Sunday, April 13, 2014

Life and death on the Harlem terrace

It's official.

It is no more.

After seven years of New York winters the fig must have gasped its last sometime in January or February. At one point, in the snow that buried the Harlem terrace this winter, it was alive. I know, because I scratched its bark and it was green. But then I discovered a split at its base, and perhaps that is what did it in. I can't be sure how that happened. I know a massive icicle dislodged from the darn leaking gutter two floors up, and hit it, but I am not certain that that would have caused this low split. And this winter was the coldest I can remember.


I am sad, of course. But not as sad as I had expected to be. The fig seemed to symbolize what was special about the tiny Brooklyn  terrace. When we moved here everything was suddenly off balance, and not quite what we had expected, and maybe it seemed fitting that the poor fig tree died.

The cut wood smelled like fresh fig leaves. That was a bit difficult. I saved the wood for a fire, to perfume something for a supper.

(Of the fig cuttings I took, one seems to have survived. We shall see.)

There has been another loss: the Iceberg. Also trapped underneath that leaking gutter, and entombed in ice. I think I bought it from the Texas Rose Emporium in about 2004.

The end of an era.

In better news, I planted lily bulbs from the wonderful Lily Garden, who included two free bonus bulbs in their order (it was a bonus Silk Road, years ago, that led to me ordering so many more, subsequently), and hand written warnings on labels to warn of the tender shoots emerging inside (you break them and you lose your flowers for the year). And this despite the fact that I had not paid them! I had forgotten to call in my credit card number. The Lily Garden is a small but impeccable outfit in the Pacific Northwest and does things the old school way - one can't order online (even though their catalogue is very good, online), and I don't fax. So I email my orders with a promise to call in the payment details. And I forgot. They just included a hand written note to say what I owed.

Their bulbs are very healthy and large, and the care excellent.

Not so, Brent and Becky's. Less wonderful. $15 for a lily bulb smaller than a quarter (Lilium canadense - hard to find, anywhere). Not impressed. And several of my Lilium longiflorum had lost their shoots in transit. The Uvularia seemed healthy, as did the Gloriosa lilies. But I will never order lilies from them again. This happened some years ago, with Formosa lilies (tiny!) and I should not have tried again.

Also: the fava beans have emerged, the chives look green and juicy, and the blueberry is covered with buds.


  1. I'm very sad for your losses. Your concern for the well-being of the fig was always very touching. I hope your landlord fixes that gutter before any more damage is done.

  2. Your fig tree lives on figuratively in my fig tree, and the fig trees of many other Northerners who had no clue it was even possible to grow one's own figs until you announced it. They are beautiful little trees, rich in symbolism, and nothing is sweeter than a freshly picked, sun-warmed fig. So, thank you for making sure I experienced that, Marie and Marie's fig tree.

  3. It is sad to lose a tree friend. I'm surprised your Iceberg didn't make it. I just ordered Cecil Brunner from the Antique Rose Emporium after I'd seen so many beautiful specimens at Rose Story Farm in Santa Barbara. Sure hope it takes to the northeast!!

  4. .............................sad news on the fig, I almost cried when we lost our egremont russet apple tree. We have planted a Brown Turkey fig on our allotment (London), with fingers crossed and have taken cuttings from the most amazing fig "foraged" tastes like coconut when preserved, no idea what it is. I would try with a fig again though Marie, some loves you must not give up on.

    PS Please do not forget that lilies are super poisonous to little black kitties.

  5. My understanding is that lilium canadense takes 4 to 6 years to flower from seed. It may take another 3 to 4 years to reach commercial size. If the Brent and Becky bulb took 10 years to get to the point where they could ship it to you, their recompense amounts to $1.50 for every year they have invested in growing it. Certain species lilies are rare for exactly this reason. I of course can't speak to your specific bulb, but I have grown plenty of species lilies, including lilium Canadense. Much of what I have read about them refers to them producing scaly corms, not "bulbs", that produce rhizomatous growth, and then another corm-ala your picture. Any species lilies bulbs I have ever purchased are small-but big things can come from small beginnings. Bulb/corm size is not necessarily a sign of worth. I do hope you plant this, and let us know how it fares.

  6. Sorry, it's so sad when plants die that you've nurtured over the years, I can empathize. But you were lucky, I think, that the Fig lasted so long. I'm about to face pulling up dead plants, including a 'hardy' bamboo only 2 seasons old, that this horrid winter did-in. Anyway looking forward to the Central Park walk, hope it's still happening. Posting my blog here just fyi, hope you don't mind.

  7. It's always sad when we lose favorite plants. Still it gives us a chance to try something new! Hope you find some lovely replacements.

  8. Agian, sorry for the loss of your fig and rose friends. A thought - perhaps you could dry out a piece of that fig wood and carve/have it carved into something beautiful...maybe a Estorbo could be persuaded to pose... I have a straight branch of a young eucalyptus which didn't make it through a very bad winter, and that will be turned into a walking stick : )

  9. Typos - woman in a hurry...

  10. I am so very sad that you lost your fig. I have been reading your blog for years now and was always so happy that the fig survived after harsh winters and all of the pruning you needed to do to it. Hearing it had survived another season always warmed my heart. I am looking forward to seeing all that you plant in your new larger patio garden. It will be just beautiful.

    Any word on the space that could have been a community garden?

    1. Laurabelle - thank you...

      I have looked into the community garden, and for once in my life, have decided not to become involved. Many reasons: 1. I am perceived as a gentrifier, and I don't want Spike Lee to hate me (Spike Lee, who lives on the Upper East Side, but don't get me started), 2. The entities involved in that space are tricksy - I've had a closer look and the can of worms is impressive 3. As sad as I am about it, we will probably not be in this hood very long, 4. The chances of long term success are slim.

      So my energies will be focused elsewhere. I have a few more crusades left in me, but this will not be one of them.

  11. I am sorry to hear about your fig tree.

    Did you start your chives from seed? I planted chive seeds three weeks ago in a pot on my NYC balcony and nothing. I don't know if this is normal or if I should give up hope....


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