The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 3: European Gardens (500AD-1850)

Argenteuil gardens

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283. The fig gardens at Argenteuil, a village about six miles from Paris, are intermixed with the vineyards there; and, at a short distance, only distinguished from them by the larger size of the plants, and the deeper green of the foliage. The fig trees are low spreading bushes, none of them higher than six or seven feet, with the branches proceeding from the centre or stool in five or six clusters or bundles; each bundle consisting of three or four leading branches with their side shoots. The angle which the bundle makes with the ground may be about 45ᆭ. The cause of the shoots being in bundles, and of the obliquity of this angle, is, that the bundles are every winter bent down to the ground, and either held down to it by stakes or stones, or partially or wholly buried in the earth. It is a mistake to suppose that a covering of earth is required to protect them from the frost; pressing them to the surface of the ground, and retaining them there, as done with tho vines in the south of Germany, is sufficient. It is only because it is found the cheapest mode, labour being less costly than either stones or stakes, that the branches are most frequently partially buried. An old man and his wife described to us the manner in which the trench for each bundle of branches was dug out; and told us that the bundle was held down by one man, while another covered the extremities with about a foot of earth. The centre of the bush is sometimes enveloped in straw; but this is considered too expensive to pay. Any leaves and unripe fruit which may be on the branches are taken off when the latter are laid down, to prevent their rotting the young shoots. In spring, when the earth is removed, the bundles are untied, and the branches restored to their former position; the dead wood is then cut out. Almost the only pruning is in June, when the points of all the young shoots are pinched off, to enlarge the size and hasten the growth of the fruit. Whenever a shoot becomes too stiff to bend down, it is cut off close to the ground, and a young sucker is allowed to take its place. The figs which proceed from the wood of the past year ripen naturally; but those on the wood of the current year frequently do not ripen at all, and almost always require artificial aid. This aid consists in dropping a little oil into the eye or flower of the fruit. The woman mentioned was employed for this purpose, and showed us how it was performed. She had a small phial of olive oil suspended from her apron strings, and in her hand the upper part of a stalk of wheat, forming a tube open at both ends, about five inches long. She inserted the small end of this tube in the phial; and before taking it out, placed her thumb on its upper and broadest end, to prevent, by intercepting the pressure of the atmosphere, the oil which had risen in the tube from flowing out; with the other hand she then turned towards her the eye of a full-grown fig, and applying to it the small end of the straw tube, lifted her thumb from the other end, just long enough to let a small drop of oil enter the orifice in the fig. Before requiring a fresh supply of oil, she performed this operation to ten or twelve figs. The object of this application, she told us, was to occasion a sort of artificial ripening, or easy separation (pour les faire partir), of the fig from the shoot. It certainly renders them eatable; but they are far from being equal to those which are ripened naturally.