I met Pat Morgan many years ago while she was completing the Bidwell Training Center's horticulture program. She's since become a Penn State master gardener and created her own wonderful garden in Braddock. We bumped into each other recently, started talking gardening and when she told me of her amazing fig harvest, I had to see it in person. On an unseasonably warm day off, I visited her amazing space.
She gardens on two diminutive city lots, one she shares with her 92 year-old neighbor Millie Kubik who is glad to let Pat fill every corner with interesting plants. Millie doesn't even mind holding the ladder while Pat stretches to reach, fat, ripe pole beans.
The fig trees dwarf Pat as she walks out in the garden, they have to be at least 15 feet tall and are still loaded with sweet, green and purple fruit. Why figs?, I ask, "I don't know, she says, I had my first taste of a fig and bought a tree off a little Italian guy named Aldo at the East Liberty Market. That tree was donated when she moved from Point Breeze back to Braddock where she grew up and she bought three more with an eye on adding one more soon.
For 30 years she's gardened and is passionate about sharing her fresh produce and information about the pleasures a garden has to offer. Wild arugula with pretty yellow flowers self sows in one corner of the garden, pineapple sage explodes with luminescent red blooms in another and a six in one cherry tree overlooks the entire landscape. Pat admits to growing her 38 tomato plants too close together, "I only have so much room," she says with a smile. Her favorite is 'Cherokee Purple,' but also loves 'Japanese Black Trifele,' and 'Golden Boy' just won't stop producing.
Her porch is filled with beautiful tan squash, onions and garlic pulled from the soft earth. The kitchen is awash in homegrown tomatoes as it should be.
Every fig tree grower has a different way to get them to over winter. She cuts the trees back, uses bungee cords to hold the branches close and then wraps them with burlap. The trees are then surrounded with cardboard boxes and she fills the boxes with whatever insulation's handy. That might mean straw, leaves or bubble wrap. Pat then wraps the trees in tarps. It's obviously working, she has picked 1900 figs off the trees...so far. There's many more to come before frost.
She receives many things from her garden. "I just love having the fresh food to eat, I love to share the food with people, she says, I like eating healthy and I also like educating people about what you can do in a small space."
But there's more to it than that, Pat feels so much more when she gardens.
It's a spirituality thing, she says, being in contact with nature, I feel more in touch with God and all of creation, it's just a wonderful thing.
I walked out of her garden with five pound of figs, a bag of tomatoes, some homemade honey/fig jam and a smile on my face. There's nothing better than seeing a garden built with hard work and the love of a real gardener, and Pat is a real gardener.