29 August 2006
But not for the last few days. I sit here and there’s not a dog to be seen in the house - and why? I get up, look out of the window, and there they all are – scavenging under le figuer. Some sit there waiting patiently for a fig to fall and fall they do because I can’t reach the top of the tree to gather the ripe fruit. One dog even jumps up and pulls the fruit off the lower branches.
This fig tree is magnificent, probably over a hundred years old and is one of the many joys of life here. I love everything about this beautiful old fig – the bare twisting winter branches, that first bursting bud in spring, the leaves, which once they appear, you can almost see grow bigger by the minute until you have shade aplenty to protect you from the burning summer sun. And then August comes and with it the fruit, swelling and changing colour, softening and suddenly, one day you notice a perfect fig, ripe for the picking. As Dickens wrote, ’Train up a fig tree in the way it will go, and when you are old sit under the shade of it.’
If it rains when the figs are ripening it can cause the fruit to split but this year, with almost no rain, the fruit is perfect. I worried we’d get no fruit this year because we didn't even have spring rains, but this tree never lets us down except when it takes a rest every three or four years: its roots are so wide and so deep it’s probably not affected by lack of rain. What a wonder the fig is – as is the olive - my two favourite trees in the Mediterranean. Only this year, archaeologists discovered cultivated figs in an 11,400-year-old house in Jericho, leading scientists to believe that the fig was the first cultivated crop, 1000 years before wheat and rye.
Funny how trees summon up a place. Figs and olives say ‘Mediterranean’ to me. The gum or eucalyptus tree is Australia: how I loved those trees when I lived in Tasmania, and later Queensland - but that’s another story.
And there are less cicadelles this year. These look like tiny moths but are in fact a type of cigale (cicada) whose larvae cover plants and trees with a sticky froth – in fact, their spittle and excrement – charming, eh? The adults and the larvae suck the sap and will eventually weaken any plant or tree. Some people spray against it but the cicadelle only flies off to the next tree or the next garden, so what’s the point? Anyway, en principe, I never spray. If a plant or tree can’t manage on its own, then, tant pis, plant something else that can. Normally, so long as a tree or plant has sufficient food and water it will withstand the cicadelle. Perhaps not true for vines but then the only vines I have produce a few paltry bunches of very tiny grapes and they get eaten by the birds or tree rats long before I get near them. The best non-toxic deterrent against the cicadelle is to spray the insects and larvae with a sharp burst of water from the hosepipe – of course they come back but it helps.
It’s time to go down to the garden and pick today’s crop before even more hit the ground with a soft splosh...