Planting an Orchard

By Annabel Langbein

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Planning an Orchard in Wānaka

Growing for future generations.

Two apricot trees were the very first things I planted on our land in Wānaka. I put them up behind the cabin, on a rough bank that had been earthworked for the building site and the newly formed road – the only cleared land on the block. The bank was all peat, which, in this harsh, arid environment, seemed quite remarkable, and I figured this moisture-holding medium would be just perfect for my little trees. Our trips down from Auckland between work and school would be sporadic, and in between there was no one around to check on the trees’ wellbeing and no irrigation system to rely on. And so the holes were dug, and my little trees – one a traditional moorpark and the other an early Central variety called Newcastle – carefully planted.

So much of a garden is about romance and beauty. Gardening, on the other hand, is about thinking and planning and a whole lot of hard work. But there’s always a sense of joy in the doing of it, and a feeling that you’re working with something bigger than yourself. As it is whenever you work with the natural world – you may have plans but nature will always be the ultimate arbiter! All those years ago when I planted the apricot trees, we hadn’t spent any real time living on the property, and knew neither where the sun rose and set through the seasons, nor how the cold fell in the winter. But for all of this inexperience, they grew and flourished for a number of years. The first year the apricots fruited, I remember sitting down under the tree, scoffing one apricot after another, lost in a reverie of sweet, tangy memories conjured up in their taste… a recall of my own childhood holidays in this magnificent part of the world. The steely, shimmering heat of the Clyde Valley in summer, the extraordinary aquamarine water of its legendary river, deep, swift waters that totally terrified us city kids, rickety orchards with their offerings of spotty, ugly fruit that for all its lack of cosmetic appeal tasted so, so heavenly, competitions to see who could spit the pips the furthest – back it all came, flooding me with that wonderful sense of summer freedom. No wonder I had wanted to plant apricot trees.

In the quixotic notion of my own childhood, this was a deeply woven thread that I wanted my own children to experience. And, via the simple act of planting and growing two trees, it was so simple to achieve. Certainly there is nothing like the taste of fruit picked ripe from the tree, but beyond taste there is also the idea of getting to know the flavour of fruit from one tree or another. At the supermarket we buy fruit – be it pears, apples, feijoas, nectarines, apricots or cherries – without having any real sense of varietal flavour. But when you have your own trees you get to savour the nuances ­– the particular aroma and sweet juiciness of one nectarine type compared to another, or the sugary crunch or dense sweet-sour taste of different apples.

I also love the shape of fruit trees in the garden. They are worth growing not just for their fruit but for their form and good looks. And it’s fabulous to have homegrown fruit to give to friends and family. Had I known better how to plant and look after my apricot trees I could have enjoyed many more years of wonderful apricots. As it happened, too much water uptake from the underground spring, which is what allowed them to grow so lushly, meant that when a whopper of a frost hit, it killed them outright. But I have planted lots of orchard trees since, and this winter I am about to plant a whole lot more. Winter is the best time to plant fruit trees, so you give their roots time to get established before the spring growing season. So now’s the time to start planning! Here’s wishing you all many wonderful tastes from your own homegrown fruit trees. I know you’ll love the experience you have created and the next generation, too, will forever thank you for your efforts.


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Partner to Annabel’s Essential Volume One: Best Ever Meals for Busy Lives, this extensive compendium is the only book you’ll ever need to bring a little sweetness to your life.

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