Going plum crazy for a special tree

On the Trail



I was trying to recall what the defining moment was years back that led me to buy a home in rural Agoura that I’d given the “stink eye” to six months earlier.

It wasn’t meeting the neighbors, who were standoffish at best, or the price, which was too high, or the setting, which was shaded to the point of gloominess. At first glance on a November afternoon, the long-vacant property didn’t sing any siren song to me.

Then April rolled around, the standoffish neighbors were replaced by a gracious Southern belle, the price dropped, and, now higher in the sky, the sun extended illuminating, probing spotlights into the property’s dusky corners.



And there in an obscure corner of the front yard, as delicate and lovely as a Van Gogh painting, appeared a plum tree in full bloom.

I stood before it, absolutely entranced. Its bark was a maroon brown, shiny in patches, rough in others, with sleek, fresh, suckering branches extending every which way.

It was obvious the tree had been pruned erratically, if at all, over the years, for branches wove in serpentine fashion only to come to an abrupt halt.

The solitary plum was an ugly duckling as fruit trees go, but enveloped in sprays of white flowers it seemed to personify the buoyant, jubilant spirit of spring. April in Paris, I thought, had nothing on this neglected old plum tree in rural Agoura.

I bought the house that May, and by July the plum’s load of fruit was so overwhelming I had to fashion sort of a crutch to support a major limb. Even so, the limb snapped under the weight of all those sweet little purple plums. Not even the avid predation by scrub jays, squirrels, yellow jackets and my plum-preserve-hankering buddies could keep up with that first season’s phenomenal crop.

Over the years the plum tree has grown somewhat frail. Its complement of white flowers is diminished and sporadic. Branches small and large mysteriously grow desiccated and die. The long drought was hard on the tree, as is the excess of shade, which has become more pervasive as neighboring coast live oaks grow taller and broader.

Many a time I’d rap my noggin on an unyielding branch when I rose from the garden bench beneath its limbs. Over the years oleanders, rock roses and climbing roses I planted near the plum came to enliven the rest of the front yard with their varied blooms and colors. Yet each spring it is the brave old plum I salute as it musters its enchanting welcome to the season.

Van Gogh once wrote to his brother Theo, “In all of nature, in trees for instance, I see expression and a soul.” The moment I saw the plum tree that day years ago, in its glorious and fecund heyday, I knew I was home.

Glasser is a freelance writer. Reach her at whirlawaygig@gmail.com.