Figs in Ozarkansas
The Ozarkansas landscape is awash with woodlands, streams, hollows, and hills weaving in and out of the pastures and plateaus. The rain comes and goes, as does the sun, and all of the green things follow. This is a land for growing a bountiful garden, unless that garden wants figs.
Figs don’t take well to this part of Arkansas. At least, that’s the general consensus. But when Dorothy moved to Ozarkansas in the late 1970s, she brought her fig love with her, and she was determined to find a variety that could survive the whims of Arkansas weather.
Dorothy joined a fig enthusiasts club, and the members would trade cuttings, shipping them across the country and even between continents. She attempted to cultivate more than 40 cuttings of different varieties, and one stood the test of the seasons: a brown turkey fig sent from a grower in England.
There were so many varieties, so much testing and playing in the garden, just for the joy of trying, that some details were lost along the way, including this fig’s specific variety. As Dorothy explains, calling a fig a brown turkey is about as specific as saying “red apple.” There are myriad varieties within this category, but what matters most is that this particular one, Dorothy’s English Brown Turkey, has taken to her corner of the Ozarks.
Figs are easy to propagate. The soft wood readily sends out roots, and low branches often begin the process on their own. From the single cutting that Dorothy planted some 40 years ago, she now has a tall stand of fig trees flanking one side of her house, with additional cuttings taking root in a glass-paned greenhouse.
This past year, she began the fig growing in earnest, propagating dozens of cuttings and setting them in the soil, with the goal of 200 trees in the years to come. A project of this scope requires help, and Dorothy has found that in Donny, who now works as her garden manager. Donny still works a day job as a roofer, which is how he and Dorothy first became acquainted. A roof repair turned into some brush removal, which turned into revitalizing the greenhouse and, eventually, the propagation of figs. Donny has no prior experience with landscaping, but he brings enthusiasm and an eagerness to learn, making him an easy fit with Dorothy and her self-motivation.
When she isn’t working on her fig project, Dorothy plays the organ for several local churches. Like her interest in figs, Dorothy’s knowledge of the organ is entirely self-taught. While reflecting on what drove her to take up such an intimidating instrument, she said, “Don’t wish. Just get down and practice.” It is this determined attitude that has carried her through life.
Before retiring to the Ozarks in the late 1970s, Dorothy lived an urban life. She spent most of her adult years performing clerical work for oil companies and the U.S. Navy and Air Force, as well as personnel work in public health. Her career path took her to New York City, Washington, D.C., and, ultimately, Chicago. But she never felt at home in a big city. She met her husband, Bob, along the way, and together they worked toward retirement.
Dorothy’s childhood was spent in Galveston, Texas, where her mom grew ornamentals and her father grew vegetables for their dinner table. Both Dorothy and Bob longed to return to a quieter life, away from commuter trains and urban development as far as the eye can see. When they discovered land for sale in the Ozarks, they quickly decided that these woods appealed more to them than any of the “concrete beehives” they would leave behind. And so they came here, to Ozarkansas.
Dorothy and Bob quickly turned what was mostly pasture into a hobby farm that included 135 grape vines and numerous fruit trees, a productive vegetable garden, and plenty of ornamental perennials. According to Dorothy, they just liked to grow things, and that joy fed them over the years.
Most of those plants have faded over the years, but, like the figs, the chestnut trees remain. She currently sells both figs and chestnuts at the Siloam Springs Farmers Market as M&D Specialty Growers. And it seems fitting that these earthy flavors have endured and continue to produce, with a determination that matches Dorothy and her indomitable spirit.
Editor’s note: Dorothy, pictured requested both her and Donny’s last names not be published for privacy reasons.