The Old Man’s Trees

This is the first part of a series on the life expectancy of fruit trees. We start with the fictional story of an ageing gardener who uproots trees in his orchard.

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I had the opportunity to attend a screenwriting course this autumn, and decided to write a short play about fruit trees, telling the story of a visit to a gardener during an early autumn afternoon. Here it is.

 

The Old Man’s Trees

Scene 1

EXT. TOWNHOUSE – EARLY AFTERNOON

South-West France. The garden of a comfortable 1970s townhouse in the green suburb of a small city.
Julien (a man in his forties) walks through the garden gate. A train passes to his left. Against the fence that separates the garden from the railway to the North of the house, a fan-trained tree, laden with red nectarines, captures the midday sun.
Julien walks along the paved terrace that surrounds the house. He looks for Daniel. He finds him sleeping in his armchair in the kitchen, facing the garden from the opened door window. He continues towards the corner of the terrace.
As he approaches, a large empty square of dry earth unveils a few steps below in the main orchard. It’s around four-by-four metres wide. He looks surprised. He sits down on the stairs for a while, contemplating the empty space and the trees around it.
He stands up and takes a few pictures, framing the empty square from slightly different angles. Happy with the result, he sits down again and waits in the warm shade. He looks at his watch. 2:10.
The noise of a Formica chair on the kitchen floor behind him. The time has come. He silently walks towards the opened door window and looks inside. The armchair is empty, Daniel has disappeared. Julien turns round the corner of the house and rings the main door bell.

DANIEL (an old man, probably in his eighties)

Hello Julien.

JULIEN

Hi Daniel, how are you?

DANIEL

Fine, thank you, and you? Good to see you again.

JULIEN

Sorry to disturb you Daniel, it’s a bit early.

DANIEL

No, no… No problem! Please come in.

 

Scene 2

INT. KITCHEN

Julien and Daniel sitting around the kitchen table. A laptop sits on the table. On screen, text and the picture of a peach.

DANIEL

Thank you for this. I have nothing to add, it’s accurate.

JULIEN

Thank you Daniel, such an interesting story.

DANIEL

This is between us, but I haven’t always been a gardener…

 

Scene 3

INT. KITCHEN

Around the table, twenty minutes later. Daniel and Julien smile at each other. They stand up. Daniel puts his garden shoes on.

EXT. GARDEN

Daniel and Julien go out of the kitchen and walk towards the main orchard. They stop in front of the square of dry earth.

JULIEN

You completely got rid of it.

DANIEL

Yes, a fortnight ago.

JULIEN

Wow, you didn’t wait for long, did you?

DANIEL

Well, when I have decided something…

JULIEN

But you completely got rid of it!

 

Scene 4

EXT. GARDEN

Next to the square of dry earth, in front of a peach tree. Behind the tree, another empty square of dry earth.

JULIEN

You had the other tree uprooted too.

DANIEL

Yes, and this one will go soon.

Daniel moves around the tree, checking the ripeness of the peaches by delicately turning them in the palm of his hand to see if they easily detach from the stem.

DANIEL

I’m waiting for the peaches to ripen before the tree goes.

Daniel offers one of the dark-red peaches to Julien.

DANIEL

Try this one…

 

Scene 5

EXT. GARDEN

Next to another peach tree.

DANIEL

I should get sixty to seventy kilos from this one. They look a bit greenish but most of them are fully ripe. Please take as many as you want. My daughter came to pick some already.

JULIEN

Oh, thank you Daniel. It’s very generous of you. Your peaches taste so great!

Julien moves around the tree, trying Daniel’s picking method. He bites into a peach with delight: it is perfectly ripe. He fills a bag with the precious fruit. Four kilos or so.

 

Scene 6

EXT. GARDEN

Daniel and Julien walk for thirty meters to the south side of the house, towards the end of the orchard. Julien stops in front of another empty square of dry earth. Puzzled, he looks at Daniel.

DANIEL

There were eleven varieties of pears on the tree.

JULIEN

Yes, I remember. How old was it?

DANIEL

Thirty years old.

JULIEN

I am not surprised you got rid of this one, because in August you told me you would do so. But the large peach tree on the other side of the garden… You said you wanted to cut it back to a smaller size. You didn’t say you would remove it completely! What’s up?

