Not to boast (well, perhaps a bit) but we have a luxuriant, productive fig tree by our front door. The harvest this year was bountiful and is still going on. A fresh, ripe fig with some creamy yoghurt and honey is The Best Breakfast Ever. Not to be at all competitive, but I have several pals in the village who, quite frankly, don’t step up to the mark when it comes to the Good Fig Grower badge. So I thought I’d try and find out why mine is so good and theirs isn’t. I’d like to say it is down to expertise and horticultural exellence but I can’t honestly say I’ve done much to deserve such a proud specimen of a fig tree. Apart from planting it next to a sheltered, sunny wall. And talking to it in an encouraging kind of way.
One down side is that it is now very big and makes it hard for us to see out of our kitchen window. It doesn’t bother me a fat lot being a mad fig lover, but Peter – who isn’t for some strange reason – keeps blobbing on about the size of the fig and consequent lack of daylight. So I thought I’d look up how to prune it. There lies a dilemma and a half.
I was at Great Dixter ealier this year and they had a massive, beautifully fan trained fig growing up the very tall wall of a barn. It looked wonderful, a kind of stunning green sculpture. I asked a gardener there when they pruned it and he said ‘in the winter months’. When asked a further question about fruit he said that the harvest wasn’t their main aim, in other words, they risked losing a decent fruit crop in exchange for a striking effect. I can see why that would matter at a garden open to the public, but no figs seems much too big a price to pay for a dramatic spectacle in my garden.
One of the complications is that figs form over a long period, but some will fruit and some won’t, depending on what size they are at what time of year. If, by the end of the summer, there are small to medium sized fruit left, you are supposed to remove the smallest ones as they will not ripen and will take vigour away from the plant. So you have to make a judgement as to which are too big to overwinter, and which are small enough to stay on and grow into yummy fruit next year.
In the end I think I’m going to use some common sense and prune it so it gives us more light but not too drastically so we get some fruit next year.
You can still take cuttings at this time of year. I’ve successfully raised penstemons, lavender, rosemary and myrtle in September and October. If you use gritty compost and keep them in a sheltered spot, damp but not sodden, they will produce roots and be good to plant in a pot of their own next Spring. I’m especially proud of our myrtle, the leaves smell gorgeous all the year round and the pretty white flowers arrive in early summer. It can be pruned too, even used as hedging. I grant you it isn’t 100% hardy and may not come through a savage winter, so a few cuttings now kept frost free is good insurance.