Figs

We first came to the house in 1988. The limbs of the fig tree had been killed by the terrible winter of 85-86, when the mercury fell to -25 degrees C. Fig trees are very tough though, and when we first saw it, the lumpy twisted trunk was shooting out vigorous young stems.

Catherine Forshall's hand and paint brush figs in back ground

In the years that followed it grew and grew. By the mid 90’s we were able to take down the loggia we had built to give us shade, and eat under the fig tree,  a fountain of cool green, that in heavy heat of summer became another room.

The tree developed a two tier ecosystem, humans picking the fruit from the lower branches, insects and birds taking the rest. In the early October mornings they are ice-sweet, but slightly tart, becoming sweet, like warm jam in the afternoon sun. Sometimes in spring we hear the cries of golden oriel, who love figs. They are very shy and at the slightest hint of humans, shoot off in a blurred flash of yellow. As soon as the spring crop of figs has been consumed they leave. It is as if they have come all the way from Africa to eat our figs.

Figs and fig leaves

This autumn I’ve been sketching and painting figs for the Christmas show at the  Moncrieff-Bray Gallery, opening on 24th November. For some of my generation figs will always be associated with the scene in Women in Love, when Alan Bates shows Eleanor Bron how to eat them. Lawrence thought that the open fig had a feminine aspect,  though for me these these tightly packed, swollen to bursting globes of hanging seed have a more masculine feel.

Green figs strong shadows

But Lawrence was nearer. The the common fig, Ficus carica, is a relation of the Mulberry tree. It fruits not, but flowers. These do not open. It is gynodioecious which means, having ‘hermaphrodite flowers and female flowers on separate plants’. It is pollinated when the fertilized female wasp enters the fig through the scion, which is a tiny hole in the crown (the ostiole). She crawls on the inflorescence inside the fig, lays her eggs inside some of the flowers and dies. (1)

Hand and brush painting figs

As I sit under our fig tree, harvesting in a different way, I think how this tree, with no planting, no feeding, no watering, gives and gives and gives to all those generations of birds and humans, and wasps, who visit it, with only the help of a tiny specialised insect, which lays down its life with its eggs.

Green figs, basket, shadow, harvest, crop

Painting by Catherine Forshall of figs

My figs, quince and pomegranates will be showing with the work of other gallery artists at

The Christmas Exhibition at the Moncrieff Bray Gallery

Ramsay Gibb’s Scottish seascapes,  Stephen Palmer, Jackie Philip, Lucy Powell, Sarah Warley-Cummings and Sandra Whitmore –  who have produced a series of smaller works for Christmas.
Thursday 24th November – Saturday 3rd December, and by appointment until Christmas Eve.

Opening Times:  Wednesday to Saturday 11 am to 4 pm. We are delighted to see visitors outside of these hours but please ring ahead to confirm a time.

Moncrieff-Bray Gallery logo

Catherine Forshall painting figs

(1) taken with thanks from Wikipedia

Photography by James Forshall

For directions to the Moncrieff-Bray Gallery click here

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Good Luck Clam

Catherine Forshall sketching beside the River Dordogne in France I have been in France for a week. I wanted to sketch the River Dordogne. I was looking for the autumn colours.   River Dordogne looking down river towards Roque Gageac, evening light, reflections I was hoping to see lots of autumn leaves floating down the river. For some reason there were not many. Downstream the river was in the late afternoon sunshine. Where I was sitting it was soon hidden by the limestone cliffs: not many leaves and soon not much sunshine. Catherine Forshall Picking Lucky clam shells from the River Dordogne Walking along the shore I found small brown clam shells. I was not sure what they were.  Fresh water clams.  Later I identified them as the Good Luck Clam. Good luck for me, not such good luck for the local variety, who are being wiped out by these non natives. Corbicula Flumea was brought to America with Asians in the 19th century. They were first seen on the River Dordogne in 1980. No wonder they are invasive. A single self fertilising individual of these rather dull, muddy shell fish can produce between 35,000 and 47000 baby clams a year. Self fertilisation! Where do they get the time? Lucky Clam sketches   Catherine Forshall sketching beside River Dordogne France   Lucky Clam sketches

Sketching Good Luck Clams

All photographs © James Forshall