Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Hardier and hardier

     One drawback of only going into the office every few months is that you miss out on seed catalogues. If you haven't seen a seed catalogue lately, they are no longer modest affairs listing various types of flower and vegetable seeds for sale, but glossy, expensively-produced celebrations of lifestyle and philosophy and nature—think Vogue magazine, but for produce—that create this entire world of beaming, gorgeous children and barefooted Earth Mother types emerging like Venus from rustic farm buildings, carrying wicker baskets bursting with cornucopias. 
     I'm usually fairly immune to this kind of thing, flipping through more out of idle curiosity.
But three years ago I was leafing (sorry) through the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalogue, ogling the Kyoto Red Carrots and Mary Washington Asparagus, when I noticed the "Chicago Hardy Fig." 
     I couldn't resist. You can get the full backstory here.  
From small figs, mighty trees come.
They sent me two seedlings, thank God, because I credulously planted one outside (Chicago Hardy Figs, remember?) And the bag said they were good in Zones 5 through 10, and Chicago is on the northern border of 5, meaning we should just get in under the wire. 
I glossed over the part about planting it in pots and dragging the pots into shelter for the winter, as well as the line "These tender young plants generally have no resistance to cold," Rather explicit, now that I look at it.
      The first winter turned one of the CHF into a blackened stick. Suspicious soul that I am, I dragged the second CHF inside before the frost, just in case, where it wintered upstairs in my office next to my desk. Each spring for two years I muscled it outside. Last summer, sitting next to the front steps, it squeezed out two small green figs that I knew better than to try to eat.      
     This year I was a little worried. It had grown bigger, maybe two feet tall, and after I brought it in, to the dining room—in a bigger pot. I wanted to give it as much room as possible. So a terracotta pot as large as it could be and still move. Taking it upstairs was out of the question.
      When I first moved it into the dining room, just before the first frost of November, the shock of moving—or because it was autumn—turned all its leaves yellow.They all fell off except one, and I worried I had killed the thing, or that it was infested, investing in some expensive anti-bug leaf soap that I carefully spritzed on each leaf. 
     For  a month it sat leafless. But I kept watering and hoping and look at it now, above. My Chicago Hardy Fig keeps on pushing out these enormous vaguely hand-shaped leaves and, well, it's February and freezing outside, but my CHF is putting on a botanical show that I had to share. Maybe that's where its name comes from—the thing keeps pushing. (Actually, it seems that the plant became popular here). I have a good feeling about the future of my CHF.
     Or should I say our Chicago Hardy Fig, speaking of sharing, as my wife has practically adopted it. I tried to water it Monday morning and she all but yanked the watering can out of my hands with the snarl of an angry she-lion protecting her young. She would take care of it. Didn't want me overwatering. I had already killed one. 
     I did some reading, and the CHF can grow 15 feet tall and a dozen feet wide, which ought to provide some interesting dinner party conversation. I haven't told my wife that part yet. The tree seems to want to grow horizontally, and I'm trying to use a few notched sticks to encourage it to grow upward. They'll also kick off 100 pounds of figs with "sweet and juicy with a rich, honey-like flavor." Something to look forward to.


  1. Delightful, and thank you for the giggles.

  2. We have been dragging a Chicago hardy fig into the house for the last 3 years as well. This past summer we actually got about 2 pints of figs. They were delicious. The squirrels didn't need them. Goats didn't get at them.

    My wife decided she wanted to plant the tree in the ground this year and we had to pack it in hay bales and wrap it in a tarp after staking the branches to the ground. Hopefully it won't die.

    I know other people have been successful with this technique. Ours is about 6 ft tall now and also about 6 ft wide so it's a lot of hay. You can get fixed at the store for $2 a pint. Not sure why we're doing any of this

  3. On a related note, something that in hindsight took me way too long to realize was that those "annuals" we buy every spring at Home Depot are only annuals because we can't be bothered to dig them up and bring them inside for the winter, and their seeds don't survive either (or else the birds get them). This only dawned on me at last when I noticed a few hardy survivors from the previous year, mostly marigolds, were sprouting in the window boxes again a year later. I still don't dig them up each fall, but I do now make a point of gathering up the seed pods, and planting those with much success in the following spring. Home Depot will have to get along without me.

  4. Nothing like ripe figs freshly picked.

    Much to learn from the plant world:

    "Said the right-handed honeysuckle to the left-handed bindweed,
    'Oh, let us get married, if our parents don't mind, we'd
    Be loving and inseparable, inextricably entwined, we'd
    Live happily ever after' said the honeysuckle to the bindweed.

    To the honeysuckle's parents it came as a shock
    'The bindweeds,' they cried, 'are inferior stock,'
    They're uncultivated, of breeding bereft.
    We twine to the right, and they twine to the left.'"

    Flanders and Swann

    The misalliance was in fact consummated despite parental objections. But not, alas, successfully.



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