Master gardener Orin Martin authors new book, Fruit Trees for Every Garden

New guide to growing organic apples, pears, citrus, and more offers wit and wisdom from a passionate expert

Photo of Orin Martin in the Alan Chadwick Garden

"Fruit trees are just addictive," says Orin Martin, author of the new book Fruit Trees for Every Garden. "Learning to grow fruit trees is fascinating, humbling, and rewarding." (Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

Cover of the new book Fruit Trees for Every Garden
A postcard announcing a party to celebrate the publication of Fruit Trees for Every Garden
The public is invited to celebrate the publication of Fruit Trees for Every Garden on Sunday, Sept. 15, at 4 p.m. in the Hay Barn.
An etching of pears by Stephanie Martin that appears in the book
Beautiful etchings by Stephanie Martin grace the beginning of each chapter. (Etching by Stephanie Martin)
An illustration of pruning cuts that appears in the new book
Line drawings by Stephanie Martin help demystify the tricky business of pruning fruit trees. (Illustration by Stephanie Martin)

The beautifully illustrated and lovingly written new book Fruit Trees for Every Garden is not your standard how-to book.

This volume is the fruit of a life's work, a gift to aspiring and experienced orchardists alike. Master gardener Orin Martin captivates readers with the skill of a storyteller, deftly carrying them along every step of the way, from fruit-tree selection and soil preparation to planting, pruning, care, and harvest. Writing with lyricism and melody, Martin has accomplished the impossible: He has written a can't-put-down grower's manual, a text that's destined to become a classic.

Martin developed his knowledge and talent as an educator over more than four decades at UC Santa Cruz, where he manages the Alan Chadwick Garden.

"Fruit trees are just addictive," says Martin. "Learning to grow fruit trees is fascinating, humbling, and rewarding."

In Fruit Trees for Every Garden, Martin gives readers everything they need to become successful fruit farmers, including "bite-sized, digestible morsels" of the science behind the steps he carefully lays out. "This is a book for curious gardeners—those who want step-by-step instructions and a little bit more," he says.

Graphics and line drawings illustrate key principles and concepts, including how to build a compost pile and pruning, a subject to which Martin devotes 50 pages of his 265-page book. "That's appropriate, because you will spend more time pruning and training than all the other activities combined," he notes.

Pruning warrants careful demystification in part because it is "scary and counterintuitive. The harder you cut back a branch, the stronger it grows." Pruning can overwhelm and paralyze home gardeners, who tend to be either "whackers or haircutters." Moderation is the key, he notes, adding that pruning can also reclaim an old, unproductive tree.

A thorough, engaging guide to success

Martin coauthored Fruit Trees for Every Garden with his daughter Manjula Martin, an author and the managing editor of the literary journal Zoetrope: All-Story. His wife, Stephanie Martin, created etchings that grace the beginning of each chapter, as well as the illustrations; restaurateur Alice Waters wrote the forward, and Liz Birnbaum provided dozens of photographs.

Through his work at UC Santa Cruz, Martin has taught nearly 5,000 apprentices, undergraduates, and home gardeners, all of whom have been fortunate to hear from the master himself about the art and science of growing fruit trees organically. Martin became smitten with apples more than 30 years ago. The 3-acre Chadwick Garden is now home to more than 120 varieties of apples, as well as an extensive collection of pears, citrus, and stone fruits, including apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums, pluots, and apriums.

Martin describes gardening as "a process of observation, decision, action, and reaction. Rinse, repeat." Successful organic gardening is based on understanding the ecological systems at work in and around one's trees, and observation is the key to success, he notes. A hand-lettered sign posted prominently in the Chadwick garden proclaims, "The best fertilizer is the footsteps of the farmer or the shadow of the gardener. Walk the garden daily. Look around."

A handbook for all regions

Although he has spent his career on the West Coast, Martin has Massachusetts roots, and he has written a book of value to orchardists and gardeners across the country. USDA hardiness zones guide readers to fruits and varieties that will do well where they live. He also provides an extensive list of resources, including nurseries, soil-testing labs, and educational resources.

Perhaps the most challenging lesson Martin offers is that planting a fruit tree is not, ideally, an impulsive thing; it takes 12-36 months to identify and prepare a site.

"If your soil is in poor condition, you might be wise to engage in a rigorous soil-building program for as long as one to three years," he advises. Compost and cover crops are Martin's "tools for improvement," and he shares his expertise with zeal, ending the section on compost with a friendly request: "Please, I implore you: You must make compost!" Additionally, aspiring orchardists want to create a biodiverse ecosystem, with flowers that attract pollinators and beneficial insects, and birds that help control pests. "It's not just the tree, it's the environment the tree is growing in," says Martin. "What you hope to create is a little slice of paradise in your backyard."

For those with patience, and those who lack it, Martin's book will greatly enhance their chances of success. He certainly understands the irresistible urge to plant fruit trees, which he links to humans' "long and storied" relationship with fruit trees. Archaeobotanists have uncovered evidence that orchards may predate ancient grain production by 1,000 years or more, and studies show trees in the landscape have a calming effect on people, he proclaims proudly. Moreover, trees are the “lungs of the planet," removing carbon dioxide, sequestering carbon, and "exhaling" oxygen. And at the end of each season, the gardener's commitment and dedication is rewarded with the best prize: fruit.

"Your relationship with a tree is like a conversation—a really long conversation," says Martin, who wants more than anything to empower more gardeners to begin those conversations.