Sitting in dappled shade eating juicy figs doesn’t have to be a treat reserved for your holiday in Greece or Italy. Forget the tasteless, unripe supermarket fruits, and grow your own. It’s really easy. Just be careful not to make your tree cry...
When I bought my first fig, it was a foot-high twig with one branch. Given half a chance these trees will grow to enormous size, but the more they run wild, the less fruit they’ll produce. A fig under stress gives more than one whose roots roam free, so I planted mine in gritty compost in a 30cm pot and stood it out in a sunny corner of the garden.
It grew well for a few years, but needed almost constant watering. Then it began to linger. The Brown Turkey fig most often available in garden centres is hardy enough to grow outdoors in England, but in 2007 I discovered my variety, Gris Bourjasotte, is more fussy. That so-called summer of endless rain and cold winds was so wet, the fig started to grow moss on its branches.
A plant from the Mediterranean shouldn’t have to suffer that
I took pity on the poor thing, potting it on into a half-barrel, and moving it into my unheated greenhouse. Liberated from its first small pot, during 2008 the fig put on nearly three feet of growth in every direction. The following summer it produced its first fruit—dusky, soft and succulent. We were soon getting two crops each year, of around a hundred fruits a time.
In 2015, we even had a bonus third crop of a dozen figs in October
I pick the fruit only when their dark, purplish grey skin begins to crack around the eye at the base. Inside, their raspberry-red flesh bursts with rich flavour. You can drape them with Parma ham, or smother them with egg custard and bake them in a sweet pastry case, but for my money the experience of eating them warm, straight from the tree is unbeatable.
This year, we had our first problem
Newly pruned tree
The thrust of the tree’s smooth, strong branches threatened to push off the greenhouse roof. Something had to be done—but I had to wait until mid-winter to do it. The milky sap of figs is a nasty irritant, and it runs freely from pruning cuts made during the summer. Cutting the plant back only when it’s dormant, and wearing long sleeves and gloves avoided any lasting damage to either me, or the fig. I also worked from ground level upwards, so I didn’t get dripped on from above.