What’s more Mediterranean than the rich, sensuous lushness of figs? If the splendid renaissance quality of the quince smacks of 15th Century Rome, the fig conjures earlier images of the Eternal City. Of aqueducts and villas, bath houses and arenas, senators and emperors and, yes, I’m afraid for me, at least, of evil Livia in I Claudius. For this reason if no other, I always wash fruit before eating it…
When I hoiked out a misbehaving wisteria in my front garden for the third time (they take a lot of killing, do wisterias; even when you move them, a teeny-tiny bit of root will always reshoot somewhere) I decided I wanted to use the space to grow something that would appreciate the storage-heater facility of the west-facing London bricks chez moi.
Ideally something that would hide the broken cable-box left by a careless telephone engineer and not constantly try to break and enter my house like the wisteria did.
As usual, I wanted an event. Figs won the toss between them and Comice pears, merely because I still can’t quite get an adage out of my mind told to me by Young Tom on my last allotment. Young Tom was 75 if he was a day, as opposed to ‘Old Tom’ who was 97, came up to the plot every afternoon on a wobbly bicycle and for all I know still does…
But I digress. ‘Plant pears for your heirs’, Young Tom warned a greener, more callow me as I gaily dug a hole for a weedy-looking supermarket bargain-bin trophy of indeterminate variety. That little tree definitely was for my heirs as I had to give up the plot shortly afterwards when I moved house.*
Although the four year-old Concorde on my current allotment comes up with a couple of fruit each year, I’m still to see a Comice at all, despite being planted a couple of years ago, so maybe Tom was right.
Figs it was, then. After much deliberation I chose Brunswick, mainly because it’s supposed to have a fine flavour and do reasonably well in cooler climes.
Figs like to have their roots contained (actually, to be honest, they hate it, think they’re about to die so start creating lots of fruit) so I planted it in a giant pot in the front garden, surrounding it with what I hope one day will be a patchwork of alpines, gave it a bit of a water and largely forgot about it.
That was February. I genuinely didn’t expect to see any figs this year – I mean it was bought from Keepers Nursery, who come up with consistently good quality plants, but all the same it was a spindly little thing, that looked as though it wouldn’t be able to bear leaves, let alone a crop.
When it developed little fruits, I said ‘Aww… I’ll let it keep them for now then rub them off over winter so it will get proper fruit next year.’
Amazingly, though, those fruits swelled – then ripened. I picked three today, and there are more that are so close I’ll leave them – they should be ready in a couple of days.
They are dark purple and green, soft and juicy, aromatic and sweet. In other words divine.
Of course the smaller ones will have to go, leaving just the minute ones for an early crop next year, but this was a truly welcome, unexpected event. Folks – if you have anywhere at all that gets the sun, do consider a fig. It’s a wonderful thing.
*I sometimes think I should go and look at my old plot, next time I visit my dad. I never do: either it will be in worse condition than when I left it, in which case I shall be outraged or better condition in which case I shall be jealous.