Saving the trees

When my wife and I first moved to our flat, there were places for trees in the courtyard areas between the buildings, but no trees. There continued to be no trees for the first two years, because the city of Loulé does not take over the landscaping responsibilities of a development until that development is finished. Our complex still had four buildings yet to be built, making the landscaping the developer’s responsibility. But the complex is not owned by one single developer (a fact readily discernible in the very different levels of quality in the different buildings), and none of them wanted to step up.

We continued to have no trees.

Then one day, workmen appeared out of nowhere and planted 11 orange trees — four in front of our building, three in the section east of us, and four more in the N/S oriented courtyard. Imagine a T, with the base pointing north, and that’s the outline of the spaces between our buildings.

The trees were supplied with an underground, automatic drip system. Yay, I thought, we have trees! And they’re orange trees, we’ll have yummy blossoms!

The underground system failed, and nobody noticed because unless you’re the one monitoring the pumps and meters, how would you tell? Well, I noticed when over half of the trees died that summer. The rest perked up during the wet winter and spring, but then summer hit again and most of them faded to mere wisps. Only one in front of our flat showed any real growth, and a second managed to hold its own. All the rest were either half-dead or fully dead twigs.

A couple of years later, the workmen appeared again, tore up the courtyard stones, repaired the underground irrigation, and replaced the dead trees. Only the dead ones, mind you — the ones that were just gasping along were left in place. They perked up a bit with the water, but apparently the irrigation system broke again, because by the end of the following summer, almost the only trees left alive were the new ones. With the exception of the two orange trees in front of our building, all of the original trees were now dead. And the new trees weren’t looking great.

Orange Tree

What our trees SHOULD have looked like by now if they hadn’t been repeatedly killed.

I had begun contemplating replacing at least the two dead trees in front of our building on our own dime and watering them by hand, but this spring — right after my parents returned home from their visit — the workmen appeared again. Once again the irrigation system was repaired, and this time the dead orange trees were ripped out and replaced with a different, deciduous species.

I watched with a jaundiced eye, having decided that there was NO WAY I was going to let all of these trees die a third time. And sure enough, less than a month after the work had been done, the irrigation system broke. The reason I knew was that it broke above ground, sending a fountain of water into the air and creating a temporary pond in our courtyard. It was repaired that afternoon, but I was highly suspicious. A week or so later, I noticed that the leaves on the brand new tree in front of the café — which was downstream in the irrigation system from the supposedly-repaired break — were dead.

That did it. That night at midnight, after the café had closed and everyone was gone, I pulled our two 10-liter buckets off the top storage shelf, recruited my wife, and headed downstairs. The garage has a faucet, so we filled the two buckets from there and then carried them through the lobby, out the door, up the stairs, and down the courtyard to the tree. Two 10-liter buckets equals about five gallons of water, enough to really soak that tree’s root ball. Then we repeated the procedure for the other 10 trees.

I have done this about once every two weeks since then, sometimes with my wife’s help, sometimes alone. When it was over 38 degrees (100º F.), I did it weekly. I’ve got a system now: Prop open the front door, then fill one bucket and use it to prop the garage door open with the handle up, fill the second bucket and walk past the first, grab the second bucket and head out the door. I find that carrying two buckets at once is easier on my back. It’s a trudge, and takes about 45 minutes to hand carry 55 gallons of water to 11 trees around our complex, but the results have been extremely gratifying.

The dying tree in front of the café has new leaves. Another dying tree on the north-facing courtyard has bounced back. Refugee orange trees from the second planting are showing more new growth than they ever have. All of the new trees are thriving, the pathetic refugee orange trees are dramatically improving, and the two surviving orange trees from the original planting? They look fabulous. The most robust one is actually bearing oranges this year, a bunch of ’em, and I think we’re going to enjoy our first rush of orange blossom scent this fall. I’m betting the other one will bear fruit next year.

I plan to continue watering until the winter rains set in, which means I’m in for another three months of this. But that’s okay, because they’re my trees now. There’s nothing like taking care of something to give one a feeling of responsibility.

In the meantime, do you know what I’m hearing right now? Cicadas, calling in our courtyard. This is the first year they’ve done it — because it’s the first year they’ve had decent trees to perch in and call from.

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About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
This entry was posted in life, Portugal. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Saving the trees

  1. Inge says:

    Awww… good for you. A shame that the system is not better watched and cared for. But i find it strange it is the responsibility of the community at all.. is it community ground or something?

    Well i truly hope your back holds out and you can continue to do this for the next couple of years until the green men.. euh the repairmen return.

    • oregon expat says:

      I certainly plan to! No way are these trees dying on MY watch.

      As for the community ground…I’m just guessing but I think the courtyard is considered public space (once the buildings are finished, that is). Of the four entrances, three are flights of stairs but the fourth is a driveway, and the courtyard is used by delivery trucks, the mail lady, and emergency vehicles. So I guess it’s a pseudo-road, which would make it the responsibility of the municipal government.

      • Inge says:

        That is interesting. In Belgium that would never be community-ground except if that used to be a corridor to other parts of the city since the Middle Ages (or so) otherwise it would be private ground even when the services use it to deliver,…

  2. Lisa Shaw says:

    hehehe … as soon as I read that the trees died once, I knew you would ride to rescue and do what needed doing to save them regardless of the cost. 🙂 Good on you for being a friend to the trees.

  3. dyspresja says:

    You are my hero ❤

  4. Luis Rebelo says:

    Oregon Expat, not to rain on your parade, but don’t grow too attached to those trees.
    Some years from now, some bright new spark will replace the current old spark in the appropriate city council office.
    Then that bright new spark will decide that that kind of tree is wrong for that particular space, or that that space should became a parking spot, or something else eminently sensible in his/her views.
    Next thing you know, the workmen show up and cut them down, without so much as a by your leave.
    But that’s just old cynical old me 😉

  5. Marta says:

    Awesome! I enjoyed reading your tree novel. 🙂 Too bad you haven’t showed us pictures of your work in progress!

  6. Steve Warner says:

    Why not buy a hose? Or 2 or 3 if distance is required. Reeling and unreeling a hose would be much easier, and you’re not limited to 5 gallons per tree.

    • oregon expat says:

      Because of the storage issue. Our building has two garages, and the one containing the faucet is not ours. Nor do we have space in our little parking spot for the length of hose we’d need.

      • Inge says:

        But.. if it’s right outside your window, can’t you shoot it from there? Might be fun 🙂

        • oregon expat says:

          I could water ONE of them from our window…maybe two if I get a good thumb seal over the hose. But not all eleven.

          On the other hand, the kids screaming outside my window right now could probably use a good watering.

          • Inge says:

            Perhaps dangling the waterhose down from the window might work, but still i’m voting for watering down from the window… what you can get that way is sooooo much more fun.. *grin*

  7. Lilaine says:

    What a nice tale! 😀
    ‘Magic’ trees, a bunch of villains, a brave and persevering knight in shining bucket armor with an equally brave and persevering partner, a constant and sometimes heroic fight for those trees’ life, and in the end, a thriving forest of orange trees hosting the Singing People of the Heat, all of them giving their saviors a sonorous(if not melodious), visual, tasty/juicy, soon olfactory and overall satisfying reward… 😀
    Keep pouring them, OEx ! 😉

  8. xenatuba says:

    Truly a labor of love!

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