My plan was to be a good, frugal gardener.
To avoid adding to the mountain of plastic waste that will drown the planet if we’re not careful, to grow my plants from seed or cuttings, to grow as many food plants as I can fit into our tiny garden, to avoid buying stuff for the garden as much as possible.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way.
Yesterday, my plan wasn’t to garden at all, it was to write. Well, I didn’t get to edit a single word of my story. I went out to the writing shed, and saw my favourite apple tree, the one in the plastic pot near the writing shed door, blown over in the almost-but-not-quite-gale-force gusty winds we’ve had. The tree looked miserable, and saving it became my top priority.
Which meant finding a new container for it, replanting it, and rearranging half the other plants in pots to make a new space for it. Unfortunately, it was already in the biggest pot I have.
Rather than go buy a huge new plastic pot at the nearest garden center, which would have cost a lot, probably been difficult to find, and totally contradicts my policy of NOT buying new stuff if I can help it I thought of some jute salad or veggie growing bags I bought cheaply last week.
Okay, they’re new, but they aren’t plastic, they’ll biodegrade nicely, and I think the jute industry is fairly sustainable. Plus they won’t look as downright ugly as many plastic pots do. None of the sizes I had were right, so I cut the base out of one and sewed the sides to another one around the top edge to make an extra large and deep container. Perfect for the tree, and the other benefit of using the jute is we could knock a stake right through the base into the soil. It cost a fraction of what a pot would, plus a bit more of my time, to make something I feel happier with that’s bigger too.
Of course, the jute will decompose within a few years, even though it’s lined with what looks like heavy waxed paper. After I’d already planted it in the jute bag, my lovely husband suggested using some of the timber panels from our unused bookshelves (I used to have an internet bookshop with thousands of books) to make raised garden beds. They’ll work well. We could use those for the tree too, make a two panel wide/ two panel high surround for it, once the jute shows signs of rotting out.
Anyway, for now, I think I saved my beloved tree. And it won’t blow over again, the bag is huge and heavy, weighted with gravel in the base, and I’ve put a stake (more recycling, it’s actually a left over steel curtain rod from the house!) right through into the ground.
Despite my best attempts, it’s hardly frugal, and not as environmentally friendly as I’d like either. I had to buy soil to fill the huge planter bag, about 120 litres. That’s a lot of potting mix. The one apple on the tree will have cost a lot of money by the time we get to eat it. It may not even be that nice an apple! Supermarket fruit plants are rarely adventurous varieties.
But a tree has more value than that. It’s all the apples this tree will ever produce I’m paying for now. Hopefully, even after we move the new owners will leave the tree there to enjoy the shade and the fruit. Though this tree was most definitely not part of my plans.
This is the apple tree I bought only because I felt sorry for it. I’d already planted four apple trees last spring, and I was about to fly to Australia in an emergency because Mum was in hospital. In the supermarket buying some nuts and fruit for the flight, I saw the last sad broken stick left in the box of bare rooted fruit trees, way past planting time. It looked dead, but I touched it and knew it still had life left in it. Planted out immediately, it might survive.
I had no space in our garden to plant it though, and no time to do more guerilla gardening and plant it over on the waste ground near the railway line, where I’d planted other fruit trees. I had to leave for the airport in a few hours. Luckily, the mother in law had given us some big old plastic garden pots she didn’t want any more, and a huge bag of potting soil. I hastily gave the root ball a good soak, planted the pathetic stick in the pot, said a little prayer for it, and stuck it out of the way behind the shed.The tree had its chance at life, though whether it would survive or not I didn’t know.
By the time I got home, it had clearly survived and was thriving! New leaves and flower buds unfurled. I decided to leave it in the pot until next winter, then replant it in the ground while it was dormant, to reduce transplant shock. It hasn’t quite worked like that. The tree grew huge. Way bigger than the ones in our hard stony ground, where I’d struggled to scratch out a big enough planting hole. I had to pot the tree on into a bigger pot (luckily also an old one from the MiL), and now into the jute bag. It’s not going anywhere now. The place it’s in now, a few feet in front of the shed, will do fine as a permanent spot for it. Because it’s on bare ground under the bag, not on paving, the roots should break through the base of the bag and grow down into the soil. Tree has found its place.
We could never move it or plant it in the ground, it’s too big now. The bag is way too heavy to move. And the soil here is shallow, hard as concrete when it dries out, and full of rocks and builder’s rubble. It’s hard to plant anything out, even tiny bare rooted plants or things in three inch pots, which is why I’m growing so much in pots. It took me weeks to dig out the ground to plant the hedge when I first moved here, and I ended up with bags and bags of rubble! I’d never be able to dig a hole large enough for this tree.
It’s not quite where I hoped it would go, I wanted to move it to directly in front of the shed to shade the window from the afternoon sun, but the big jute bag won’t fit there. Well, it would, but it would be right against the shed wall and that would rot the shed timbers. Where it is now, it may still give the shed a little shade if it starts to branch out more and not just grow straight up as it is now. I’m not big on pruning things, but I get the feeling I’ll need to prune the leader, that main top trunk that wants to just keep going up up up.
The other potted plants I had to move can live in front of the shed. Things need moving around more to find their best place. The baby fig tree in its big blue glazed pot will fit nicely into that space in front of the window. It’s growing fast from the 4 inch cutting I started with, and those broad fig leaves will give nice shade by next summer. Okay, maybe the summer after, next summer could be too optimistic. Even me, Ms Pollyanna, has to concede that!
I have some goji berry cuttings to plant up too, they could go in a pot by the shed door, where the apple tree used to sit. It’s not anywhere near frugal gardening yet, but I’m getting there with the edible landscaping at least!
I really need to write though. I have all these grand plans, and I’m not taking any action to get to them. Is saving a tree a good enough excuse not to write?
That’s a trick question, of course, because the answer has to be “Yes” for me, but I wasn’t saving trees every minute of the day. And I’m not working on the story today either, I’m blogging, and blog surfing. Okay, it’s a bad, pathetic excuse! This time next week, I won’t just have airy-fairy in-my-head writing goals. I’ll have a plan mapped out and up on my wall. With deadlines.