Ficus carica (Fig)

There’s an ancient tradition in Britain : train your fig against a wall to get the fruit to ripen. There is some sense in this idea but aesthetically, it’s pretty unexciting. Left to its own devices, it’s a messy old disorganised thing. It likes a bit of discipline. Try it as a single short trunked tree (the trunk is grey and smooth and like an elephant’s leg) and then train the branches horizontally as far out as you can. If it produces edible figs (some years it will, some years it won’t) they’ll be nicely accessible, the tree will give shade in the summer to lunch under and in the winter, it will let light through. The young branches on figs are like rubber and really easy to bend to your will: tie them onto a stout bamboo cane with hessian string. Once the string rots, the branch will have set and will support itself. Both the production and ripening of the fruit is mysterious. If you prune it too hard you’ll get no fruit on the new young wood. The timing of fruit production and ripening varies with different forms (of which there are dozens) and if anyone thinks they have some light to cast on their habits, please let us know. We’re now (2016) unable to import the various delicious forms we used to have from Italy so only have our home grown trees of the variety known as Brown Turkey. It might not be the very best (they were from Italy and they called them Fico bianco – white fig because they were green when ripe, not brown…) but it ain’t half bad. Brown because that’s their colour when ripe and Turkey because of the country, not the flightless Christmas thing.

Figs can be seen all over the place but one of the biggest I’ve ever seen is in a surprising place – right by the old A23 (now the road from the A23 to Handcross village) in West Sussex. It’s huge and multistemmed and very striking. Apparently there’s a forest of Fig trees growing on the banks of the river Don in the middle of Sheffield. Read Walks on the Wild side for an entertaining account of why. You’ll have to cut and paste this but it’s a good read.

Propagated by us from cuttings.

N.B. When clipping several plants with the same tool, have a bucket containing a 5% bleach solution and swish your blades around for 30 seconds between plants to sterilise them. This will help avoid the chance of cross contamination of disease.

As with all woody plants, plant high, exposing as much of the taper at the base of the trunk as possible. Allowing soil to accumulate round the base of a tree can be fatal. Keep very well watered when first planted.

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Hardiness level Green

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Hardy anywhere in Britain below approximately 1000ft (300m)

This is only meant as a guide. Please remember we're always on hand to give advice about plants and their frost hardiness.

Please remember that these coloured labels are only a rough guide.

General Point about Plant Hardiness: The commonly held belief that it's better to 'plant small' is perfectly true with herbaceous plants, but not necessarily true with woody plants. They need some 'wood' on them to survive severe cold - so plants of marginal hardiness in very cold areas should really be planted LARGER, rather than smaller, wherever possible.

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