Throughout the summer, our garden is full of buzzing bees and fluttering butterflies, all enjoying the sweet nectar provided by the flowers we grow. But they’re not the only ones who gain tasty treats from our garden. We also have a few fruit trees dotted around, which we can pick from and enjoy throughout the summer season.
This beauty gets paparazzi-ed by me quite a lot and I feel like I should start here for my namesake. ‘Bethany’ is supposedly Hebrew for ‘House of Figs’. We started growing this fig tree in one corner of the garden a few years ago. Since then, it has produced an abundance of fruit every year.
Native to the Middle East and West Asia, figs are one of the first plants to be cultivated by humans. Agriculture of figs predates the domestication of wheat and legumes. Our figs are not quite ripe enough for harvest, but when they are, they’ll turn a dark green/brown and start to droop.
With their plump, round shape, silky texture and seed-filled centre, figs are a symbolism of fertility in many cultures. In Christianity, fig leaves were worn by Adam and Eve to protect their modesty after becoming aware of their nakedness. But perhaps the most important symbolism of the fig tree comes from Buddhism, as Buddha sat beneath a Bodhi Tree, or Sacred Fig, during enlightenment.
Figs can be enjoyed fresh, dried or cooked, but they’ve also had uses in traditional medicine. The sap of the fig tree used to be used to treat warts and deter parasites. Personally, I enjoy dried figs in smoothies!
When you think of fruit trees, your first thought might go straight to apple. The word apple even originates from the word ‘fruit’. The Old English word for apple (æppel) is based on the Proto-Germanic word for fruit, and used to be used to mean “anything that isn’t a nut or berry”.
Apples actually originated in Asia but have been cultivated in Europe and Asia for millennia. The plant is a member of the Rose family, which isn’t immediately obvious, but when you compare the flower of an apple to that of an uncultivated rose, becomes quite clear.
We’ve all heard the story of Eve and the apple in the Garden of Eden, but the symbolism of the apple is culturally widespread. In Norse mythology, apples were also the fruit of the Gods, granting them youthful looks. In Greek mythology, it is Paris of Troy awarding a golden apple to Aphrodite that starts the Trojan War.
I won’t be able to cover all of the uses of apples in this final paragraph, but in summary: there is an apple for almost every occasion. This fruit is so commonly and widely cultivated that the varieties you can choose from are innumerable. In our garden, the apples we grow are for cooking and cider pressing.
Our final tree has already finished fruiting for the year, so I’ve taken this (somewhat sad) photo of it and placed beside it a photo of this year’s plum harvest from last month. I planted this plum with my mum a few years ago, and this year we had a really “fruitful” harvest (sorry).
You may be surprised to know that plums are another member of a Rose family. Their shiny exterior and large, central, hard seed would easily throw anyone off. However, they are from a different genus to apples. The plum genus Prunus also includes almonds, cherries, peaches, nectarines and apricots.
During Chinese New Year, you may see delicate, pink and white flowers appear, decorating homes, shops and streets. This flower is actually a plum blossom, and holds important symbolism. Plum blossoms symbolise the welcoming of Spring, and Chinese New Year falls around this time. The five petals are believed to carry five blessings: longevity, wealth, health, virtue and peace.
Plums can be enjoyed fresh or dried into prunes, and are commonly used for a wide array of delicious cakes and pastries. They’re also preserved in plums and chutneys. This year, the plums grown in our garden were turned into a delicious crumble.
I’ll finish here with the triptych of blossoms I’ve talked about throughout the post. On the left we have a dog rose flower, in the centre we have an apple flower and on the right we have a plum flower. Colour aside, looking at the three side-by-side, it’s clear that these three are closely related. Five petals with an abundance of anthers – has to be a rose.
Growing fruit trees can be a labour of love, but they are absolutely worth the effort. If you’d have tried the plum crumble we had last month, I’m sure you’d agree. They also serve as a reminder of the thousands of years of agriculture our ancestors went through to produce these high yielding, delicious rewards. And to them I say, thank you.
Apple flowers: George Chernilevsky