Greetings from Cape May located at the very tip of New Jersey. It’s a joy to walk the streets of the Victorian architecture which has attracted vacationers since the mid-18th century designating Cape May as the country’s oldest seaside resort. Glorious gardens abound. I even spied monarch butterflies indicating a healthy habitat. Sadly, they’re rare to see in our neck of the woods.
As I meandered by a fig tree that towered almost to the roof of a two story home I thought, that’s a heck of a tree to wrap over winter. Fig trees are native in the tropics with a few species considered semi-tropical and will grow unprotected in zones 8 to 10. Cape May is in USDA zone 7b which is two zones warmer than ours, but you can grow hardier figs with the right winter protection. Cultivars of the common fig (Ficus carica) such as Brown Turkey, Chicago, or Celeste are best and its best to skip growing them in the ground north of zone 6. Rather, use containers and bring them to a protected area in the winter where temperatures won’t dip below 20 degrees. Figs like to be root bound in their pot for maximum fruit outputs. Up-size each year until your tree reaches the size you care to maneuver. After which you’ll need to root prune every 3 years and return Miss Fig to the same pot.
So as I walked closer to this beefy fig with its course shiny leaves, I noticed a sign: “FREE FIGS” in capital letters on a bright yellow board. Bulleted below were the rules. “Pick ripe ones (yellow and soft) and Please Take 2 max per person. Don’t be a fig pig. Donations appreciated.”
As I was chuckling over “don’t be a fig pig,” a car exits the driveway. “Did you find any?” the gentlemen asked. I replied that I wasn’t looking to pick, but loved his sign and admired the size of the fig tree. “How do you wrap such a giant?” It’s on the south side of the house, explained Warren, hence no need to wrap it. The idea of offering figs for free inviting a donation came after learning that someone was coming uninvited and picking the figs clean. Talk about a fig pig. More like a fig thief! The concept of taking things, picking flowers or helping yourself to anything that’s not yours astounds me. The culprit, Warren found out, is a neighbor who owns a restaurant in town. Seriously? Seems he would be more aware of the wrongs of pilfering food. Warren took it in stride and now that he’s retired he can oversee his bounty. “It was a banner year making $183 for the local cub and boy scout troops.” That’s a lot of figs!
A side note: I was given a baby fig tree as a rite of passage when I married into a family of Italian decent. I was outwardly appreciative, but inwardly dreading the hassles of overwintering it. Never mind the parade of ants I recalled seeing on the mother plant. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fond of figs. But prefer the easy way of enjoying them; wrapped in the long loved Fig Newton rather than wrestling to wrap a fig tree to overwinter it. I religiously wrapped my potted baby fig in old blankets from the bottom of the pot to the top of the tree; lassoing the garb with garden twine. Carpet, carpet foam, quilts, even the pink insulation fiberglass works as well. I was diligent for years then missed the timeline one year… bittersweet. Did you know the first Fig Newton was baked in 1891? Amazing how some things last forever and others, well, not so much.
Garden Dilemmas? Askmarystone@gmail.com