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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

One little plant inspires a very long quest

My obsessions come and go with gardening and life, and there's one that comes back reliably: creeping fig. This little vine, also known as climbing fig, or Ficus pumila, first got a hold on me during my visits to Savannah and Charleston in the 1970s after my first move to Georgia.

I'd walk through neighborhoods in these charming old Southern cities, admiring the pre-Civil War mansions colorfully, elegantly dressed, and my eye always lingered especially on the fig vines that creeped up, down and all around brick walls. (Thinking of those walls years later, I would grow creeping fig in a container, letting it creep up a stone backsplash behind the kitchen sink.)

I left Georgia for most of the 1980s, putting my fig thoughts on hold while chasing news in the nation's capital. On my second move to Atlanta, bringing that ol' obsession with me, I planted a creeping fig in the 1990s, hopeful that it would crawl to the top of the 8-foot wall surrounding my back garden. I drew inspiration and, like thousands of others, found peace, quiet and art just sitting for a spell in a church's small Memory Garden designed by the famed landscape architect Edith Henderson. A wall in this garden was covered with creeping fig, a sea of tranquility.

As my little plant neared the top of the Atlanta garden wall, Lyn and I retired from our day jobs and in 2001 moved to Connecticut, where I planted another fig, protecting this tender plant from the cold by putting it under a vent pushing out warm air from the hot water heater.

Two images show the little fig's mighty struggle, green and thriving during summer, then dying back in winter, eventually conquering the hard-won height of about 18 inches after half a decade.



Back in Georgia, I again have planted creeping fig. Three little plants went in during the fall and continue to climb even after several blasts of temperatures in the 20s.



They'll have to climb about 12 feet to reach the top of the brick portions on the front of the house here in Marietta – which means they have more than 11 feet to go. Looking forward to seeing the baby plants creep to the summit, every time I leave and enter the house I check their progress. Obsessively.

31 comments:

  1. Hey Lee,

    How wonderful the creeping fig story; growing and traveling around with you all these years. I love creeping fig. Most abundantly those I've seen were in the B'ham Botanical gardens conservatory and the magnificent conservatory of Opry Land hotel in Nashville, where it covered a wall. A strong little plant to be so small and delicate.

    Hope your new one will gain great heights. The moss in the bricks is special too.

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  2. Hey, Barbara, I'm glad you like the tale of my relationship with this little gem of a plant. You obviously are a keen observer and appreciator of creeping fig, small but mighty appealing.

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  3. Ha, I can see you pausing to acknowledge your creeper as you come and go Lee. That little fellow will go and grow no doubt. I too fell in love with creeping fig when I was in Charleston. It softens walls. Another place I thought it looked so beautiful was on the risers of stairs. I can't imagine having to keep it pruned as I am sure it grows vigorously in the South but it sure is striking there on the steps.

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    1. This climate, with constant moisture, makes it mandatory to keep watch on the creeper that could become a jumper. It's worth it, as you know from your Charleston viewing.

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  4. What a pretty little vine, with elegant tiny leaves and deep green color. That poor thing in Connecticut struggled, but your new creeping figs in Georgia are destined to be lush and big and softening your brick wall soon, just like Charleston!

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    1. It's almost too easy to grow it in the warm (relatively) Georgia, compared to Connecticut. What a trooper it was in Connecticut.

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  5. Lee, glad to have you back in Georgia. Your beautiful plants should do well here, like they did when you were in McCaysville. (Allan)

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    1. Heyyy, Allan. Many thanks for the welcome back. You know how much I loved my little garden in the mountains. I hope life is going well for you and your family in Blue Ridge. Lyn and I miss seeing you and plan to visit before too long. All best to the Abernathys.

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  6. Totally get this. Creeping fig is a plant I just had to have upon moving to a warmer climate. So many of the gardens on tour have them covering stone walls beautifully. Mine has grown quite well and yours will too. I recently discovered variegated fig ivy and am now doubly obsessed.

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    1. This little plant enhances any garden, doesn't it. That variegated version does provide a nice look. I'll be getting some now that I've got the regular one up and running.

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  7. I always considered this plant aggressive..but it looks great on block walls!

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    1. Definitely aggressive if ignored for too long. Especially in your Florida. You grow it? I'm hoping it'll do a lot of covering real fast; then I'll get vigilant.

