Sometimes when you look back it is interesting how things like osage oranges & book, new year’s even can combine to make an interesting story.
When I had a landscaping business from 1999 to 2013, I visited many homes. From new builds to century homes, the houses were always an integral part of designing the landscape.
One of the most delightful projects was an old frame house that the owner was refurbishing.
It had been a stage coach stop in the early settlement days and the owner wanted to create a kitchen garden between the L-shape of the old house and the new addition.
I was familiar with the house. As I opened the century old wooden door, I could step ahead in the modern addition or twist left into the old frame house.
This particular day, the owner kept calling me to come in.
“Be careful” she warned. “There’s Osage all over the floor.”
As I stepped into the dank, dark dining room, the worn wooden floor was covered with lumpy green balls. A narrow pathway wound towards the front door and the stairs to the bedrooms.
Like a meandering river, branches led off to a chair at the table, to the kitchen and to the desk by the back window.
Creating the “land” in between the streams were hundreds, probably thousands, of Osage oranges. These bumpy green fruits, the size of a very big orange, were from her tree in the front yard.
An ancient specimen, it offered a harvest like only one other I have seen. That was a tree on the grounds of the Agricultural College in Ridgetown. When I attended there, the horticulturalists loved the tree, but I imagine the maintenance crew were less enamoured with it. Its fruit, when falling, could dent a car or smash on the pavement creating a white pulpy mass.
Osage Orange, Maclura pomifera, was native to a section of east Texas. With settlement it travelled throughout the contiguous United States and southern Canada.
Indigenous peoples, especially the Osage Nation, used the wood for making bows. It is strong, flexible and resilient.
Settlers planted the trees close together and pruned them hard to create a thick thorny hedge that would protect their gardens and corral their animals.
Back in the house, the Osage oranges created a logistical maze in the daytime, but a hazard at night, I thought.
The owner of the home was an older single woman. I worried that she would trip on one in the night. She was adamant that this was a necessity.
Every year, she and her friend collected the fruits from below the tree. “You have to be careful not to be hit on the head.”
Harvesting had to be done in a timely manner, too. While the Osage oranges are not appealing to many animals, women looking for craft items were adept competitors.
“They stop along the road and walk right up into the yard.”
Luckily that year, she shared some with me.
I put them in my Christmas Décor, sometimes setting them in a bed of greenery and other times skewering them and placing them like floating orbs.
Nowadays, Osage oranges have become part of my guerrilla tree planting program although they serve little purpose in our ecosystem. They are fun and easy to throw as far as possible into our gully. If one grows, it grows.
P.S. Who knew that Osage oranges and book and New Year’s Eve would have so much in common.