Plum and prune

About a month ago I found a flyer hanging on the front gate. I thought it might be an invitation to the neighborhood block party or another solicitation from a hopeful investment adviser.

But this one, hanging by a hole shaped to fit over a doorknob, was neither. It had a photo of a pedestrian walking past a yard landscaped with neat low shrubs and bordered by twin retaining walls. I knew we were in trouble.

The green banner at the top read, “KEEP IT NEIGHBORLY.” And below the photo, a plea: “PLEASE MAINTAIN YOUR PROPERTY!”

As grumpy as I felt about it, I knew they had a point. The yard has always been a little much for us. Trees and twelve-foot shrubs bleed into one another to form a solid wall of vegetation around the perimeter of the front yard. The former owners planned it so they would “only have to give it two good prunings a year,” they told us. Which, for a person who pretty much has a haircut every July, is about as foreign as, say, twice yearly French manicures. Or eyelash extensions. Pruning and preening of any sort gets sort of relegated to…Neverland. The periodic hour or two in the yard is given over to the weeds and molehills or to the tiny garden we keep at the side of the house.

But it’s not only my lack of engagement with the shears, there’s also this, and I’m a little ashamed to admit it: as an able-bodied person in a family that no longer needs a stroller, I don’t stay awake at night thinking about whether or not people have to dip into the street to pass by the front of our house. Not until I received the flyer, that is.

So, then. I resolved to tame the thicket. But it didn’t keep me from feeling a certain relief when my neighbor from down the street sent me a message, asking if I’d like some sage. As in, a lot of sage. Apparently, hers was blocking the walkway. Even our friend and next-door neighbor, who has a yard service guy, received a notice. My wayward vines and twigs are not alone.

The problem, according to the code enforcement officer, is our neighborhood’s narrow sidewalks. It makes my heavily planted border pesky to deal with. I called her because, although I pruned what I could to clear the path, I didn’t have it in me to cut back the plum branches that were already fruiting, even though they hang straight down over the sidewalk. The officer affably agreed, and even advised us to wait until later in the fall, so we can prune it back at the right time.

So the crazy tendrils of the reemerging wisteria are tucked away, some of the crab apple suckers are pruned back, and the plums are thinned (so this doesn’t happen again) and ripening up.

I’ve picked bowls of them and packed them in camp lunches and still, they ripen and ripen. It’s funny. It’s what we all want in the middle of winter. Fresh fruit from our own land. But then, the harvest comes right in the middle of the week when we need to get the kids ready for camp and a trip to visit my mom. And we have to leave to take the ferry and decide on whether to camp over Labor Day and weed and weed and prune and prune and prune.

But since the plums won’t wait and the kids are off and about, now is the time.Today it is plum preserves and plum sauce and as many golden fruits as I can possibly give away.


For golden plum jam, I followed the recipe from the Pomona’s Universal Pectin instructions, using honey as a sweetener.

I made a simple, flavorful plum sauce following instructions in Eating Richly, Even When You’re Broke, by Diana Johnson. Click here for her recipe.

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