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  8. You've certainly blown my eyes wide open, I've only ever known this as a house plant. How wonderful to see it growing outdoors, I hope your plant is very successful and you share pictures with us in the future.

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    1. Interesting how plants are indoors or outdoors, depending on where they live, isn't it. Thanks for the good wishes; at the rate it's going, it should look established in not too long.

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  9. I too had one as a house plant years ago. I love the vine covered walls of the south.... We built a house in the middle of a hay field, and sometimes I wish for enclosed spaces... Will be following the progress of your vine!

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    1. I've heard people who live in wide open Western plains say they like that because people can't sneak up on them.

      What advantages do *you* see for living in the middle of a hay field?

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    2. Well, a totally blank slate to do my own thing, mainly. We put in a rail fence right away to separate yard and remaining hay field, planted trees and started adding beds. We do have woods on one side, and trees and shrubs are growing nicely after 10 years. It's fun to look at pictures of then and now and see how far we've come!

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    3. To be sure, there's nothing like a blank slate – whether a piece of land comes that way or one rips out what's there. I like that you knew how you wanted to proceed, and you went on and did it.

      Ten years is magical; when my previous garden reached that point, I left it – for another blank slate.

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    4. We hope this will be our forever home...have already ripped out some early mistakes! And totally unrelated-are you familiar with blue star creeper as a groundcover? I love how it's filling in an area behind the house, creeping around and between stepping stones and perennials, and covered in tiny blue flowers for at least a couple of months.

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    5. I have had the good fortune of growing blue star in other places, and I'm hoping to kill enough grass to allow a swath of it in this garden, along with mosses. It's a great steppable – in our opinion –but some of my best gardening buds hate it. Can you believe that? So many plants, so many opinions.

      As for ripping out mistakes, my plants ought to be on wheels, as I move them around (or out) so much.

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  10. I found your blog while I was searching for information on mulching with pine needles! Wonderful blog and I now subscribe!

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    1. Greetings, Anne-Marie. I appreciate your subscribing. Appreciate too your good words about my blog. Down here in Georgia, I am of course in the land of pine needles.

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  11. Lee, I also love the small private gardens that endow Charleston with its Southern Charm. On trips to Charleston and Savannah I also was smitten with the vine covered walls. In my garden we have a brick wall almost covered with the climbing fig. It is beautiful when pruned properly.

    Many years ago when we downsized to a smaller home and garden, I discovered a wonderful book . Gardens of Historic Charleston , written by James R. Cothran. I used many of the ideas in this book in my new garden.

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    1. Heyyy, Rose Lady. I have seen Charleston and Savannah on your brick wall, and with this remarkably mild, wet Atlanta weather, that fig must think it's *in* one of those towns. Amid all those enchanting roses, your fig makes a beautiful scene.

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  12. Lee, I love the story of your obsession with creeping fig. Gardening certainly teaches one patience and perseverance. I hope the fig flourishes and climbs up its Georgia wall in no time!

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  13. Glad the story resonates with you, Rose. Reading your blog, I'm glad too that the tornado spared you and yours. 'Preciate your good fig wishes.

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  14. A brave and noble plant, most worthy of your attention, Lee. May it flourish and prosper.

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    1. 'Preciate that. In this eternally wet season, the fig has no excuse; it must flourish. Love that construction: Lee. May . . . .

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  15. Hello Lee, I think I have had this one as a houseplant, when I lived in Norway, although I didn’t know the name of it. I can fully appreciate obsessions with plants and I hope this little one will grow big and strong for you and be a joy for years to come. I have my own obsession plant, it’s called Dregea sinensis, I have written about it many times on my blog, it really shouldn’t do well in a cold London garden but my two plants are 10 years old next spring and are doing very well. I talk and write about them as often as I can! (see, now I got another opportunity to talk about my Dregea :-))
    Have a good week, take care, Helene.

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  16. Thank you, Helene. It's good to know I have good company in the field of obsessions. I'm headed over to your blog now to see I can add Dregea sinensis to my list.

    OK, I'm back from the trip to your blog, where I looked at your January 2012 piece. Beautiful climber. I'll try it here in Georgia if I can find it.

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  17. Intriguing post about creeping fig. I am not familiar with it, but it has a lovely look about it, and I may have to find a spot for this in the yard.

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