Inside Joseph O’Neill’s Old Ditmas Park Home

When Nelson Ryland and Rebekah Carver moved into their charming, hundred year-old house in Ditmas Park eight years ago there was a dead tree in the backyard.

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.”


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