Southern Indiana Living

NOV-DEC 2018

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Nov/Dec 2018 • 11 Bob Hill owns Hidden Hill Nursery and can be reached at farmerbob@ hiddenhillnursery.com. For more information, including nursery hours and event information, go to www.hiddenhillnursery. com About the Author I recall those frozen winter nights in a farmhouse so drafty and poorly insulated the frigid winds would ruffle the living room curtains as we sat inside bundled up with the kids trying to watch the Christmas stories on television. A s the world leans toward au- tumn and the holiday season, most thoughts turn toward mums, asters, the Great Pump- kin and if this is the year Santa will finally ditch the sleigh and reindeer and show up via Amazon and a UPS truck. My thoughts are somewhat less than traditional. They include acorns, crab apples and hardy oranges. Let us begin with the acorns. For the last many autumns, they have dropped down from a mammoth pin oak behind our house and ping-slammed off the met- al roof of our gazebo directly below. It is not the poetic ping of rain fall- ing on a metal roof. It is more crisp and random. The pings come every few min- utes, occasionally in bunches and on qui- et, windless days not at all. It's gravity at work; the pings come year after year and still somehow surprise. But this autumnal story goes deep- er than that. Its connections are more nos- talgic. I planted that pin oak tree about 30 years ago when it was but a 3-foot sapling. I have since learned to avoid pin oaks. They are very inconsistent trees. Some will eventually tower 50 feet in the year — as does this ping producing model in our backyard. Others will be less robust, develop diseases and require the arrival of a large crew of tree trimmers who will take it to the ground for a robust amount of money. Our massive pin oak is a different kind of survivor. The day I planted it — a time when our arboretum was but a hope in a flat field of weeds — my dad backed over it in a car. He didn't see it; the tree was that small. I figured it was a goner, but it survived nicely. It came to dominate the landscape, then began the autumnal ritual of dropping acorns on our tin ga- zebo roof. But my dad is gone now, too. I can never look at that tree, or hear those pings, and not think about him, his sense of hu- mor, his love for our mom and their five shared children, his worried reaction to running over my baby pin oak. Trees can do that to people. Especially as the holi- day season draws near. Our angry hoard of acorn-pillaging squirrels, however, have no such feelings. My crabapple trees offer a different tale. I didn't do much gardening or tree planting until I was about 30 years old. At the time, we were living in another old farmhouse on an acre of rich farm land in Northern Illinois. Part of that land, of course, was converted into a huge garden on which we raised enough food to feed a small Eu- ropean country. But the outskirts of that property needed some color, more food, so we planted a row of small, hopeful apple trees. I knew nothing of growing small, hopeful apple trees. As it turned out they did require careful pruning, bug and dis- ease deterrents and, as youngsters, some watering. But I feel in love with their spring blooms, those incredible flowers that somehow led to edible apples. Then I got to thinking about cra- bapple trees, which produced those same lovely flowers in a wide variety of showy colors, required a lot less maintenance and offered up those fun crabapples in the fall. It was all food for thought — not to forget hungry birds and four-legged critters. When we left our Northern Illinois farm — those original apple trees still babies — I made another futile attempt at growing apples in Southern Indiana. They quickly became a suckering mess, so I jumped totally into crabapples. We must now have a half-dozen around the place; each firing up spring with rich colors and producing a wide variety of tiny apples in the fall. Yet I still think about that old farm in Northern Illinois, our first attempts as gardening to scale. I recall those frozen winter nights in a farmhouse so drafty and poorly insulated the frigid winds would ruffle the living room curtains as we sat inside bundled up with the kids trying to watch the Christmas stories on television. And for years afterward, as we drove by that old house, I checked to see how those first apple trees were doing. You wouldn't think trees — crab and oth- erwise — could inspire such memories, but they do. Our hardy orange experience rings another bell. First up, you can grow or- anges in Southern Indiana. Promise. It's a lot cheaper than two weeks in Palm Beach and they are hardy in zone 5 to 8; Chicago weather. The hardy orange goes by the Latin Poncirus trifoliata. Its most common culti- var is "Flying Dragon" and it is native to central and northern China. I cannot re- member where we got our tree, but as a seasonal novelty you can't beat it. For holiday fun, take your guests outside as the tree leaves are beginning to turn red, yellow and orange, and then show them a genuine Hoosier orange. Many will go "Ho Ho Ho" months ahead of schedule. Hardy oranges are edible — if you like having your face squinch up like a dishrag as you taste the liquid bitterness. Some reports show it to be toxic, but I doubt if anyone could drink enough of the stuff to create any real problems. It also has long, very sharp thorns and can grow to 15 feet tall, solving a problem of nosy neighbors. It does contain pectin, which the early settlers used in making jams and jellies. More seasonal good news is the juice can be diluted into a holiday drink of sorts. All you have to do is serve it once to Christmas guests you never want to see again and your problem is solved. • Hardy Oranges at Hidden Hill

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