Friday, 13 May 2016


I had a glut of plums. I loved saying it. They were such plump words, and the scene they conjured so country-gardenish. I loved looking out at the plum tree, so heavy with fruit. I loved having plums with everything – plum crumble is a lovesome thing, God wot. (I was going a bit overboard with the country garden thing.)
a glut of plums 

‘You must be a great gardener,’ people said as they accepted baskets of fat ripe  homegrown Victoria plums. (It had to be a basket, a Tesco’s bag-for-life would have been a much less lovesome thing.)

I was not a great gardener. I had planted the tree and it had grown, acquired twigs and leaves and blossom and what-not; all the plum tree things you’d expect. It had thrived on neglect. It had no choice. I was so busy, trying to get a writing career off the ground while working fulltime, that the whole garden just sort of rampaged outside the kitchen window. The plum tree bloomed and fruited as enthusiastically as my words.

Sometimes I didn’t even have time to pick them. The plums, that is. I was very careful picking my words.  I took it for granted the plum tree would always provide, just as I took it for granted the words would always come, and people would always look on those words as enthusiastically as they had accepted the baskets of plums.

And then last spring there was hardly any blossom. And the plums, when they came, were few and feeble, fit only for the birds.

I felt guilty. By now I had taken the rest of the garden in hand, weeded and planted and tidied, and though I am still not a great gardener, I do actually garden these days. But I had never given the tree any attention. 
I do garden these days. 

Clearly the poor plum tree, all sprawl and spot, was sulking. I would prune it. After all, had I not recently cut down the first draft of a novel from 113,000 words to 60,000? And didn’t the rose bush come back fat and strong and groaning with blooms after I had cut it back to a stalk? The plum tree would respond likewise.

Perhaps I went overboard. It was War And Peace and I hacked it down to a haiku. It looked naked and sad and ugly, more cat’s climbing post than living thing. But at least it didn’t rock in the winter storms, and spring would eventually come. I looked forward to the gradual greening, and then the blossom and eventually the plums. Perhaps, for the first time in years, even a glut.
sulking and sad

It is late spring. The may is flowering and the coconut-scented whins glow golden. Even in my hilly garden, always late and windswept, there are flowers. But the plum tree has sulked on. Nothing but bare branches. I have edited it to death, I think. I have been too harsh. It will not forgive me now.

It is hard to look at the bare stumpy thing and remember that blossom once frothed without being asked or helped, that there was once a glut.  It reminds me too much of myself, once carelessly assuming that my writing career would blossom as rampantly as it did at the start. It makes Gerard Manley Hopkins’s words echo too loudly in my head, as, like the plum tree, I seem not to breed one work that wakes. How many seasons should I give the tree to  revive? What do I owe it? Perhaps I should just cut it down, and do something else with the space. Move on.

Last week, though, there was a leaf. Just one. Pathetic to be so pleased, when everyone else’s trees are rampantly in bloom. Still, a leave is a lovesome thing. A hopeful thing.

And now there is a tiny twig. And a little bunch of leaves. And the same on that branch. And that one. Leavèd how thick! Well, not quite yet. 

There won't be a glut this year. But there is a start.

a start 


Penny Dolan said...

One of our plum trees (in another garden)produced a very good crop for several years Then, one summer, the branches were so weighted down with fruit that a summer storm split the tree almost in half. The tree never recovered, not as far as fruiting went - and then we moved house. Maybe, with less neglect and better pruning in the first place, our plum would have been strong enough to fruit far longer.

Good wishes to your newly pruned tree with all its hopeful green leaves!

Anonymous said...

A lovely and thought-provoking post - thank you! I'm off to mull over the benefits and risks of pruning in my own life and work now. And hoping that my own neglected plum tree (which I thought had died, but last year actually produced 7 plums - a crop, surely?) will produce some this year.

Lynne Benton said...

We had a beautiful and very productive plum tree in our front garden at a previous house. After we moved, the new owners chopped down the tree and replaced it with a Wishing Well. Says it all, really...! (Maybe they didn't like plums?) Good luck with yours, Sheena.

Ann Turnbull said...

Sheena, I always love your posts. I love plum crumble too. Those leaves look so bright and determined and hopeful that I'm sure you will have plums again before too long.

Sheena Wilkinson said...

Ann, how lovely of you to say you enjoy my posts! They're certainly about all kinds of random things!