my green vermont

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Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

There are few things I like better than practicing subtractive sculpture on the plant kingdom.  So when the snow finally melted last week I picked up my pruning weapons–secateurs, curved folding saw, and long-handled clippers–and set out to whip my fruit trees into shape.

Normally I do this in March, but this has been a long and cruel winter.  The four apple trees and the espaliered apricot had clearly had enough, however, and decided to ignore the frigid temperatures and pay attention to the sunlight, which has been glorious, and get on with things.  The sap was running and they were full of buds, especially the apricot which is crucified against the south wall of the house.

I was amazed at how much the apple trees had grown.  If it weren\’t for my determination to keep them short enough to be tended by me without a ladder, they\’d be fifteen feet high by now.  I hope that their new owners will appreciate picking those 13 oz. mega-apples without even having to stand on tiptoe.

Like the fruit trees, the bluebirds had had enough, and decided to forgo the courtship rituals and proceed with their nest building.  This is their third year in the little nest box by the back porch.  So far this season the male has not attacked our windows.  I\’m hoping that he is finally mature enough to know which battles are worth fighting, and which are not.  I\’m also hoping that a pair of bluebirds nesting right by the window will prove a selling point for our house.

All winter long I worried about the little potted fig tree that I\’d bought on a hot day last summer.  The label said it could withstand temperatures down to -10F, but I was sweating through a Vermont summer that left no doubt in anybody\’s mind about the realities of climate change, so I didn\’t worry too much about below-zero nights.

By October the little tree had dropped all its leaves, although a few mummified figs, born too late to ripen, still clung to its branches.  I wrapped the tree in burlap as best I could, set it in a sheltered corner, and retreated indoors.  The snows came and came, and the temperature dropped so low that one of the hens\’ combs froze and fell off.  The snow weighed down the burlap and made big gaping holes in it.  I didn\’t think the little tree had a prayer of surviving the worst winter in decades.

After I was done pruning the other day, I unwrapped the fig and peered at it closely.  Its long skinny trunk was still upright, with a few stick-like branches projecting from it.  But it was uniformly gray and dry and dead-looking, with no sign of buds anywhere.  What had I been thinking, trying to grow figs in Vermont?

Figuring that I didn\’t have much to lose, I took my pruning shears and with the blade made a tiny scratch near the bottom of the trunk–and lo, there was green beneath the gray!  Bright, moist, live, figgy green!  Against all odds, the little tree had made it.

Best of all, unlike my old friends the apple trees and the espaliered apricot and the bluebirds, all of whom I will have to leave behind when we move away in June, I will bundle the brave little fig tree in the car along with Wolfie and Bisou, and take it with me to our new home.

10 Responses

  1. If it bears edible figs, the tree is female. Male fig trees produce stunted little figs called caprifigs (because they were considered only good for goat food). Both male and female fig trees have male and female flowers, but in female trees the female flowers are longer. Fig trees have very interesting sex lives.

  2. Cannot think of anything better to make you feel at home. My Italian grandfather had a fig tree in his backyard, and I still remember eating those juicy figs. Maybe yours will do better in your new environs.

  3. \”subtractive sculpting of the landscape\” – brilliant!I spent all of September in Puglia in an apartment with a huge fig tree in the courtyard. Every time we walked out the door, we had to dodge the ripe figs that had fallen onto the pavers. Unfortunately, the tree was so big, the ripe figs were out of our reach. Argh. With your skilful pruning, you will never have that problem. (And yes, I deliberately spelt \”skilful\” with one L!)

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