Orchard planting day

New sapling about to be planted in the orchard. By Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

When I imagined us planting the orchard at Pocket, I’d imagined a still, dry weekend, everyone gathered together, savouring planting the trees slowly and carefully, retreating to the Home Glade to graze on a spread of home-baked goodies beside the fire whenever they needed a break. So much of the work we’ve done at Pocket has been preparation for this moment. I wanted to mark it with an air of celebration. We are learning that not much in landwork goes to plan.

It’s been a wet February. There’s even standing water on the ridge line of the land, which is testament to how sodden the landscape is. Storms have swept in and swept out, barely a breath between them, accompanied by unseasonal warmth. The birds sing riotously in the woods. A hedgelaying friend tells us he’s done his last job for the season, it’s time to leave the hedges to the wildlife. In the past, he’d have carried on working through March. And still it rains.

But there are some jobs we couldn’t delay for the weather, like planting the orchard. So, in a brief let-up between downpours yesterday, we slogged to get twenty-seven fruit trees in the ground, mulched, staked, small mammal guards on, before another weather warning hit over night. Wet, hungry, cold, tired, grumpy and extremely muddy, we flung ourselves into the pick-up in the gathering gloom and gratefully drove home to a warm house, hot food, and an episode of Gladiators by the stove, just in the nick of time, rain pebble-dashing the windscreen.

As my wet jacket steamed in the pick-up, I reflected on the strange feeling that crept over me as we’d moved down the steep orchard field, a feeling of being watched.

Or perhaps, appraised, might be a better word.

A sense of these trees as a community, as living beings with their own personalities and their own feelings about being planted at Pocket. And an air of celebration. As if they’d accepted an invitation, and though Big Dreamer and I grumbled in the mud, they were here for the inaugural orchard day party! As the last tree was firmed in and we gazed back up the hill, there was a definite sense of the slope having been peopled. It had become a place.

I’d read the Bible verse that morning about anything not done in love being a waste of time. Cold and wet, I’d snapped at the children as we’d planted, not been available for them, lukewarm tinned soup for lunch: not at all the orchard planting day I’d imagined they’d reminisce to their own grandchildren about. And not much love, I thought. Another mum-failure day.

But as we rolled out of the pick-up into the house, more tired than I could begin to describe, the question popped into my mind, love for who? The truth is my children have plenty of me most of the time. They have never known want or true fear. They know they are loved.

Yesterday, I loved a new orchard into being. And though it wasn’t accompanied by paper hearts and doves, each tree diligently lowered into the ground, each spadeful of warm mulch, each stake to support the growing tree, were all acts of love.

Tomorrow, gale force winds are forecast. Big Dreamer and I will hope for the best, and head out to put up the last layer of protection on the orchard trees: deer-proof guards. And though my prayers and blessings for these trees may be uttered through gritted teeth as the wind whips away my words, I will heap them on these welcome guests who have come to make Pocket, not just a place, but a home.

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