When I was a child, we had an orchard. I remember the day we moved in to that house like it was yesterday. Me and my sister paced the length and breadth of the field, wading through grass as tall as we were. We’d never seen so much space. I remember dragging an old plastic sled around in the autumn, loading up apples for cider-making. I remember picking ripe fruit from the branches, all crunch and sweet and juice like an ideal of apple. I remember climbing the trees in the spring, camouflaged in blossom. I remember my Dad hanging swings for us to swing on, higher, higher. I would lie in the tall grass in the summer, looking up at the blue sky, framed in blades, birdsong, buzz. I remember.
The plan, such as there is ever a plan, is to create an orchard in the part of the field that adjoins our vegetable garden. We will plant apples (of course), pears, quinces, cherries, plums, we will sow wild flowers, we will put the beehives here, and it will marvellous.
Winter is the traditional time to plant fruit trees, and our local garden centre had a ‘tree day’ – special offers on trees, a talk on how to plant and tend them, a very lovely and knowledgable lady who helped us choose varieties that will pollinate each other and give a long harvest, rather than a week of oh-my-days-how-much-fruit? So we bought two apple-trees (a Starking and a Reine des Reinettes), two pear-trees (a Conference and a William), one quince (a Portugal), and one cherry (a Sunburst). ML’s brother loaded them up into his trailer, and we took our new arrivals home to introduce them to the chickens and the cat.
After a day of digging holes, I went to bed, tired, sore, excited. When the topsoil arrives, I thought (three tonnes of good earth; ours is a little clay-like), I can soak the roots of the trees, and get them in the ground. I slept very well.
Then came the flood.
The next morning ML got up early to feed the chickens. I stayed in bed for a few more moments, encouraging my stiffened limbs into some semblance of life and usefulness. Rising, I opened the shutters of our bedroom to be presented with a scene from a John Wyndham novel (specifically The Kraken Wakes – read it, it may stand you in good stead for the future). The entire vista in front of the house had been transformed into a great silvered mirror, and the clouds above were dark and furrow-browed, moving too fast. The chickens were huddled on a rapidly diminishing island in the middle of their run (should we have got ducks?), the cat appeared to be doing the backstroke, and ML was nowhere to be seen.
I dressed hurriedly, pulled on my wellies, and waded out into the water. It had not (yet) reached the house; panic did not (yet) set in. ML reappeared from the lane that runs past the farm. “We need to do something about this,” she said, and took me to the drainage ditches that separate the lane from our hedgerows, all along one side of the property. They were clogged with branches and twigs and brambles and leaves, and rapidly filling with water. So much so, in fact, that they could not cope with the deluge and eventually burst their banks. The garden was underwater, the chickens were now balanced on top of one another, the lane became a river, and the water was gradually encroaching on the house. I donned my overalls and plunged knee-deep into the ditch and began furiously pulling out the material causing the blockage, while ML did the same a little down-stream, in an attempt to encourage the water to pass us by, to not stay for tea. It worked, to an extent, in that the water got no deeper, although neither did it start to recede.
I dug a ditch in the ground to drain the chicken run. The chickens thought me mad, and told me so as I worked, but it was successful, and their island began to get bigger.
I did this for seven hours (ML had to work).
When ML finished work, we jumped in the car and aquaplaned to Marcigny, and bought some sandbags. We rushed back and used them to block up our driveway. Miraculously this seemed to help, and the water in front of the house began to disappear, even as the lane became more submerged.
Satisfied that we had done all we could (would it be enough?), we went inside, closed the shutters, opened a bottle, and waited with crossed fingers.
We awoke to mist, but no rain, and the flood had all but vanished. There remained a little water in the chicken run, and the holes I had dug for the trees were filled to the brim. Well, I thought, that will delay the planting a little.
We are reassured to learn that this was an exceptional event, and that we need not buy a boat quite yet (although we are likely to have more, less severe, floods once or twice a year).
Five days later, no more rain, and the tree-holes are still full, the water having failed to drain away. No good for fruit trees, who will do badly (die) if their roots are submerged for any period of time longer than a day or two (charmingly referred to as wet feet).
I do a little digging tour of the field, exploring how far down the water is. It is similar in almost every place, and I am disheartened. More work to do, then, putting some drainage in the field to we can grow more than watercress (I do like watercress, though am unsure I could live on it). I am glad of the flood, we would have merrily planted the trees and then watched them wither and die (rather less merrily), if not for the warning the water gave us. A silver lining, then.
I have found a spot in the field where we can plant the six trees we have, but we will then need to complete the drainage before we can expand the orchard as planned.
And the bees? A hive on stilts? Can I rig up a floating beehive? Can bees swim? Bee-snorkels? All these questions (maybe not the last one) will be answered in the spring, when we get our hives and source our bees.
I remember those sun-dappled orchard hours, and we will get there again, but the path will be longer than it looked. As it ever is.Follow @wordpressdotcom