Not even sure of what kind of tree it was, only that it was dead, Ryland decided to chop it down. It was an eyesore and useless. As if to prove a point, the tree grew back a season or so later, healthy, vibrant, and bearing figs. Ryland began reading up on fig tree care and found that they needed to be pruned rather extensively, which he quickly set about doing, tossing the scraps into a little pile beside the garage where they would presumably decay. Like the tree they had been cut from, the branches proved resilient and a few of them began to sprout their own roots. Ryland, who is now a self-described Fig Dork, got increasingly deep into the fig message board community, which eventually led him to the idea that he could sell his fig tree seedlings to help raise money for his community garden. After all, the figs themselves were exceptional, a rich pink flesh under aubergine skin—who wouldn't want their own tree?
The exact variety of his figs, Ryland says, is unknown. A few photos of the fruit and the tree's oddly-shaped leaves sparked a long and heated debate in a fig forum; a conclusion was not reached. Ryland christened the nameless fig Flatbush Dark, since a fig tree in the community garden produces Flatbush White figs and Brooklyn Dark is already a known variety. Though Ryland was already full of fig trivia (most popular biblical fruit, significance in Greek mythology, prehistoric agricultural origins) naming his own variety must earn him ultimate Fig Dork bragging rights.
“It's funny he keeps calling himself a dork,” Carver said as her husband went back into the house to tend to their two sons, “because I kind of thought that about him when we first met.”
Carver and Ryland met at the Maine Photographic Workshop, but it wasn't until years later, after they both moved independently to New York, dated other people, got broken up with by other people, had odd jobs, and were roommates and then not roommates in the West Village, that they ended up dating.
After getting married they moved to Park Slope, but began looking for a larger house once they realized more space would be useful when it came to children. Carver was away on business when Ryland made a bid on the house, which she had recently fallen in love with, and the bid was quickly accepted. He called her over and over, but she had misplaced her phone in Ohio. When they finally reconnected more than a day later, Ryland let his wife catch him up on her trip before noting that he hadn't really been up to much lately, other than buying a house.
The house was on the market because editor Sally Singer and her then-husband, novelist Joseph O'Neil, had decided to move back to the Chelsea Hotel, where Singer reportedly felt much more at home. Left behind was the former T Magazine and Vogue editor's elegant taste in paint, cabinetry and hand-painted wallpaper. The only significant change Ryland and Carver made was to modernize the fireplace on the main floor. Ryland, who once worked for an art gallery where his job included installing a Sol Lewitt drawing, re-created that work on a wall facing the new fireplace.
Despite the modern touches Carver and Ryland made to the house, Ditmas Park, which has been undergoing a gradual reinvention, isn't as quick to update. Eight years ago, when Carver and Ryland moved in, an old woman across the street had this story: Her husband drove her up to the house on Argyle Street in the 1950s and said, “This is your house.” This was her first time seeing the house, but she found it pleasant enough. The woman said she looked to her left and right and saw older people living all around her. She said she wondered when they were going to die, and when young parents would start filling the street with children. The old people did, eventually, die and the children did come.
“I bet you're thinking the same thing,” the woman said.
Flatbush Fig Farm