Fig trees are not something one would normally associate with cool, damp England, even in this milder, south-western part of it where I live. But the gardening catalogue assured me that the Brown Turkey fig grows quite happily here. And I know that to be true because there’s one in the village that yields dozens of ripe figs every year. So I ordered a fig tree. A small one, in a container.
A crazy thing to do of course, given our tiny, already-crowded garden. But there was one warm spot with nothing growing in it. The little fig tree, in its pot, was a perfect fit.
I’ve named it Tullio Two.
Gardening, for me, is not just about growing food. It’s about relationships. Relationships with plants, with the other creatures who share our space and sometimes even with people.
Tullio Zola was a tall, thin, affable, Italian man with sparse grey hair, glasses and impeccably gracious, old-fashioned, European manners. If you had ever enjoyed a bottle of wine with dinner in Melbourne’s elegant Windsor Hotel, it would probably have been Tullio who advised you on the vintage. You would have been well pleased with his choice. Tullio knew his wine. He knew good food. He knew figs, too. In his garden he had a huge, spreading fig tree. Sometimes it would throw up suckers from its extensive roots.
It is said that root suckers don’t always make good trees in their own right. So I had low expectations of the one that Tullio dug up and gave to me in a pot. I stuck it in the ground. But when the Spring came, nothing happened. I decided it was probably dead. Being the lazy gardener that I am, I simply left it there. Another whole year went by and still it sat there, this thin, brown stick, a foot high, doing nothing.
Until, suddenly one day, late in the second Spring, it sprouted a leaf. And then another.
I thought to name it Lazarus, this little thing that had returned from the dead. But instead I called it Tullio in honour of the old man from whose garden it had sprung.
Fifteen years later, when Tullio the man died. I helped to arrange his funeral. Meanwhile, Tullio the tree had been steadily growing bigger and bigger, and every year it produced more and more delicious, juicy figs. Eventually, in order to pick them all, I had to climb up into its branches. What an amazing feeling that was: perching high in the branches of a tree I had known and loved since it was a twelve-inch high stick!
I felt a deep kinship with that tree. So much so that when I left that place for the last time, I found it harder to say goodbye to the tree than I did to the house.
Melbourne’s climate suits figs really well. Devon, England, not so much. But Tullio Two is a Brown Turkey fig and it will survive here. Maybe even thrive. This morning I noticed several new leaves. I think it likes the spot I chose.
I doubt I’ll ever climb it. But I’ll love it. And if it ever gives me ripe figs I will eat them slowly and reverently, like a sacrament. Welcome to our garden, Tullio Two!