Daniel waits for a while before replying.

DANIEL

Disease prone. Too much hassle.

A shorter silence. Daniel points at the large apple tree to their left.

DANIEL

This one will go this winter.

JULIEN

Really?! This beautiful tree on which you grafted – how many? – twenty-one varieties of apples?!

DANIEL

Yes, I can’t go up on a ladder as I used to. It is too much work for me now. I prefer to have smaller trees.

They look at each other. Julien remains silent. He takes a breath.

JULIEN

You could ask for help.

DANIEL

To do what?

JULIEN

To keep this treasured orchard of yours in good condition.

DANIEL

It is in a very good condition.

JULIEN

But… You are uprooting your trees!

DANIEL

I am just downsizing. To make it manageable for me.

JULIEN

We could help you. There are so many of us who would be glad to help you with your trees.

DANIEL

I don’t need any help with my trees. I do manage.

JULIEN

But this orchard is a jewel!

DANIEL

I don’t care what it becomes after me.

JULIEN

We do!

DANIEL

Julien, these trees are not about orcharding.

JULIEN

What do you mean?

DANIEL

They just tell a story, my story. Like all orchards. They are the product of a human story.

Short silence. Julien looks puzzled.

DANIEL

Don’t worry. I have no intention to stop mine now. I plant smaller trees, that’s all.

Short silence.

DANIEL

Julien, what’s your story? What are you up to? Do you have an orchard?

JULIEN

Herm… No, I don’t.

DANIEL

Do you live by the stories of others’, then?

Deep silence. Julien looks shaken.

DANIEL

Sorry Julien. I didn’t mean to hurt you. But think about it. You should plant your own trees.

 

Scene 7

EXT. GARDEN

Still in the orchard. In the place where the former conversation stopped a minute ago. Julien whispers. Daniel looks at him with compassion.

DANIEL

Did I show you my nashi trees?

JULIEN

Herm… Yes. I took pictures of them in August. Unusual fruit around here. Beautiful.

They walk a few meters towards the two trees. Julien seems to feel better, he speaks with more confidence.

JULIEN

It’s unbelievable how this one recovered from its bark disease just above the rootstock two years ago.

DANIEL

Indeed! This variety tastes better than the other. I still have a few in my cellar. I’ll give you some to compare.

 

Scene 8

EXT. GARDEN

A quarter of an hour later, at Daniel property’s gate. Julien is about to leave, after an hour at Daniel’s place, a bag full of fruit in each hand. Daniel waves him goodbye from the front door, five meters away, to Julien’s left. Julien turns his head to the right and glances at the apple tree. He can see the various colours of its apples, ten meters away.

JULIEN

Daniel… I need to take a photo of the apple tree before it goes.

A short silence.

JULIEN

And maybe I’ll write another story about you and your garden.

DANIEL

Yes Julien, of course, do as you feel. Bye for now. Take care of yourself.

Daniel turns back and enters his house. Julien looks at him doing so. Then, he glances at the tree again. He gently puts the bags on the ground and walks towards it, turning his camera on…

End

__________

A square of dry earth, a peach tree and a second square of dry earth behind it. Photo 3 October 2018, France.

Some gardeners play with grafting. Twenty-one varieties of apples grow on this tree.

Claude, the gardener who inspired me, in front of his preferred peach tree, next to those he uprooted this summer. In reality, we get on very well. I wouldn’t have such a dramatic conversation with him,  and I doubt he would say something as harsh as ‘Do you live by the stories of others, then?’. Photo 8 August.

Nashi tree in Claude’s garden. The nachi pears, native of East Asia, are uncommon in this part of France. Photo 10 September.

Peach trees don’t live for long compared to human beings. They usually need to be replaced after fifteen to twenty years1. Claude told me that in commercial orchards they rarely live more than twelve years.

  1. https://leafnetworkaz.org/resources/LEARN/Tree%20Life%20Span.pdf (accessed 31 December 2018).

2 thoughts on “The Old Man’s Trees

  1. I know cultivated varieties are very different to natural ones, but I wonder how long wild fruit trees growing in the few remaining areas of wilderness fruit for, before declining and being replaced by their offspring?

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