My favourite painting is Apple Tree 1 by Gustav Klimt, painted in 1912. Klimt’s most famous paintings are gold embellished, highly stylized commissions, a lot of them portraits, but around a quarter of his output comprised landscapes, mainly executed at a favourite family holiday spot on Attersee (lake Atter in the Salzkammergut region of Austria). He was fond of painting trees and, in my view, rendered them exceptionally well. From the thin, drawn up stems of a birch copse, woodland floor deeply carpeted in fallen orange and yellow leaves, to the glowing bark of a Pine forest, when I look at Klimt’s trees I can smell them.
For me Apple Tree 1 starts with a single, spherical fruit at the centre of the canvas. The leaves of the Apple Tree’s domed crown seem to crackle around this single red orb like green flames. I haven’t seen an Apple tree as magnificent in my Highland tree assessment travels – the most impressive specimens seem to be Oaks (Quercus Petrea), Beech (Fagus Sylvatica), big old ‘Granny’ Pines (Pinus Sylvestris) and the more-than-occasional Giant Redwood (Sequoiadendron Giganteum) planted for us in quite some numbers by our Victorian ancestors. And of course, we are a land of large scale forestry (Sitka Spruce, Pine, and Larch) which drapes itself across the landscape like a dark green blanket.
Fruit trees then, generally planted in what would once have been productive kitchen gardens, prsent as small, gnarly lesser arboreal features, despite the wonderful contribution they can make to a garden space – scented spring blossom, edible fruit, wonderful autumn leaf colour, and all at eye level for us tiny humans.
The Apple is historically associated with the English landscape, not only providing essential vitamin C in a diet generally lacking during the winter months, or on long sea voyages, but as the key ingredient for the legendary Cider-making industry of the southern counties. The old Cider-making varieties had such great names – ‘King of the Pippins’, ‘St. Edmund’s Russet’ and ‘Tom Putt’.
I’ve been fortunate enough however, to be involved in the establishment of a small orchard here in Inverness, planted with heritage varieties of Apple popular up here in the northernmost reaches, most likely for their general hardiness and frost resistence. We planted ‘Beauty of Moray’, ‘Tam Montgomery’, ‘Lass’o Gowrie’ and ‘Scotch Bridget’ from a specialist heritage fruit nursery in the Borders. It was a splendid project.
Interesting to think that each variety has its special characteristics and our ancestors would’ve recognized the fruit and known what it was good for – baking, eating, pressing, puree-ing etc. An apple, of the right, sweet variety, stolen fresh off the tree, would’ve been a delicious treat, and ‘windfalls’ well worth collection. Seems a world away from how we source our fruit these days? I don’t think our ancestors would’ve known what to make of the green-grocery aisles of Tesco and Asda, do you?
Maybe pay your respects to fruit-production history then, if you can – consider an Apple as a garden tree. Research its pollination requirements if you’re looking for fruit, and also think about some of these other ‘fruiting’ trees: Walnut (loves a shady spot and can grow into a fine tree of considerable age and size), Mulberry (Morus Nigra – you won’t find Mulberries in the shops), Pear (Pear trees like the sun, but you can grow them in containers), Damson (great for turning into gin liqueur!) and the Filbert (Coryllus Maxima – lovely large Hazel leaves and great nuts, plant in groups with a purple leaved variety for contrast.)
From fine art to fine garden fruit then – we’ve spanned the genres. Let’s finish with a quote from Klimt, shall we? “If the weather is good I go into the nearby wood – there I am painting a small Beech forest (in the sun) with a few conifers mixed in. This takes until 8 o’clock…”