My friend from North Carolina, called me last week. At the end of our conversation I asked her what she planned to do that day. She paused to think, then shared, “I ordered several plants recently and they were delivered yesterday. The sooner they’re planted, the better. This afternoon I’ll be gardening.”
Remembering the happy anticipation my family experienced whenever Mom or my brothers ordered fruit trees from a catalog, I inquired with interest, “What sort of plants did you get?”
Chuckling, my friend explained, “I had a hard time deciding between blueberries and cranberries. I love blueberries, but I already have some growing in my yard. I wanted to try my hand at growing cranberries, so I ordered a few plants. My order wasn’t filled correctly though; the nursery sent blueberry plants by mistake.”
Laughing because the same sort of mix-up had happened to my brother Casper once, I questioned, “Did you call the nursery? Are they going to send you the cranberry bushes you wanted? In mix-ups of this sort, nurseries don’t want the customer to send plants back to them. They consider the incorrect order a total loss.”
My friend mused, “I think serendipity decided for me what I should have. I love blueberries. Since the cranberry bushes were more expensive, the company is refunding the price difference.”
Surprised, I exclaimed, “The company should automatically reorder the cranberry bushes for you! Once, when my brother Casper ordered a grape vine, the nursery sent a bare root apple tree by mistake. He reported the mistake and was told to go ahead and plant the apple tree. They promised that they would immediately send the grapevine he wanted for no extra fee.”
After the nice telephone visit with my friend, I thought about the big orchard on the farm where I grew up, remembering one particular summer day when I was about twelve.
Sunshine dappled the orchard grass. Between the second and third row of trees, I found what I was looking for; a huge clump of purple violets. My brother Billy, who’d mowed the lawn last evening, had very carefully mowed around the clump. With a big smile on my face, I tried to decide what I loved the most; pretty wild flowers growing in such a big clump, or a brother who would mow around them and then tell me where to find them.
Sitting down on the grass next to the violets, I glanced around. My brother told me Grandpa Altmann had planted the orchard. The trees looked big and old. I wondered if he had planted it soon after buying the farm in 1901. However the orchard came to be, it felt like a peaceful oasis, especially since it was tucked away behind the garage on the backside of our farmyard.
As an adult, I sometimes wonder about that wonderful, mysterious orchard I played in as a child. Why was it the way it was? The lawn under the apple trees undulated like a giant’s washboard. Four rows of gently sloping ridges ran north and south. The trees were all planted on the summit of each ridge. Each row was about as long as Daddy’s cow barn, though the orchard was much wider.
When I learned about hügelkultur, a German word meaning ‘mound culture’, a method of creating growing areas on small farms I found my answer. Hügelkultur has been practiced in Germany for hundreds of years. Since Grandpa Altmann had recently emigrated from Germany, he must have known all this.
The orchard was by turns my monkey-bar playground where each tree I climbed turned into homes for the imaginary people in my life, a raspberry patch, a goat paddock and my personal summer snack cupboard. When I wanted to eat between meals while playing outside, all I had to do was find a tree with ripe apples. Grandpa had the forethought to plant at least two or three each of crabapple, Duchess of Oldenburg, Greenings, Russet and Cortland apple trees.
With a chuckle I remembered Casper’s grape order, “For years, whenever Casper ate one of the apples, he’d wisecrack, ‘Boy, this grape is delicious!’ Then I wondered, “Whenever my friend eats blueberries from her new blueberry bushes, will she wistfully think about the mix-up and say, ‘Wow, these are the sweetest cranberries I’ve ever eaten!’?”