I was born into a long unbroken line of planters. I realized this several years ago, when my father, Richard Heavers, described digging a mountain ash (Sorbus americana) on Frankie’s mountain in Poestenkill, New York, and planting it on the farm along Weatherwax Road. His boyhood jaunts collecting and planting sounded all too familiar. I’m convinced that I’ve inherited some kind of planting gene. In the early 1860s, when my great, great grandfather Patrick Heaver (Hever) came alone to New York at fifteen, he didn’t stop in the city, but went straight up the Hudson River to the beautiful rolling farmland of Rensselaer County. His son James, grandson Michael, and great grandson Richard worked that land until it bore its final crop– houses.
Richard sought land elsewhere, eventually settling in Rhode Island with my mom, Barbara Wegener. She’s a planter too. The spruce and hemlock trees around our farm– Sweet Hollow– are her doing. Sweet Hollow is where my planting life began. Living in a clearing in the New England woods drew out the nature in me and nurtured my interest in plants. I have many memories of working in the garden; tamping in turnip seeds by treading around barefoot on the soil; dropping chopped potatoes with the eyes up behind the shovel’s back; watching my mother dip corn kernels into glistening black tar to deter the crows before placing them in neat little furrows. Of all my early recollections, one really stands out– the time I grafted my first apple tree.
I cut the splice, lapping the rootstock and the scion, wrapping it with natural rubber bands and sealing the union with melted wax. The leafy rootstock I lopped off had germinated on the windowsill in the kitchen and was planted out in the garden in late spring. A year later it was ready to receive a scion of the Baldwin, an apple variety from Massachusetts found about 1740. Neither my father nor I had had any acquaintance with the most popular apple in nineteenth century New England. We’d only held the little live twig that came in the mail from the S. Lothrop Davenport Preservation Apple Orchard at Sturbridge Village.
My first graft was one of many in the Heavers’ family quest to establish an antique apple orchard on Sweet Hollow. I helped plant most of the orchard, but I can’t say I remember planting individual trees, just each and every stone and gravel filled hole we had to excavate for them. As I walk through the orchard in its prime these days, I’m happy I got started planting so young so I can enjoy nurturing this bit of nature.