Chicago Hardy Fig Tree in a Chicago Apartment

Life List #69: Keep a plant alive for six months.

Keeping a Chicago Hardy fig tree alive in a Chicago apartment.

When I was young, maybe eleven or twelve years old, I got a cactus. I named my cactus Mr. Bean and put it near the window of my bedroom. And it sat there, for a while, until it eventually died because I never remembered to water it.

Let’s back up here: I killed a cactus because I didn’t water it enough.

I killed a cactus, the one plant in the world notorious for not needing all that much water to survive, because I didn’t water it enough.

That’s about how green my thumb is.

In the years since, I’ve killed many plants. All of them. Any plant that came into my possession was doomed. Basil plants. Potted flowers. Succulents. It’s just something that happens. One day I own a perfectly healthy plant and the next all it’s leaves are brown and the petals wilted, too far gone to resuscitate.

OK, so maybe there’s some period of time, in between those two points, in which I’ve completely forgotten to tend to the plant. But you get the drift.

Six months ago, today, I was passing through the Lincoln Square farmer’s market on my way to work and, among the asparagus and strawberries, I saw a man selling plants. On the ground next to his table were a few pots overflowing with familiar three pronged pointed leaves. He was selling fig trees.

I was already running late but I’d been dreaming of having my very own fig tree since I got my own apartment. It seemed appropriate for a blogger who blogs about “figs” to have one her home. “How much?” I asked, already knowing it was coming home with me, as I examined each pot to find the perfect one.

It was $20 and Chicago Hardy fig tree, the perfect variety for a Chicago apartment.


Chicago Hardy Fig Tree in a Chicago Apartment


Over the last couple of years fiddle leaf fig trees have been on trend in home decor. There was a point where every home blogger seemed to be showing off their new one in a living room or dining room or kitchen. But there were also points when every home blogger complained about them dying.

Fiddle leaf fig trees, while grand with their long stems and massive, flopping leaves, are more sensitive, finicky, fussy. They require just the right amount of water. Just the right amount of sun. They’re harder to keep alive. Chicago Hardy fig trees, on the other hand, are tough. They are named, after all, after one tough city. One tough city that goes between sweltering heat and freezing snowpocalypses. They’re meant to withstand droughts and freezing temperatures. So if there was ever a fig tree that could withstand me, this would be it.

I handed over my money as I unsuccessfully tried to explain my metaphorical obsession with figs and then ran back to my apartment lugging the tree in my grasp.


Chicago Hardy Fig Tree in a Chicago Apartment


I placed my Chicago Hardy fig tree in the corner of the room, by a window where it would get plenty of light.

I diligently re-planted my fig tree in a larger pot a few days after getting it.

I diligently watered the fig tree every few days with a mug or two of water, trying to keep it wet but not soaked.

I diligently plucked leaves if they looked like they were dying.

I diligently worried about my tree when I was on vacation for two weeks.

I have no idea how to keep a fig tree alive but, so far, it has survived.

It’s yet to bear fruit but that should come in the spring. Hopefully. In the meantime I’ll continue to water it, tend to it, watch it grow.

I’ve had a fig tree for six months. I’ve had a plant for six months. I’ve kept a plant alive for six months, the longest stretch I’ve ever managed. Maybe my thumb is a little bit green after all.

As long as we don’t talk about those six or seven herb plants I’ve killed in that same time frame…

Chicago Hardy Fig Tree in a Chicago Apartment

I put a brass fig next to my tree to show it what it’s supposed to be doing.

Chicago Hardy Fig Tree in a Chicago Apartment



“Keep a plant alive for six months” was number 69 on my life list.



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Hi, I'm Val. I spent most of my 20s in a standstill, unable to pick which path in life I wanted to take. I wanted the nomadic life of a traveler but also wanted the husband, the condo, and the kitten. Unable to decide which life I wanted more, I did nothing. When I turned 30 I’d had enough of putting my life on hold and decided to start “choosing my figs.” So, I quit my job, bought a one-way ticket to Europe, and traveled for three years. Now I'm back in Chicago, decorating my apartment in all the teal, petting my cats, and planning my next adventure.

  • Ali
    December 4, 2015at3:50 am

    Congrats on keeping the plant alive! I’m not so good with that either. I once bought a magnet at the Grand Canyon that was a little cactus in a pot. It was maybe 4 or 5 inches tall, including the pot. I thought for sure it was fake. I mean, it was a magnet, and the pot had tiny little pebbles that had been glossed over in some way to keep them from falling out. About 5 months later I walked over to get something out of my fridge and I noticed the cactus looked a slightly different shade of green. Different enough that I realized this thing was a real cactus and maybe only partly still alive. I quickly gave it some water, but it was too late. The cactus magnet did not survive. It was not the first, or last, cactus I killed.

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