23 November, 2017

October 2011

Garden experts

Broughton's gardening experts from the left Peter Blackburne-Maze and Jonathan Piercy (AGW 2011)

Jonathan’s tips

1. Bulbs can be planted during the next two months.

2. Remove your summer bedding from containers and plant up with winter flowering pansies, wallflowers or bulbs.

3. As your greenhouse crops finish fruiting, prepare the greenhouse for your winter crops by washing out with disinfectant.

4. Watch for brown rot on apples and pears and dispose of immediately.

5. Towards the end of the month herbaceous plants can be lifted and divided.

6. Dry seedheads for indoor Christmas decorations.

7. Prune your roses ready for the winter.

8. Tie up plants that will need securing from winter winds.

Jonathan Piercy

 

Peter’s advice

I wonder just how many of you have ever thought of growing figs. They really are terribly easy and I’m sure that plenty of you have eaten them on some sun-kissed Mediterranean shore and thought that you’d like to give them a try at home.

The big snag with them is that, here in the North, they are on the borderline of hardiness; as I found out to my cost last Decemeber when our tree was killed to the ground. I see that a shoot has appeared from the depths of the Earth but it’s goimg to be a long time before we see a fig on it.

That aside, they’re well worth growing; so long as you like them, that is!

In most of the northern countries of Europe, figs grown outdoors behave in a rather strange way. The summers are not long enough or warm enough for the fruits to form, develop and ripen in one growing season, they have to spread it over two.

In Year 1., the tiny figlets, about the size of a small pea, form in the tips of the leafy shoots towards the end of the growing season. Only the top two or three survive the winter and go on to mature into ripe figs in the late summer or early autumn of Yr.2.

Almost all of the young figs that you see in the spring, of cherry size and larger, will already be dead, having been killed by the winter. Only in the warmest gardens will any survive and mature; the vast majority turn black and drop off in spring or early summer; much to the despair of the gardener.

In greenhouses in the UK., figs will produce two crops a year; possibly even three.

They also reproduce in a very odd way.

The things we call ‘figs’ are not fruits at all but flowers and the most bizarre thing about them is that they are inside-out. The true flowers are tiny and clustered together inside the green outer ‘skin’. To see them, you have to cut open the fig. Each tiny little flower is either male or female. If all this sounds like the product of an overstressed mind, what follows is even more extraordinary.

In the Mediterranean autumn, a very specialized little fly, the fig wasp, enters the semi-formed figs through a tiny hole in the blunt end. It lives in there all winter, only emerging in the spring.

By then, the new spring figs are on the trees and, on leaving their winter home, the wasps enter these new and smaller fruitlets. Once inside, the wasp lays it’s eggs and then dies.

The eggs hatch at the same time as the tiny internal flowers open.

The young wasps, covered in pollen, leave the fig. They enter other figs and pollinate the tiny flowers (without actually knowing it). On leaving these, they find that it is autumn again and getting cooler so, wisely, they decide to stay put until the spring. And that is where we came in.

In colder countries, including the UK., there are no fig wasps. This doesn’t matter, though, pollination and fertilisation are unnecessary; the figs just keep on growing until they mature.

The real way to eat a fig at it’s best is to catch it as it drops from a tree in it’s Mediterranean home. If you allow it to fall to the ground, the ripest will burst open. These are the best of all.

Another form in which figs can reach us, which I am reluctant to mention, is as a dark brown, sweet and sticky fluid which carries not the faintest clue as to it’s origin or use. This is the superlative and universally explosive laxative, ‘Syrup of figs’.

Is there something Freudian about Californians producing both syrup of figs and prunes? Before we get into deeper water, let us leave the last word with the Americans.

Many years ago, the well known, and long gone, English fruit grower, Justin Brooke, was crossing the border into California on a visit when he was somewhat surprised to find that, until he proved otherwise, he was considered an ‘alien’.

After providing the information necessary to convince the Californian authorities that he was, indeed, a ‘terrestrial’, he went on his way.

On leaving the airport, he realised just how right they had been and how far apart the Californians and British really were. There, in front of him, was the largest advertising hoarding that he had ever seen. It proudly proclaimed:

CALIFORNIA SYRUP OF FIGS.

It Works While You Sleep.

That says it all!

Peter Blackburne-Maze

 

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