immature specimen will reach great heights. Or at least offer a decent yield in the fall. Planted around its base are lovely, all-bearing strawberries. In the very front, a small rhubarb has done its work well, gifting us with a handful of tender red stalks. Humble beginnings, bright future.

I was a bit baffled about cross-pollination, feeling that I must avoid any variety that required a second pollinator, opting instead for a self-fertile specimen.

Turns out it’s basic birds and bees common sense, actually. If you happen to live in an urban area (which most of us within the city limits do), you likely have neighbours that have crab apple trees. These can act as your second pollinator. If your specimen is not self-fertile, then the second pollinator must be another species to be effective. I can think of four such trees on my street alone. Apples to apples, as they say.

Another consideration is the pollinators themselves. Bees are the most common, so you want to encourage their participation by having a good supply of blossoms on your tree and around the garden. I’m thinking specifically of my neighbour’s mature crab apple tree, which is genetically compatible with my variety and produces thousands of beautiful blooms around the same time as mine will purportedly bloom. This tree is humming with bees around mid-May.

I feel perfectly content in my new garden bed. More so now that I know this garden will help feed my family in a way that the beauty of the Japanese Maple never could.

Anne Boulton is an avid gardener who lives in Sudbury. Visit her blog at greenbootsgardens.tumblr.com or contact her at [email protected]. 

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