Tolerant of our winters and easy to maintain, the fig tree would be a welcome addition to any urban garden.

In the past month I’ve been asked by at least three newbie gardening mates for ideas for a fruit tree to plant in their urban gardens. They all wanted something that was low-maintenance, compact and could handle living in a pot in case of the inevitable house move. Well, there is one particular crop that not only tolerates these conditions but positively thrives on them. And, before a fourth person asks, I thought I’d share it with you.

Fig trees will seed themselves into cliff crevices and cracks in walls in the wild and will, therefore, adapt perfectly to the tough conditions of city life. Coping with infrequent watering and meagre nutrient levels, they have a tiny root run. They also have resistance to a broad range of pests and diseases hard-wired into their DNA. On top of all that, you will barely need to prune them. And all of these advantages are before we even consider the fruit… Oh the flavour! If you fancy adding one to your collection, right now is the perfect time to plant it.

First, pick your variety. By far the most common in the UK is ‘Brown Turkey’, a cultivar famed for its hardiness but sadly not the flavour of its fruit. Fortunately, there are several other varieties that, in my experience at least, have exhibited equal tolerance to our grey British winters, but also have a sweetness and aroma.

Top of my list is a discovery I made thanks to plantsman Stephen Read, who is responsible for the UK’s national collection. ‘Brunswick’ bears colossal fruit, up to twice the size of those from other varieties, and it arrives weeks earlier than ‘Brown Turkey’. It has an excellent rich depth, with a sugar level that easily rivals the industry mainstay. ‘Rouge de Bordeaux’ is a touch less hardy, but for those with a south-facing spot in an urban plot, it is worth the risk for its flavour and deliciously jammy flesh. Finally, the über-hardy German variety ‘Violetta’ will round off the season with a late harvest of thin-skinned, fragrant wonderfulness. This is one of the most cold tolerant, too, and is capable of withstanding Arctic blasts down to -20C.

Growing figs in pots couldn’t be easier. Use a large one, at least 50cm in diameter, and place it in the sunniest and warmest spot you have. I’d pick unglazed terracotta, whose porous nature will help ensure the fig gets the sharp drainage and aeration its roots love. A spot up against a south-facing wall would be ideal. I like to use a mix of equal parts grit, topsoil and compost so I won’t need to keep top dressing it in future years. If you don’t fancy mixing your own, John Innes No3 is a good, shop-bought formulation.

I rarely (if ever) water my figs, but the closer your pots are to a wall the more you might want to keep an eye on them, as they can be shielded by a rain shadow. Aside from a quick douse with high potash liquid feed when I am doing the rest of my crops every fortnight in the summer, that’s all there is to it.

Sources from: