Strawberries in the Desert

Story telling from Australia

On finding the last fig

a-fig-at-the-gateI’m reading a wonderful book by Kate Llewellyn, A Fig at the Gate, in which the author describes her efforts to establish a productive garden in a windswept Adelaide suburb. Wendy Moore thought I would enjoy it and she was right (and thank you Margaret, for forwarding the book.)

Wendy’s in Nepal right now,
SONY DSCwhere thousands of people were killed in the recent earthquake that rocked Kathmandu, and where over a million people were made homeless. She visits at least once a year (you can read why here) and one time I accompanied her.

I remember being SONY DSCimpressed by tiny plots of land and small back gardens in towns like Birtamod and Dharan, where milking cows and chooks were common and vegetables grew in abundance.

There was something heartening about seeing such productivity so close to home; recognition that ‘home’ encompasses the space around a building too, and a tacit acknowledgement that such spaces can – and should – be used to feed one’s family. I pray those affected by the earthquake will find the resources to build afresh and to sow new seeds. Nepal isn’t a wealthy country and donating feels like the right thing to do.IMG_0561

IMG_1558At Bishnu’s orphanage not a single grain of rice was ever wasted. “Add those grains up, and at the end of the year there would be enough to feed another person,” he would urge the children. Bishnu is pictured here, with me and my friend Kate, in the vegetable plot at the back of the orphanage.

Planting food feels like the right thing to do here at home too. Prolific author Kate Llewellyn details her efforts with gentle grace and an underlying urgency; she doesn’t know why she does it, she just knows she has to. As an author now in her seventies, who discovered gardening later in life, Kate’s wasting no time establishing a garden that will feed her – and, one assumes, others at times of abundance. I’m only part way through the book and already I’m loving it.

SONY DSCKate has given me hope that although I’m now in my mid fifties (and exactly how and when that happened is beyond me) there’s still time to establish a garden somewhere. The question is where?

Efforts to grow food in this small back yard, covered in pavers that sit on a concrete slab, have met with limited success – and that’s being generous. Yes, there was a bumper crop of tomatoes from one plant in a raised bed, a few cucumbers and several snow peas, but the lack of any lasting direct sunlight thwarts me every time.


Yet the lemon, lime and grapefruit are doing okay – nothing to shout about but okay – and when I peered down the side of the house where leaves are turning and the potted fig has lost most of its foliage, I noticed a lone fruit left on the topmost branch.SONY DSC

I espaliered the fig last year – an experiment forced on me by lack of space – and it responded by producing at least 20 figs, in only its second year of growth. I doubt if it’s warm enough for the last fig to ripen (apparently they won’t ripen once picked) but the sight of that lone fig clinging to the tree gave me hope.


We all need signs of hope, so thank you Kate Llewellyn for offering such signs through your wonderful book.

And thank you to all those working so hard to help the destitute people of Nepal.

12 comments on “On finding the last fig

  1. cathmarriott
    April 30, 2015

    Kate is really telling the story of ‘having a go’ Deb, and the more that we can all contribute to our own and the health of others in the neighbourhood, the better. JUst by ‘having a go’.
    Michael Moggs (sustainable architect/designer of passive solar commercial buildings) who lives in inner Sydney (Paddington I think) started planting fruit trees, veg and herbs where passers by can access them on their way home from work. I can’t believe that there would ever be bad neighbours if everyone was able to share something that they could contribute to the growth of pickable food.
    I am very privileged with space (and sometimes water (when the boys start the pump) in this country garden and yet I wonder that I should be doing more to assist young people learn how easy and rewarding it is to grown something that you can eat with no chemicals but lots of love.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re so right Cath about neighbourhoods improving if we were all to plant food, and I love the fact that Barbara Pyett grew pumpkins on her nature strip – what a great idea!


  2. Jane @ Shady Baker
    April 30, 2015

    I am reading this book too Deb, it is wonderful isn’t it? So much gardening knowledge as well as wise thoughts on friendship,ageing and life in general. Your friend Wendy sounds like an inspiring women also.


    • Hi Jane, isn’t it a great book? Hopefully you’ll get to meet Wendy at the book launch on May 22, she’s also running a jewellery-making workshop on May 24 in Broken Hill that I’m attending, she’s an inspired teacher.


  3. bkpyett
    April 30, 2015

    How wonderful that you visited Nepal in happier times Deb. Your fig will love having a prune, and they all lose their leaves, so that’s good. I am hindered by lack of light in many parts of my garden too, and it can be frustrating. My first year here, I let pumpkins grow all over the nature strip and picked over 30 and was able to share them with the neighbours. They soon knew me as the pumpkin lady! It’s great that your citrus are doing well. ❤


    • Aha, thanks Barbara, hadn’t thought to prune it but I will now! What a wonderful idea about pumpkins, I’d be worried that the council would cut them back, they regularly come out and mow the nature strips. Worth trying though I think… hmm… maybe I could grow beetroot?


  4. nantubre
    April 30, 2015

    I love this post Deb, especially now because I have my straw (hay) bale garden and my excitement over it is just – well- ridiculous. I have hope that the idea will grow and more families with limited space or poor soil will be able to have access to sustenance and good nutrition.
    Your heart is so good.


    • Thanks Nan, your hay bale garden is an absolute treat, I’m right there with you and can’t wait to see/hear how it turns out. Blessings on you and yours


  5. Bekki Hill
    May 1, 2015

    Sounds a wonderful book. Great to see your gardening efforts are bearing fruit 😉 Well done you! We only moved into our house recently, so are still trying to tame the garden, but I have plans for vegetable beds and fruit trees and (if I can talk lovely husband into it) chickens.


  6. monsoonwendy
    May 1, 2015

    I thought you’d love the book Deb. So glad that you do. The inspiring thing here now is the determination of the Nepali people to help their country folk. Even those with so little are giving so generously to those who now have nothing. People who haven’t eaten a decent meal for five days. The mood seems to have shifted from fear ( although a degree of that remains!) to determination to help. Much love, dear friend.


    • I’ve been reading about Bishnu and how he and the orphans from Sonrisa are going out to help people less fortunate, as you say, people with so little themselves are giving so generously, there’s a lesson for us all in that. x


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This entry was posted on April 30, 2015 by and tagged , , , , , , .

I'm a writer based in Australia with a passion for gardening, remote places and people with a story to tell.

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