A post from 2016 in memory of my Dad…

A new plum tree

Mr Mandy Sutter and I move to a new plum tree. The tree isn’t the main reason for buying our new house, of course. That would be the greenhouse, small and rickety with many cracked and missing panes, but as other gardeners will understand, worth spending £300,000 for.

But I digress (already). The point is that the plum tree has exceeded all expectations and presented us with plum upon plum. My kitchen scales have registered 100lbs of fruit so far and it ain’t over yet.

Mr MS has teetered on a step ladder with a rake and I have plummed everyone I know, even the men who hang around the lockups at the bottom of our road. We have got to know our new neighbours better. One, who is ten, has been gardening since he was three and has his own greenhouse. We discover that the people in the other half of our semi don’t like plums! What freedoms they must enjoy!

The plums have also brought reflection. How salutary it is to receive bounty that one has done nothing to earn! Especially when weeks of back breaking labour at the allotment this year have so far only produced a few handfuls of broad beans and some unimpressive onions.

Being my father’s daughter, the thought of waste makes me edgy. So I’ve been enslaved to picking, distributing, freezing, jamming and chutneying as well as cake, clafoutis and crumble making. Mr MS no longer listens to sentences that contain the word ‘plum’ and my trousers have grown tight. Dog MS has learnt to eat windfalls, with colourful results.

As for Dad, he loves stewed fruit. Strolling past any fruit tree that overhangs public land, he never fails to hook the branches down with his walking stick and fill his green nylon shopper. He’s almost as happy to receive bags of plums from our tree. He throws them into the pan with a kilo of sugar, waving aside my warnings about maggots.

‘Those won’t do you any harm,’ he says. ‘After all, what do they eat? Plums, that’s what. Maggots are made entirely of plum.’

If I didn’t find so many maggots in our plums and if we didn’t go round to Dad’s house for tea so often, I’d find this view refreshing. As it is, when the bowl of stewed plums arrives topped by what Dad calls a ‘bollio’ of vanilla ice cream, I can’t help examining it for the grey crescent shaped creatures that, once cooked, look like toe nail clippings. As so often at Dad’s I take the coward’s way out – eating the ice cream and slipping purple spoonfuls into Mr MS’s bowl when he isn’t looking.

But back to gardening. French gardener, botanist, and writer Gilles Clément, known for his design of public parks, once wrote All management generates an abandoned area.

This makes me wonder what area of my life is being abandoned because of obsessive plum management? If I let the fruit rot on the tree, would there be benefits in other areas? And would those areas be more or less valid? If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind closed doors at our house, it is discussions like this, accompanied by a nice cup of tea and a plum flapjack.

I used to throw my hands up in horror at a local Bramley apple tree, gravid with fruit that the owners never picked. But undoubtedly they had other areas of life that they weren’t prepared to abandon in service of stewed fruit. Perhaps they were more spiritually evolved than I, though that is hard to imagine.

The plums are slowing down anyway, so facing this particular dilemma can be postponed. Except that the fruit on the other tree, a greengage, is starting to ripen.

Drawings by Janis Goodman