I can’t stop going to visit it – the Huonville crab apple, this season dripping with fruit, more fruit than I have ever seen it set before, and I’m already dreaming of the clearest brightest red jellies, and the delectable tart tartins that await us, at the same time trying hard not to be counting my chickens…or crab apples. What’s the old saying? Pride comes before a fall, or at least before the hordes of corellas move in. But after harvesting just three of these perfectly formed red fleshed fruit last season I am determined that you will be delighting in them by the basketful at our lunches this summer, and will happily sleep out here if I have to. And actually, snoozing in the rhubarb doesn’t sound half bad.
It’s not just the crab apple – all the fruit trees are laden, and the full sense of fruitfulness, of fruitful seasons and times has been bought home to me. It feels safe, abundant, exciting. Even the recalcitrant quinces, clearly dissatisfied with some aspect of their lot over the last few seasons, although I’m not sure which, are covered; I dare not count the fruit because, really that would just be asking for it. And the peaches!
In October we enjoyed two completely delightful Sunday lunches with passionate gardeners from near and far as part of Gardivalia, Gippsland’s annual Festival of Gardens. As well as lots of gardening wandering and chatting, and having many bare patches in my slowly evolving house garden filled by carefully tended and generously gifted hellebore seedlings and special irises, it was fascinating to hear that it’s not just our little valley that is struggling with the birds in the fruit trees over the last few years – many in regions around us, in Melbourne too, have also noticed a definite increase in bird numbers and species over the last five or so years.
I grew up in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney, and even then, between the possums and the galahs, cultivating vegetable gardens and fruit trees was an exercise in mindfulness and being grateful for what one got. In my Brisbane backyard the scrub turkeys took this to new heights – not just destroying gardens but helpfully, or otherwise, relocating them overnight into great twiggy piles further from their original location than really seemed possible by a rag tag bunch of birds. And up on the farm the corellas were a terror, wheeling in great flocks numbering thousands, their haunting cries announcing their intentions for the newly planted crops. In Canberra it was the rosellas, and that’s when I learned that Jackie French plants all her fruit trees in tight formations and lets them reach skyward for light, creating a ‘roof’ for the birds to graze from, and a dense thicket of leaves under this to discourage expansionary thoughts. It seemed to work.
When I arrived on this farm, after a decade of bird wars, I couldn’t believe my luck. Bare, windswept and cold, this hill was a blank slate as far as birds and much else were concerned, and what the wind didn’t whoosh away was mine, all mine. But, unexpectedly, I found myself missing them – the honeyeaters, the wrens, the maggies, even the sparrows! I planted more and more shrubs, and hedges, and trees, and gardens, and can still remember the day when the first male superb fairy wren appeared at the house, looking fine in his breeding plumage. A joy! Slowly, word spread, and soon we had a pair of grey shrike thrushes, a family of lunatic magpies, native ducks, kookaburras, flame robins, New Holland honeyeaters and of course more wrens. When Martha was a baby, I would sit with my coffee in my chair near the window, watching them while she slept, with a deep feeling of happiness and contentment that they were around. It was a beautiful time.
Then the rosellas came. And the galahs. And then right at the end of the dry years, the corellas. And after the fires, the king parrots. And all the while the crows were building their numbers, watching and waiting. First it was the rose buds, then the almonds, then the peaches and prune plums (all of them, every last one!) and then the broad beans and then…and then… I do wonder if a time will come when we have to net, religiously, thoroughly and on a large scale, to grow food here. But in the meantime, I’ll enjoy the birds. I remember what it’s like to be without them.
PS Honoured to have a few of my favourite peach recipes featured in the current (Christmas 2014) issue of Country Style magazine (including rose petal and peach fizz, white peach sorbet and a galette with the best flaky pastry) as well as a delicious leek tartlet featured on Tasty Tuesday at The Design Files. If you’re keen to try any of them and have any questions, drop me a note, happy to talk food any time.