Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Grow Your Own

The determination some folks have to grow a lawn, despite challenging conditions - arid land, tiny plots - is so strong that it requires psychological insight. One compelling theory suggest that human beings possess a deep impulse to recreate the African savanna, the cradle of human existence, by cultivating a lawn.

Are my sister and I similarly driven by powerful forces in our pursuit of the Rockaways gardens or our youth?

Growing up, we lived in a house with a backyard. Our home was 9 blocks from the ocean, barely within the New York City limits. Our backyard had toads, roses, honeysuckle and best of all, a fig tree, courtesy of our next-door neighbors who had planted a tree right up against the lot line. Every summer would bring a bumper crop, with zero effort on our part. Our generous neighbors were happy to share the bounty - a very good thing, considering that most jurisdictions accept the legal theory that whoever's lot houses the tree trunk owns all the fruit as well. Thank you, Stern family!

Of course, I fantasized about having a similar agricultural experience on my Manhattan balcony. Last year I bought a small fig tree at the Union Square Greenmarket. It developed lush foliage but no fruit. I wrapped it like a mummy to withstand the winter's frost, and have been tending it it carefully since springtime. Here's how it's going so far: 

Sigh. The weed in the corner is obviously doing a lot better than the fig tree is. 

I'd blame the container the fig tree is in, but my sister's two fig plants - one from the Union Square Greenmarket and the other from a botanical center - aren't doing much better, and hers are in the ground in her garden.

A gardening guru told her not to worry; dead-looking fig trees were capable of rebounding in early summer and even bearing abundant fruit by summer's end.

In a an ode to Brooklyn's fig trees, the food writer Melissa Clark attested to this phenomenon, writing,

[I was told that] fig trees are forgiving; if they die in winter, they can come back from the roots and bear fruit. I can vouch for this. That first winter, I wrapped my fig tree in old blankets, giving it a bucket for a hat. In spring, I unwrapped the tree. Everything else in the garden flourished. The mint and lemon balm grew tall and fragrant. The roses budded. But the poor fig tree remained adamantly brown, and I was scared I had killed it. Finally, in June, I gave up hope and lopped off the branches to stake my tomatoes. Then in July, I noticed my tomato stakes were pushing out leaves, and the stump in the barrel had started to grow. Suddenly, instead of one fig tree, I had six. I kept the hardiest of the lot and gave the others away. Now, my tree is laden with darkening fruit, branches bending under the weight. Every year the yield increases. First I got 2 figs, then 5, then 20. Now it's too many to count.

So we keep watering and keep harboring hope. 

Meanwhile, the farmers in Union Square have gone into floral overdrive, taunting me a bit with their lush greenery.

One plant in particular continues to catch my eye.

So far I'm holding strong and just tending to the fig tree I have rather than buying a new one. Really, I have no reason to think a replacement plant would necessarily fare any better. 

Besides, if I want a hardy plant, I know what to grow - a plant chock full of Vitamin C and calcium and more beta-carotene than carrots

And on a 16th story balcony, feral cat pee shouldn't be much of an issue.

1 comment:

  1. Optimism from Melissa Clark helps! I too have a barren stalk where I planted a fig tree. These people
    seem to think that even with really cold weather and stark bare branches, there's good reason for hope. Apparently fig trees remain semi-alive even when killer bad weather sets in.