29 August 2006

Forbidden Fruit?

The terracotta-tiled floor in my study is normally awash with dogs when I’m working at the computer: fluffy dogs, smooth-coated dogs, large and small dogs but always exceedingly lazy dogs. Yes, the door to the garden is open all day but as we know, dogs need people, and people – well, right-minded people, that is – need dogs. So these lazy canines lie at my feet and wait for me to go into the garden and then they deign to follow me.

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.’

Noria, Rosie and Maddie searching for fallen fruit
The land here belonged to my neighbour, Agnès, before it was sold to the people who built what is now my home. More than anything, she and her mother missed the fig tree and so we all get excited as we get into August and know it won’t be long before we’ll be scoffing the first of the luscious fruit.

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.

Rox ever hopeful
I used to think the dogs would get upset stomachs (read diarrhoea if you need more specifics) but they don’t, so I’ve stopped trying to beat them to the fallen figs: after all, they are full of vitamins, good for us and doubtless good for dogs too.

It’s time to go down to the garden and pick today’s crop before even more hit the ground with a soft splosh...


Parisbreakfasts said...

Lovely post and lovely blog :)
I found you French-word-a-day

Anonymous said...

What a nice surprise I must have missed this post first time round.
My dogs won't touch our figs so yours are obviously far tastier!

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