Watering the Melba

Yesterday this photograph arrived from Ottawa, with the caption, “Watering the Melba”:

watering the melba

These two young men are very dear to me. The taller one is my son. He was two years ago when we had land cleared below our house for an orchard. He and his younger brother, then an infant (and now a mathematician), sat in their car seats in our old brown pickup truck when we went to buy apple trees from Mike Poole on Norwest Bay Road in Sechelt.

Those first trees—bought from a man who collected heritage varieties and had an apple tasting weekend at his orchard on Norwest Bay Road in West Sechelt: we tasted, then ordered a Melba, a Golden Nugget, a Cox’s Orange Pippin. The trees were tiny, and we planted them reverently, shrouding them in old gillnet salvaged from the dump.

The Melba was my favourite. I loved sitting on the big flat rock under the mature tree, gorging on its fruit. When we finally gave up on our orchard and when John arranged for someone to come and clear out the underbrush to create a firebreak as a sort of insurance against what we fear most during the long hot summers that have come with climate change, he asked the guy to work around the Melba. But maybe the guy misunderstood or maybe he didn’t care. Our Melba is gone, and so is the Cox’s Orange Pippin, though I think the Golden Nugget is still there. I don’t go down there anymore because it makes me sad though in truth it’s been ages since we’ve able to count on any fruit because of the way elk, deer, and bears have damaged the trees. Gillnet, strands of wire, strands of wire with an electric current, chicken wire—the animals found a way through.

I was curious this morning to read a bit more about Melbas. My first thought when the photograph arrived yesterday was that Ottawa might be too cold for what I think of as a delicate tree. But this is what I found out on a site devoted to heritage apples:

Melba was developed in 1898 by the Central Experiment Farm in Ottawa, Canada, and introduced commercially in 1909. Lightly sweet with a hint of tartness, Melba’s fine, white flesh and thin skin give it a pleasing crispness, and it is good for both fresh eating and cooking. Its skin is yellow to lime in color, with streaks and blushes of pink and red.

Melba’s parents are McIntosh and Liveland Raspberry. Also known as Lowland Raspberry or Red Cheek, Liveland Raspberry is an early season apple that originated in the Lithuanian province of Lievland. Now rare, it was introduced into the United States in 1883. While McIntosh contributes to Melba’s fragrant, sweet-tart flavor, Liveland Raspberry influences its early ripeness, and supplies its tender flesh and thin skin.

The younger man in the photograph is my grandson, who is two, the same age his father was when we brought home our Melba. In “Ballast”, in Euclid’s Orchard, I wrote, “I’m interested in how plants travel, how they are carried to new places, how they are botanical palimpsests, in a way. And how they hold stories,some plain and true, and some cryptic.” The first thing I thought of when I woke this morning was the Melba in Ottawa, newly planted, newly watered, with a young family to care for it (another grandson is anticipated in July) and to enjoy its beautiful fruit.

6 thoughts on “Watering the Melba”

  1. Yes, the Melba below our house is gone. My bad, although it was badly blighted and hadn’t produced much fruit in years. The Cox’s was pretty much dead. The Golden Nugget is indeed still standing though not especially productive and there is also a Transparent, gangly and empty of fruit for years, that I noticed this morning is flourishing, leaf-heavy and robust. The remaining trees I’m sure will benefit from having more light thanks to the cleared area and from being visible from the house, where we can better keep track of how they’re faring. I think of the orchard more as evolving than abandoned. . . And I hope to sit one day beneath that Melba in Ottawa as I did so often under ours, resting from mowing or pruning. Love, John

  2. We are trying to maintain an apple tree in our tiny front yard. At our old house we had planted so many fruit bushes and trees – ones that flourished even in Alberta. But it was all too much for us to maintain. I’m hoping for good things from our one apple tree.

    1. I have one tree in my vegetable garden, a Merton Beauty, and its apples are delicious. But every year it’s a race to let them ripen before a bear breaks the fence. When it blooms, though, in late April? Heaven.

  3. I loved what the taller of the young men wrote to me last night:

    “This was lovely – thank you! I vaguely remember the trip to purchase the trees, if that’s possible (I must have been older than two): sitting at an old picnic table in a field and eating apple samples. And I have many fond memories of sitting under the Melba in the orchard while watering, on one occasion reading Chekhov short stories.

    The watering was the conclusion to a little ceremony for the planting of the Melba. I told Arthur that it marked Mummy and I having lived in the house for five years, with him for half of that, and the coming of the new baby, and that I hoped that he and his brother would enjoy its shade and its fruit, as I did ours, as they grow with it. I think he understand, for this evening, as we read one of his alphabet books, he looked up at “A”, with a huge smile, and said, “Daddy, I like apples, and you do too!”

    And it was the fall after his second birthday in spring. So he would have been two and a half. But still two!

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