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.
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.