But careful research into growing figs in Virginia tells me that might not be necessary if I can find a warm microclimate on the property, especially a southern exposure near a wall. I’m seriously thinking about ripping out the rhododendrons (my husband’s pet plants) along the southern wall of the house. One of them is doing great; it’s lush, and blooms freely each spring, but the leaves are a sickly yellow this year and I suspect it’s not taking up nutrients well thanks to a soil imbalance. I hate fussing with landscape shrubs. It’s not my style. The other rhododendron we planted at the same time is really looking bad. It’s about a third of the size of the other one and has skimpy growth. Now if I rip up that rhododendron and plant a fig there, it’s got the perfect micro climate. A hot, dry area with full sun next to the house, which can radiate heat during the winter months and cool autumn evenings. Even better, the dryer vent is near that area, so during the winter the air tends to warm up around there a few degrees when I do the laundry.
Now which tree to plant? My research indicates that the Brown Turkey fig is probably best. It seems hardy, the fruit is said to be good for fresh eating and preserving, and it doesn’t grow huge. I like that. On the other hand, I’m totally in love with Italian Honey figs. These are green fruits with an amazing sweet center. When I worked in Manhattan at the financial services firm, one of the guys brought in a huge container of these figs. He had an ancient tree growing in his front yard in Astoria, Queens (see what I mean about every Italian family having a fig tree in Queens? It’s true). Each fall, the tree produced abundant fruit, and he’d bring buckets of it into the office. I couldn’t get enough of the Italian honey figs and fell in love with fresh figs thanks to Anthony’s gift to the office.
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.