Beloved UC Santa Cruz garden manager Orin Martin puts a lifetime of knowledge into a new book
A garden can be an earthly paradise, but it’s a working paradise—one where rewards flow in proportion to the gardener’s care, sweat and devotion. If anyone is proof of this theory it’s Orin Martin, whose enviable fate for the past 40 years has been managing the Alan Chadwick Garden at UC Santa Cruz—a three-acre Eden of breathtaking loveliness and diversity.
Martin also tends the orchards at UCSC’s Farm & Garden agricultural training program, and teaches classes, workshops and seminars to students, apprentices and local home gardeners.
Martin’s long-awaited book, Fruit Trees for Every Garden: An Organic Approach to Growing Apples, Pears, Peaches, Plums, Citrus, and More, released Aug. 27 by Ten Speed Press, is another fine example of this lifelong gardener’s care, sweat and devotion. It’s a gorgeously illustrated, well-organized and practical gardening manual that draws from Martin’s unmatched personal experience.
“The best way to learn a skills-based craft, such as tree care, is to apprentice with someone,” says the author. “But this book aims to be the next-best thing. Believe me, it was painstakingly crafted, the cumulative results of 40 years of growing tree fruits and a long and fruitful conversation with, in and among the trees.”
Among the highlights of the book, written with daughter Manjula Martin, are extensive descriptions of tree fruit varieties the author has personally planted, grown and harvested over decades. He’s compared growth patterns and disease resistance, taken note of harvest yields in good years and bad. Martin’s analysis is persuasive—so persuasive, in fact, that I found myself making lists of fun new trees to cram into my hopelessly crowded backyard (Rio Oso Gem peach, Cot-N-Candy aprium, Stella cherry). I expect many readers will experience the same urges, despite the author’s disapproval of rash decision-making.
Martin discusses more than 40 varieties of apples, 13 pears, even five types of quince…quince! Who knew? Peaches are separated into old versus new varieties, and plum types include Asian, European, Damson and the legendary Greengage.
Martin’s rankings of fruit varieties offer a glimpse of the multivariable equation, the overlap of complex systems, that equals farming. Begin with chill hours, then move to pollinators, disease resistance, vigor and tree size, time of harvest, length of storage, abundance of harvest, size of fruit, thickness of skin, sweet versus tart. Climate, entomology, microbiology, genetics.
Mistakes made at purchase or planting can result in tasteless fruit, diseaseriddled trees or an excellent harvest hanging 25 feet out of reach. The multitude of variables can seem overwhelming, but the picture clarifies when the focus narrows to your garden, your dreams. Martin’s calming reminders to slow down, plan ahead and choose wisely are the touchstone of this book.
“It doesn’t matter how many trees you have or how big your yard is; your orchard is your slice of paradise.”
The UCSC orchards are living works of art, but Martin doesn’t sugarcoat the effort involved—orcharding is not easy, nor is it fast. A newly planted tree can take years to produce fruit, and Martin even suggests a three-year regime of soil improvement before planting a new tree! (To the 98% of us who willfully ignore that advice—no worries, the author provides a timesaving workaround.)
“It seems the first thing people want to do is grab a tree, grab a spade, and plant the tree,” Martin says. “In reality, the last thing you do is plant the darn tree. I’ll give folks credit for enthusiasm, but the planting of a fruit tree is, or should be, a considered act. Mistakes are hard to rectify once the tree is in the ground.”
The solitude and leisurely pace of gardening leads to interesting digressions, and Martin meanders from his main narrative with quirky essays sown throughout the book. Among them are a brief history of fruit farming in Silicon Valley, a discussion of microclimates at Jefferson’s Monticello and an appreciation of the gardener’s traditional “dawn patrol.”
Martin is a natural teacher, and this book offers not just the how, but also the why of soil enrichment, double digging, cover crops and composting. The tone is conversational, wry and friendly—possibly the harshest statement in the book is one snarky reference to the shortcomings of the Red Delicious apple.
A series of luminous etchings by Stephanie Zeiler Martin, the author’s spouse, and lovely photographs by Elizabeth Birnbaum are a visual feast. Terrific line drawings, especially in the chapter on pruning, offer clarity on everything from tree shape and branch training to placement of individual pruning cuts. For tree geeks, there are infographics on carbohydrate cycling of trees, slope and sunshine calculations, and the essential components of soil.
Martin’s book overflows with love for his craft and will resonate with every plant lover who thrills at the give of soil underfoot, the scent of blossoms and dirt, the burgeoning of leaf and bud. For Martin, orcharding is art and science— maybe even religion.
“It doesn’t matter how many trees you have or how big your yard is; your orchard is your slice of paradise,” he writes in the foreword. “And while paradise is a place of contentment, it is not a place of luxury, and certainly not idleness. For there is much learning and work to be done, daily, out in the orchard, garden, paradise.” Amen.
IF YOU GO:
Meet the author and the artists at the official book launch event: Fruit Trees for Every Garden—A Party to Celebrate Orin Martin’s New Book, Sunday, Sept. 15, from 4–6pm at the UCSC Hay Barn. Refreshments will be available, plus a pie potluck. Bring your favorite fruit pie if you can!
Maria Gaura is a lifelong writer, journalist and gardener. She lives in downtown Santa Cruz with her family, two elderly cats and an ambivalent garden that can’t decide if it wants to be a vegetable patch, a flower bed or a miniature orchard.