136. The garden

I have always wanted to be a person who could grow her own food.

When I was very young, my grandfather from Italy lived with us, and I remember we had a vegetable garden in the back yard that produced tomatoes, zucchini and peppers. He must have taken the family green thumb with him when he passed away, because my family was never able to replicate his productivity, or really any productivity at all.

Backyard zucchini farming with my father, circa, 1957.

To this day, I still try. We move the garden to various locations in the yard, hoping to find just the right spot. We build a raised bed. We hire garden consultants to explain to us just how we should pinch back tomato plants. I long to be one of those people who humblebrags about running out of zucchini recipes to accommodate their garden’s endless yield. But every year, it’s more or less a bust.

My fondest wish, though, is to be able to grow figs. I was inspired by a wonderful 2012 article by Melissa Clark in the New York Times, “Italy to Brooklyn, Fig by Fig.” She writes that Brooklyn, a destination for many of the Italian immigrants in the first half of the previous century, is filled with backyard fig trees, often started by cuttings that were brought by their forebears as prized possessions on the overseas journey to their new home. If a plant from temperate southern Italy could thrive in Brooklyn, surely it would thrive outside of Philadelphia, a hundred miles to the south and a degree or two warmer. So nearly a decade ago, we planted a tree.

Selling green figs in Gravina in Puglia

And thrive it did, spreading eight feet high and wide, and producing the most plentiful, gorgeous green leaves imaginable. But alas, no fruit. Year after year, no fruit, except for a few tiny, rock hard green ones. We decided our tree was defective, and bought a second one. Still no luck.

But then a miracle happened. This year must have had perfect proportions of heat and rain, because we ended up with a dozen edible tomatoes and four or five giant-size zucchini.

My zucchini crop, 64 years later.

And best of all, forty or fifty figs, thumb-nail size, juicy and sweet.

Melissa Clark’s fig tree also tried her patience, starting with very few fruit but increasing exponentially year by year. She writes, “when the figs arrive, it still seems like a miracle.” I know exactly what she means.

6 thoughts on “136. The garden

  1. Gigi, my fig tree is yielding an incredible harvest this year too – for the very first time! And you have 2 fig trees! It must be incredible. Congratulations on success in growing your own food. It’s so wonderful (said as I’m eating a salad made from my own lettuce, radishes and grape tomatoes). I think the pandemic inspired me to step it up a notch.


  2. Gigi, I think you are having more success in your garden then we are having in ours!
    This is my first comment on your blog. I was intrigued by your post in our Somerset High Facebook, inviting us into your Italia blog. Well, I thought I’d just “have a look” and then proceeded to fall down the rabbit hole….I was completely captivated by your writing and photographs, especially the ones of your parents and family. You were so completely you!
    I now have a problem – I started with your most recent entry and worked backwards.
    Having now reached #87, I am at a loss as to how to access #86 through #1. I am kindly requesting your assistance in completing your most amazing blog. It has been a pleasure to read offering many smiles and lots of nostalgia.
    Thanks, Gigi and I’m sorry we didn’t have more of a chance to visit in July.


    1. Susan – I am so happy to hear that you’re reading and enjoying the blog. As you can surely tell, it’s a labor of love for me.
      At first glance, my “tech crew” (my husband, Ben) could not figure out what the problem could be, as he could access the older posts. He is in Georgia right now, but when he returns, I’ll have him look into it more.
      What a wonderful reunion it was! But as you say, not enough time to spend with everyone. Hopefully, we will all meet again if our group 70th birthday party happens.


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