Belfast Telegraph

Frances Burscough: Life’s just rosy since I started to give a fig

Not only am I a terrible gardener, but I’m a hopeless dog handler

March is the month when gardeners everywhere flex their green fingers and get digging. For reasons I will explain, I’m not one of them. Although I do indeed have a garden, I also have three dogs and, as I’ve discovered the two don’t go together.

You see my dogs have this innate retrieval instinct which turns every gardening activity into a prolonged game of hide and seek. In this game I ‘hide’ the bulbs in the garden and they then ‘seek’ them out.

It’s happened time and time again. Anything I attempt to grow is destroyed by confused domestic dogs who still think their life’s purpose is to retrieve things.

For example, the dwarf tulip bulbs I planted under the cherry tree lasted less than 24 hours before they were returned to me, half-chewed and then spat out all over the kitchen floor.

The same thing happened to the seed potatoes my son planted last year, which were retrieved within a couple of days by three mucky dogs with snouts and paws all covered in soil. Bless them, they were so pleased with what they had achieved (against all odds and despite so many obstacles) their tails wagged in unison as they watched my reaction and I didn’t have the heart to tell them off.

So not only am I a terrible gardener, but I’m a hopeless dog-handler too.

So despite my best efforts I never really stood a chance and I now leave the gardening chores to Mother Nature.

My dad on the other hand, is a green-fingered genius and with no dogs to sabotage his efforts and an acre of land to play with he’s been free to spend his retirement honing his skills and reaping the benefits. Growing fruit has been his favourite pastime. With three apple trees, two plum trees, one damson and one pear tree in the back garden, and dad there to tend them, our family never needs to buy fruit in the summer because you can just pick it directly off a branch.

Meanwhile, in the greenhouse he’s grown tomatoes, lemons and an entire grape vine. But the greatest success story of all was his beloved fig tree and therein lies a tale.

It was his seventieth birthday in 2003 and as usual I really didn’t have a clue what to get him as a gift for this big occasion. I wanted to find something that I knew he would enjoy and so I racked my brains for weeks trying to come up with something different. Then I had a flash of inspiration which came to me in a childhood memory.

I remembered one summer in the early Eighties we had visited Italy for a family holiday and whilst there dad had loved the figs. Every time they were on the hotel menu he had them; wrapped in Parma ham, poached in amaretto, baked in filo pastry or simply peeled on a plate with cheese. It was his absolute favourite delicacy and rarely available in those days anywhere outside of the Continent.

So after some investigation I sourced a catalogue and perused the fruit section. There it was. A fig tree, beautiful in its own right with big glossy leaves, heaving with fruit and available to order in a pot directly from Italy. Bellissima!

When it finally arrived, however, it left a lot to the imagination. In fact, it looked nothing like the photo. Basically, it was little more than a twig in a pot with one solitary leaf just starting to grow at the very end.

I was so disappointed but dad was over the moon. “I have just the place for this!” he said and wasted no time planting it in a sheltered but sunny spot between the garage and the greenhouse.

To say it was a success is an understatement. With dad’s nurturing touch, that tiny insignificant twig grew like Jack’s beanstalk and within two summers it was producing hundreds of figs as plump, juicy and delicious as any we’d had on holiday.

Of course, dad eventually grew a bit sick of eating figs every summer, and now he gives away more than he keeps. In fact, the local Italian restaurant gladly accepts a few cartons every season (for which he is paid in free vino). Meanwhile, the joke about the fig leaves providing free underwear for all the local males has also become a family favourite!

Cole is burning brightly once again

Cole’s career has been up and down like a yo-yo in recent years. After initially being discovered on a reality TV show, she went on to become the lead singer in a hyper-hyped chart-topping girl band. Then she married a footballer and became a tabloid WAG and the face (and hair) of L’Oreal. Next she reinvented herself as a talent show judge and thus became a national treasure in the process.

But after a disastrous trip to America, she fell foul of Simon Cowell and then virtually disappeared off radar for two years.

But she somehow managed to get back onto the right side of Mr Cowell. Now she’s set to return to The X Factor, but this time she’s the one calling all the shots. If she has it her way then apparently Louis Walsh will be shown the door and his replacement will have to be approved by her Ladyship, as part of her new deal.

Whay-aye that is one canny lass and no mistake! I’m guessing she’ll have a lot more than just a fishy on a little dishy when this boat comes in ...

Previously from Frances Burscough

Why I finally gave up giving up for Lent

I came back from hols with a sausage dog! 

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