I moved house three and half years ago. Upped sticks and moved over the hill from Wellington to the rural charms and heat of the Wairarapa. Child-free and time rich (apart from work) I haven’t regretted the move for a moment.
One of the selling points of my new house, (to me anyway) was the area of wild land, unused except as a tip for old clotheslines and lumps of concrete, lying between a large macrocarpa hedge and a wall at the back of the garden. My Wellington homes had been perched on windy hillsides of clay soil, any plants I attempted to grow inevitably in shade for a good part of the day. This area provided shelter, space, sunshine and soil- the perfect place for an edible garden.
The Wairarapa usually has sun and heat aplenty. Not this year. Cloud covered days interspersed with rain have made the farmers as happy as the proverbial pigs in manure. Paddocks usually flattened by now to a crispy brown stubble are this year awash with green grass, tall and luxuriant enough to allow two cuts of hay. Round bales complacently dot the landscapes, the animals assured of feed for the next year.
All good for my edible garden then. Well, Yes and No.
Lettuces- tick. Cucumbers-tick. Strawberries- tick. Tomatoes- tick. Basil- tick. Courgettes- tick. Beans not so good this year. I will plant a different variety next year. Peaches- recovering from leaf curl but the crop should be okay. And that brings me to the plums.
Damson plums. Damsons are an ancient variety of drupaceous (great word isn’t it?) plums. The Romans brought them to Britain – ancient! Sweet and tart- they make great jams and sauces. Which is why I planted my tree. You can’t beat a good spicy plum sauce with everything.
My tree has been in for three years and already has lots of fruit.
Ha Ha to the old gardeners rhyme:
“He who plants plums
Plants for his sons.
He who plants damsons
Plants for his grandsons.”
What a good gardener am I. I thought.
Last year- year 2- the crop was smaller. The sun was hotter and the fruit seemingly ripened over-night. By the time I got back from work at the end of day, they were all gone. Birds can strip a tree in less than a day. And not many birds either. They wait. They check. They wait. And then when the sugar levels are just as they like them, they swoop, beaks at the ready and a year’s work is gone. Disappeared. No sauces, no jams. Nothing.
This year, it’s going to be different. I thought. Me and my armoury against the birds. I have hung CDs from the branches- their silver surfaces reflecting light unpredictably are supposed to act as a deterrent. They don’t.
I have put a mirror underneath so the birds supposedly on guard against perceived movement from below don’t feel safe enough to eat the fruit. Useless. I have draped a net over some of the branches covering the fruit and all that has done is to catch the unripe fruit the birds have tested and found wanting. And I have a cat. A cat who sleeps under the daisy bush right beside the plum tree. Not just any cat. A hunter. Rabbits- tick. Rats- tick. A lethal death machine of a cat. The birds don’t stand a chance I thought.
When I say birds, I mean one thrush. A fat brown speckled big brown eyed thrush to be exact. A thrush who has staked out the garden and been there for every daylight hour of the past week. First to arrive in the morning and last to leave at night. Its big brown eyes fixed on my damson plums. Watching. Waiting.
Every morning I check the plums, ready to haul them off the tree and into the kitchen as soon as they show the first signs of ripeness.
They weren’t ready this morning. Their colour is changing, to be sure. Purple is gradually replacing the green. They aren’t quite as hard as they were yesterday. Any day now. Just a burst of sustained heat and sunshine and they will be ready. The heat from Australia is on its way. Soon I think. Soon.
I reached down to give the cat an ear tickle and he lay there in the warm earth and meowed in response. I looked over him to see, nestled onto a wooden sleeper, the thrush, its speckled breast plumped out against the warm wood.
Two feet off the ground, three feet from the cat, the thrush looked comfortable. Content.
The cat yawned.
No need to move just because I’m here I said.
And they didn’t.