I may be going out on a limb here, but it seems that figs are really underrated or flying very low on the radar of most gardeners. Although you see them from time to time; there is hardly the reverence for figs found here in comparison to other parts of the globe. Figs were once were considered an early version of the modern day power bar. In fact, athletes used figs as a training food in preparation for the Olympic games. Figs were also awarded as laurels to the winners, as the first Olympic medal.
When Mario Ruffalo and his family emigrated from Italy 50 years ago, they found a climate much like their Mediterranean home, but no figs. He and his younger brother missed the fig trees that grew so abundantly there, and wondered if they would also grow well here. Luckily we enjoy a climate with fairly mild winters and only the occasional cold snap. They thought they would give it a try and found that although our winters are not ideal for the sun-loving figs, with a little extra care, figs did flourish. In 1993, the Ruffalo brothers started planting fig trees wherever they could. They wanted others to experience the beautiful fig and shared the plants widely. They believed that everyone could have abundant gardens and that figs could easily be grown across the region. The two brothers set out planting and sharing figs with whomever showed interest.
Sadly, Mario’s younger brother passed away and he was unable to continue planting as he had once dreamed. Now, Mario is taking the opportunity to give away 150 fig trees, marking over 50 years since coming to Canada. His hope is that people in the region will be able to enjoy delicious figs and the shade these beautiful trees provide.
Are you interested in adding a fig to your yard, your community garden or park? According to Meralin Young and Laurie Stewart, master gardeners, figs require at least six hours of full sun daily for the fruit to ripen properly. Your yard’s microclimate will determine the vitality of your fig tree. Figs are rated as hardy in Victoria’s Zone 8. They observe that “Winter cold below -10 C can damage branch tips and may cause the fig tree to die to the ground but they should re-sprout the following spring and… a white painted, heat-reflecting wall situated behind the fig tree” really boosts your chances for more abundant fruit. To learn more, the Master Gardeners have an excellent guide available on line called Growing Figs in Victoria (Mgabc.org).
Mario contacted the Good Food Network when he read about the 150 fruit tree giveaway sponsored by Le Couteau Nurseries. Many of those trees have been distributed and are now planted and growing in communities throughout the CRD. Now, the Good Food Network is helping Mario distribute his fig trees. If you are interested please contact Jaya (firstname.lastname@example.org) by Aug. 4 with the number of trees you would like, please include your name and phone number. You will need a vehicle to come and pick up and transport the trees especially if you want one of the larger ones. Why not add this beauty to your garden? We can’t promise the fruit will make you an Olympic champion but it will bring some interesting conversation to your dinner table. Come on Saanich let’s get growing.
Linda Geggie is the executive director with the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable and can be reached at email@example.com.