figs fruit

A Fig fruit

I have a fig in the courtyard here at Old School Garden, growing in a pot and ‘liberated’ as a young transplant when pruning a rather older and very vigourous example at our local primary school a few years ago. I remember gathering it when I helped to plant up the ‘Nectar Bar’ and ‘Eco Park’ there in 2007. Today our tree, along with a Grapevine, Olive and Peach, contributes a mediterranean touch to the space, and with last winter and spring’s mild and wet conditions it has put on some wonderful growth, including a crop of handsome and promising looking fruit. I can’t recall ever really tasting a ripe fig, but my recent experience of fig-flavoured yoghurt is tempting me to try to harvest some this year!

Common name: ‘Common Fig’

Native areas: A native of the Middle East and Western Asia.

Historical notes: The edible fig is one of the first plants that was cultivated by humans, predating the domestication of Wheat, Barley and Legumes, and may thus be the first known instance of agriculture. Figs were also a common food source for the Romans. The fruits were used, among other things, to fatten geese for the production of a precursor of foie gras. In the 16th century, Cardinal Reginald Pole introduced fig trees to Lambeth Palace in London.

An old Fig tree, grown under cover

An old Fig Tree

Features: A round-headed tree, if properly located and pruned, otherwise it can develop a mass of straggly growth (e.g if grown up against a wall and left untrained and its roots unrestricted). Mature height of 3 – 5 metres, it is grown for both its attractive, deeply lobed foliage, and fruits. Two crops of figs are potentially produced each year; the first or breba crop, develops in the spring on last year’s shoot growth. In contrast, the main fig crop develops on the current year’s shoot growth and ripens in the late summer or autumn. The main crop is generally superior in both quantity and quality to the breba crop.

Uses:  It makes a small and elegant tree that is perfect for gardens where space is limited. Grow in a container or open ground. The cultivar ‘Brown Turkey’ has gained the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM).

58571_Ficus_carica_LGrowing conditions: The fig likes dry, sunny, warm, sheltered sites, where the soil is dry or very well-drained. It thrives in both sandy and rocky soil. As the sun is really important it is better to avoid shade. Excessive growth has to be limited to promote the fruiting. This can be achieved by pruning to achieve the desired shape and encouraging fruiting branches and also by restricting root development; by growing in a container or in an enclosed bay in open ground where brick walls or other barriers keep the roots in check. It is also often grown up against a south-facing wall to maximise fruiting potential. I’ve had experience of pruning back hard a few old unkempt examples successfully in spring; alternatively, phase your pruning over a number of years to lessen the visual impact and reduce stress on the plant.  Some varieties are more adapted to harsh and wet climates. It is remarkably pest and disease resistant. 

Further information:

Wikipedia- Ficus

RHS- Figs

RHS- Ficus carica ‘Brown Turkey’

How to grow Figs- Daily Telegraph

Barcham trees directory

Old School Gardener