Suburban fruit trees are for the birds

I planted a nectarine tree in my garden and regretted it almost immediately. It turned out to be more work that I thought. No-one told me all the fruit would ripen around the same time. I’d go from nothing edible to a glut of hundreds in days. You can only eat so much fresh fruit and make so many jars of chutney.

Fruit fly are a headache. Almost impossible to control, they can ruin entire crops of thin skinned fruit like the nectarine before it’s ripe. It’s an eternal battle, the pesticides are all (rightfully) banned, baits are useful only to a point and netting is a big job. But you have to keep fruit fly under control or they spread over your fence to your neighbours and infestations get out of control. I end up taking most of the fruit off and binning it while it’s not much more than a twinkle in its mother’s eye.

Every year, I wonder if it’s worth the trouble. Think about pulling it out and planting something less needy.

Then it blossoms. And I’m back in love.

It’s not just the mass of glorious pink flowers that crowd the view from my loungeroom window. It’s the variety of life that descends overnight and the soap opera that ensues. For the short time it flowers, it’s a riot of birds and insects, either oblivious to one another or bickering delightfully over the booty on offer.

There are hundreds of bees every day, too busy to care if you stalk them, you can get close enough to count the veins that thread through their clear wings and see the glassy membrane turn to rainbows in thin winter sunlight. Close enough to see shiny black antennae and the bright yellow fuzz that haloes their heads. Among them, small spiders work tirelessly, spinning webs hoping to catch bees and other insects, never discouraged, not even when their delicate work is shredded endlessly by all the other activity.

The birds are especially winsome. I could watch them for hours. I have two striated pardalotes that pop in and out, so small they’re easy to miss but for the cheeky sound of their chip-chip call and their bright white brow against yellow and black plumage. I can walk right up to the tree and they’ll hop nearer and nearer to get a better look, their tiny heads tilted to the side as if they’re as curious about me as I am about them.

The Honeyeaters arrive en masse in the late afternoon, squabbling and shrieking, jostling for position and dangling upside down to bury their thin curved beaks deep into the heart of each blossom. One particularly bolshy bird of the New Holland variety, distinctive with its air of perpetual outrage, arrives early and hates to share. He’s never too distracted or too sated with nectar to guard his stash, chasing off any other bird that dares approach while he’s feeding. It’s like witnessing a particularly persistent Imperial TIE fighter in pursuit of a rebel cruiser.

I love the way these small birds cling to twigs and hop so lightly from branch to branch. If there’s a particularly enticing flower on offer, they hover like hummingbirds, wings a-blur, to get a good angle. They love to dive into the birdbath below the tree and nip back into the blossom to dry off, ruffling up like small wet dogs, into shaggy balls of feathers, tiny bright eyes peering out, ever alert. Then back to feeding with their usual studied intensity.

For these beautiful creatures that can struggle in cold weather, when flowering trees aren’t as abundant, blossom trees can be really crucial food sources. And of course, there’s all sorts of life that thrives on and in the tree that I don’t notice in the same way at other times of the year, but is equally important. And I get so much out of those few weeks when the tree is not simply a mass of stunning flowers, it’s a hive of very visible activity. It’s mesmerising and soul soothing. I try to take photos but you can’t capture it really. You don’t see nature in quite the same way when you’re looking at it through a screen, even on a camera. So mostly I simply enjoy the show.

It’s worth it.

5 thoughts on “Suburban fruit trees are for the birds

  1. I love flowers, birds and good writing! I loved this piece. Your powers of observation is one of the reasons you are such a great writer. Keep the tree 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautiful! You evoke the love of, wonder in and fascination with Nature so well Gill 💖
    Lol and the at times frustrating consequences 😄😉


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