When I ordered my lemon tree online, this is what I had in mind…
except for the elegant planter, of course, and the palace of Versailles in the background. I didn\’t expect it to have that perfect shape, either, since mine would be in its comparative infancy. But I did assume that it would have been pruned in such a way as to have some hope of growing into a decent shape. Sort of the way you take a puppy to puppy classes so it will have the best chances of growing up to be a good dog.
When my tree arrived it had indeed been pruned–you could see the stubs where former branches had attached to the trunk–but it looked like it had been pruned by a tribe of drunken monkeys. Branches were growing at crazy angles, pressing against each other and looking scraggly. Getting this tree was a bit like adopting a dog from the pound–neither one arrives looking its best.
But, as with a new dog, at first my attention on the tree was focused on survival issues–giving it just the right amount of water, putting it in a spot it liked. This must have worked, because the next thing I knew the tree was covered in flower buds, dozens of them on every branch. Many of those buds fell off, but many clung to the branches and started opening, filling the kitchen with their scent.
Much as I loved the blooms, however, every time I went near the tree all I could see were those clumsy branches growing at ugly angles. I badly wanted to do some pruning, but I held back because, 1. you\’re only supposed to prune while a tree is dormant, and mine was exuberantly awake; and, 2. by chopping off the offensive branches I would be cutting my potential lemon crop in half.
I didn\’t want to harm the tree, and I badly wanted every last lemon it could produce, so for a couple of weeks I controlled myself and tried to focus on the flowers, which I was hand-pollinating with an old watercolor brush, and their smell. But I wasn\’t satisfied. To me, the flowers were decorative and thus contingent, but the shape of the tree was essential. And the shape was all wrong.
Then one morning I was impersonating a bee, dabbing pollen onto pistils, when suddenly, out of nowhere, I had pruning shears in my hand and was slicing off branches right and left. Decimating my potential lemon crop. Possibly harming the tree.
I threw the branches (all those flower buds, such a pity!) out on the snow and took a good look at my newly svelte tree. It was no longer covered in blossoms, but now it had shape, design, intention. It no longer looked like a refugee from the pound, but like a tree that was loved.
March is almost here, and the little apple trees on my patio are looking scraggly, full of suckers that cry out for the secateurs. By the time I\’m done with them they will be nicely pollarded, the main branches coming off the trunk at wide angles, the interior of the tree trimmed free of clutter so the sun can reach the fruit. They will have the well-tended, cared-for look of a freshly bathed dog and whoever sees them will think, \”these are trees that somebody loves.\”