Thursday, December 22

Don't get too cocky up there

Every garden has its own calendar, and it doesn't all come from Yates or Gardening Australia. At our place, December is not just the time to put up Xmas decorations and spray the stink beetles in the citrus trees, it's time to put bird netting over the fig tree.

The tree's not that impressive. It's been sort of squashed for 30 years, since a couple of young fellows spent an afternoon drinking beer and hotting up their car, then took the car for a test run which went through our fence, over the fig tree and into our house. And for the last decade or so, the fig has been pushing its branches outwards, trying to escape the shadow of a liquidambar which has grown far bigger than we expected.

But it's got history. We inherited the tree from Merry's parents, and they got it from a couple who took a cutting from a tree at Dingley Dell, the home of Australian poet Adam Lindsay Gordon from 1864 to 1867. We visited Dingley Dell, on the road from Mt Gambier to Port MacDonnell, about 20 years ago, and sure enough, in front of the house was a very old, very overgrown fig.

Did Gordon, legendary horseman and woeful poet, ever munch its fruit? We'd like to think so.

But forget heritage. Fresh figs picked fully ripe off the tree – and eaten with a nice runny Brie or Camembert – cannot be matched by anything in a supermarket.

Alas for our enjoyment of fully ripened figs, we have an wide-awake bird population which enjoys figs half-ripe. Hence the netting.

This year I was going well, driving half a dozen star posts around the sprawled-out tree and running fencing wire across to support the netting. The old netting, however, is getting a bit ragged, and I suspended the job while we celebrated Christmas.

Boxing Day came, and suddenly a virulent flu flattened me. A week later, I was still trying to find the energy to finish the job. Then I heard the invaders. A scout party of sulphur-crested cockatoos was swooping over our yard, screeching the good news to the rest of their mob.

Check the tree, and four figs are ready to eat.

So, ignore the lingering cold sweats and other flu symptoms. Grab the old netting and some tie wire, and some pliers, and get to work. A summer storm came over and soaked me, but when I thought of taking cover, I looked over the road and saw the cockatoos lined up on a roof. Probably a few more were up in the liquidambar.

Soaking wet, I finished the job – and gave the finger to the watching cockatoos.

Have you ever had sulphur-crested cockatoos swear at you? I have. The watching cockatoos swooped over me several times, screeching the most vile abuse, then flew off. So far they haven't been back.