Suddenly the figs are ripening. Figs don't give you a lot of warning. One day they are starting to colour, but still too firm to be worth eating, for an underripe fig is a sad disappointment with little taste and less sweetness. A couple of days later and you find some have already shrivelled on the tree. In a typical year you also find that just as they reach the point of ripeness they are destroyed by wasps, which in turn takes the pleasure out of picking them as you hesitate to close your fingers around each fruit in case you get a handful of wasp into the bargain. But this year for some reason there are no wasps on the figs at all.
I ate some of the slightly shrivelled ones straight from the tree, sticky and tasting of utter distilled essence of fig. Experience teaches that they don't keep in the fridge so it's a case of eat them or waste them. And no, I didn't even wash them first, given they had never been touched by human hand and bore no marks of wasp or bird damage. In truth, though we are normally conscientious about washing raw fruit and salad I do wonder whether running something under a cold tap really makes a difference. The others that were ready to pick went into a wide, flat bowl in the fridge and I must eat them as soon as possible. The Systems Administrator does not share my love of figs, so they are all mine, to eat as many as I can before they go off. Or I could I suppose cook with them, but then I would be left with some sort of fig pudding that the SA didn't like either, which seems to expand rather than solve the problem.
The tree is a 'Brown Turkey'. I chose it because that was the variety I'd heard of, and it was supposed to be a reliable cropper in the UK. It lived for several years in a fair sized pot in the conservatory, where it never produced more than about three half-hearted fruit, and the undersized leaves and wavering branches had a defeated air. One summer's day, walking along a street in Southwold with friends and seeing a fig hanging over somebody's garden wall on to the pavement and laden with figs which our friend promptly ate, I had to admit that my potted fig was a travesty compared to this beauty. The huge leaves, the air of luxuriance and abundance, the fruit. This was how a fig should be.
In November 2009 I planted my sad potted specimen out into the narrow bed below the terrace (or patio), where it sat in a south-west facing corner between the retaining terrace (or patio) wall and the garage door, which is white so reflects any light going. It had a stretch of paving in front of it, to soak up and radiate heat, a brick wall at its back, and its feet in the stoniest soil you have ever seen. When I laid the paving outside the garage I had to winkle out flints with the point of a pickaxe, and filled buckets of them. They could not all have been native to the site, and I presume the people who built the house dumped them there to make a firm track to the garage, in the days when it might actually have been used as a garage instead of a gardening and beekeeping equipment store cum utility room. The soil was so awful I thought I could safely dispense with the received wisdom about putting paving slabs or old washing machine drums or anything else around the roots of the fig to restrict them and direct its energies into fruiting.
Maybe it was unkind of me to plant it out just ahead of winter. I imagine I had got fed up with having it in the conservatory, and anyway the corner it was going to was very sheltered and impeccably well drained. The fig felt the shock, though, after all that time in its big pot, and did nothing much for a year or so. Then it began to grow, giving up on the sad little branches that had seen it through its wilderness years in the conservatory, and throwing up strong straight shoots from ground level. The leaves on the new growth were double the size of the old ones, a better shade of green, closer together and everything you could desire from a 'Brown Turkey'. This year's crop of figs is the heaviest yet. Maybe a wet June followed by a baking period has suited it.
It has grown so much this season it is threatening to block the way into the garage. I bargained with the SA for it a few weeks back, pleading to be allowed to keep as much growth as possible until after the fig harvest. I might need to trim the longest ends tomorrow since I have been lobbying the SA to give the lawn a cut, and the fig really is blocking the garage door. The ends of the longest shoots don't have any figs on them anyway. At some point over the winter it will need a hard chop to keep it within bounds, which is what it had last year, otherwise as well as blocking the garage it starts to shade the terrace (or patio), and there's no point in having figs so high I can't reach to pick them. Figs seem to tolerate a great deal of training if they have to. You see them in old walled gardens now restored to fruit and vegetable production, where they have been tightly trained in against the wall, and looking at the base of the plant a whole forest of shoots must have come off to achieve that shape. I am not so strict with mine, because I enjoy the romantic, jungly look, but we do need to be able to get in and out of the garage.