Stella Otto: The Backyard Fruit Gardener

Today's Tip: Mow vegetation short around the base of fruit trees and bushes to reduce winter habitat for rodents.

Not Far From the Tree: A Brief History of the Apples and the Orchards of Palermo Maine 1804–2004 — Book Review

Book Review


Cover photo of Not Far From the Tree

(Cover photo cour­tesy of John Bunker)

Title: Not Far From the Tree: A Brief His­tory of the Apples and the Orchards of Palermo Maine 1804–2004

Author: John P. Bunker, Jr.

Strong points: A very enjoy­able and poetic read.
Lots of hor­ti­cul­tural learn­ing clev­erly inserted into the sto­ries and jour­nal entries.
A per­fect exam­ple of what fruit explor­ing and her­itage vari­ety preser­va­tion is all about!

Weak­nesses: Such a minor one, the lay­out is a bit rem­i­nis­cent of early word pro­cess­ing rather than cur­rent day design and type set­ting soft­ware. At first glance it’s notice­able, but the great con­tent soon makes this minus­cule issue transparent.

Green thumbs rat­ing

Book Rat­ing:  

The sin­gle digit tem­per­a­tures of recent weeks inspire me to do lit­tle else than curl up with a good book and a mug of hot cider. Not Far From the Tree is the per­fect book for this! Part his­tory, part hor­ti­cul­tural guide, and a large part just plain enjoy­able read, this book was hard to put down. John is a mas­ter sleuth of both his­tor­i­cal and hor­ti­cul­tural details, a skilled story teller, and an adven­ture­some fruit explorer. His skill with the pen is not with words alone. His quaint; and so fit­ting; pen and ink line-drawings enhance many pages as well. You can not help but be drawn into his world as you fol­low him on the many trea­sure hunts for old apple vari­eties grow­ing in his neighborhood.

If you are a local his­tory buff, you’ll enjoy the talks he has with the “old-timers” still liv­ing in his area. It brought back mem­o­ries for me. As a teenager (although, horse-obsessed at the time) I spend my best sum­mers not far from where John writes about; “down the road a piece,” as old Main­ers would say; in Water­ville. I can still hear the slow, mea­sured, old Yan­kee drawl as I envi­sion John talk­ing apples and farm­ing with one of the locals.

If you are an adven­turer, John will take you explor­ing to exotic locales — from Athens to Bel­grade, China to Paris, and even for an adven­ture on the “Great Pond.” Yet you’ll hardly ven­ture far from the tree. You’ll dis­cover Sweets, Bananas, Opal(escents, that is) and even have an encounter with the Rus­sians. All in great fun!

Inter­wo­ven among the his­tory is also hor­ti­cul­ture aplenty; apple vari­eties of course and more. You’ll learn about graft­ing, root­stocks, botany, prun­ing, tree har­di­ness, and ter­roir. Although John doesn’t refer to it in nearly this lofty a term, you come to know the impor­tance of “place” in bring­ing out the best in each fruit vari­ety. You even get a hint of mete­o­rol­ogy too, as John recounts a story of the win­ter of 1933. Is it pos­si­ble the East Coast and Mid­west were vis­ited by a polar vor­tex far worse than the one we’ve expe­ri­enced this winter?

You will cer­tainly want to pick up this easy-to-read and enter­tain­ing book. It has so much infor­ma­tion, art­fully woven into it, that you will likely want to ready it sev­eral times over. In any case, the nar­ra­tive closes with a great song; (com­posed by John, I assume.) You’ll have to read to expe­ri­ence its delight. Far be it for me to give away the punch line.

ISBN: 978–1-883957–4 (trade paper­back)
# of pages: 190 pgs.
Pho­tos: No
Illus­tra­tions: Yes, black & white line art
Appen­dix: Yes
Index: Yes
Pub­lisher: John Bunker, 167 Turner Mill Pond Rd., Palermo, ME 04354 Con­tact:
Pub­li­ca­tion Date: 2007
Price: $28 (of which $5 is donated to the Palermo His­tor­i­cal Society)


As a great com­ple­ment to Not Far From the Tree  and for all you need to know about grow­ing apples and other fruit trees, buy The Back­yard Orchardist: A com­plete guide to grow­ing fruit trees in the home garden.