The fig tree stood in the corner of my dining room, flopping its gangly branches against the wall.
I was 95% sure where the smell was coming from.
Despite my mother-in-law’s warning, Figgy needed to move outside.
A gift from a friend and her lovely wyfe as they moved out of Asheville after a short sojourn here, Figgy has had quite a journey for a tree. They kept her as a houseplant for several years in their home in the northeast. When they moved to North Carolina, she expanded in the humidity and heat to become a vibrant being. My friends insisted that they wanted her to remain where she was healthiest, and left her on our deck with a sweet goodbye and a miniature gnome as a guardian.
Figgy stands over six feet tall, with wide, long leaves like you see in those medieval paintings of Adam and Eve. I began researching how to care for fig trees the next day, not wanting to fail her or have to report to them that I’d killed their Figgy.
I’ve killed plants before, through lack of knowledge and luck. My green thumb turns black occasionally, and, well… Shit, a zucchini died on my watch. A zucchini. The weed squash.
But research could save Figgy!
All of the websites I found recommended putting Figgy in a sunny spot but warned me not to leave her outside all winter. At the woodshop where I worked, two fig trees resided on a sunny hillside all year round, and even produced the occasional fruit. Since she lives in a pot and early autumn remained pretty warm, I decided we would leave her outside for a while.
“You should move this tree inside,” my mother-in-law pronounced on her first visit. “It shouldn’t be in this much sun.”
All of the research I’d done on the internet said the opposite. I smiled and thanked her for her advice, planning to ignore it for the rest of Figgy’s life.
In the bright sunlight after being inside for much of her existence, Figgy’s leaves began to bleach and dry out. When the first one fell, I panicked. She was right! I was going to kill Figgy!
I started searching for a place in the house to put her. The dining room held the only space big enough to fit. In a corner next to an eastern facing window, the light filtered in through the branches of the maple outside. Ugh. Way too dark. But she’d lived inside for most, if not all, of her life thus far.
With a mixture of lifting and pulling (and our cleaning lady’s help), the fig shifted to her new home for the winter. I gazed at the few leaves untouched by the white and hoped for the best.
They all fell off.
I kept watering her. She couldn’t die. My friends trusted me to keep Figgy alive.
A tiny touch of green at the tip of each branch encouraged me.
Slowly, as fall progressed, leaves reappeared. Small at first, and then growing with abandon.
My mother-in-law complimented my good sense on the new addition to the dining room.
Over the winter, we took in a fellow and his cats for a few months while he got back on his feet. The large blank canvas of dirt at the base of the fig tree was too much to resist, and those cats used it as a litter box.
However, who loves the smell of cat pee? At first, we thought it was just the cats having cat wars and marking the room. We sprayed the space down with a natural smell-absorbing spray which had worked on everything up to this point, but no. Cat piss forever.
Meanwhile, Figgy thrived, unfurling gorgeous, large leaves. Her green branches flailed into the middle of the room. I turned her to brace them upright against the wall. She grew even more unruly.
I cannot explain this away, Figgy! You are a sick, sick girl!
She continued to stink, even after the other cats left.
When the weather warmed to the point we were beyond frost, I knew what I had to do.
Steph suggested using a piece of cardboard to protect the floor as I slid the planter outside, so I pulled the plant onto a flattened box. Figgy rode the cardboard while I grunted and wheezed. She settled just outside our main door on the deck. Again, I spun her around and supported her branches against the house so as not to slump out into the pathway of the deck.
My mother-in-law visited for Sunday dinner. “I don’t think this tree will survive outside. It’s getting too much sun.”
Of course she still disapproved, and thought she was right because the tree had thrived all winter. However, everywhere I researched, people said the same thing. The tree needed to go into a sunny space. Its limbs had turned weak and leggy from reaching for light.
“The leaves fell off because it was fall,” I replied. “Or because it had been moved. Everywhere I look, they say to put fig trees into a sunny spot. The dining room isn’t sunny.”
“Ok,” she said, in that way that says “At least I warned you” and “You’ll be so sad when the tree dies.” And then she dropped the subject.
Or so I thought.
Over the next week, the leaves began to turn white and dry, dropping to the deck one by one. Leggy branches drooped into the doorway. Kitchen twine bound them closer, but now they sagged in a big clump of branches and leaves.
Little green tips of the branches promised life, and some of the leaves appeared untouched. With each big rain, her kitty perfume washed away a little more.
Each Sunday dinner brought a new tactic from the gardening maven mother-in-law. Last week, the tree wasn’t happy outside. Figgy told her.
Figgy! You traitor!
Leaves continued to drop. What if she was right? What if I killed Figgy with this desperate move to rid myself of the lingering eau de nasty cat?
As I returned from my morning walks with Mack, I noticed more and more new leaves forming little umbrellas at the tips of the branches.
Here is what I suspect will happen: the old leaves will all fall off. Over the course of the summer, more new leaves will burst from the branches with a dark green fervor, large enough for me to pose as Eve in the garden (and I’m more of a Venus of Willendorf type than the lithe Eve medieval painters portrayed). A judicious pruning will strengthen her limbs. The summer rains and a scrub of the exposed areas of the pot will remove the last gasp of the cat spray.
At the end of September, Figgy will return to her place in the house, refreshed and ready for her long winter’s nap.
That’ll teach me.