I’ve Still Got Tomatoes, At Least

Letting Go #13

So, I have reason to believe that green thumbs are genetic. My paternal grandmother’s people were known as plant whisperers. In fact, they settled in Maryland in the late 1920’s because the state was parallel to some place in Italy with a climate conducive to growing anything and everything, including tomatoes. Years later (many years later) I was born into the family nursery (the botanical kind, that is).

My earliest memories are of playing in the sand of the pansy hotbeds and riding my tricycle along the concrete paths that bordered the maze of shrubbery bundled up in burlap. To this day, whenever I’m upset or depressed, just walking into the tropical haze of a greenhouse can reach into my primordial memory and calm me right down.

It was expected that I would grow things. And I did, but with a twist. My father found me scrounging around in the discarded plant heap looking for orphans to revive. Why, he asked, would I want to bother with a scraggly, half-dead geranium when there was a whole greenhouse brimming with perfect ones in every gorgeous color imaginable that he had magically grown from seed? He had done the work for me.

Exactly.

I guess I’m a sucker for cast-offs and lost causes. And a challenge. Later, I got into cacti–literally. My room as a teenager was full of exotic and rather prickly species. Gee, no symbolism there, right? A slight brush near one of the little lovelies would keep me busy plucking for a whole day–hey, what else is there to do when you’re isolated on a 400-acre farm?

In my early life, I dragged my beloved plants from dorm room to apartment, tended to other people’s mistreated pot-bound casualties as a house-sitter, and became a super-hero horticulturist in a trench coat at plant sales (even before the Matrix). While other young women were working on their tans in the yard next to mine, I was busy cutting medicinal herbs to dry and making horehound candy (for sore throats–it works).

About ten years ago, my husband and I had the opportunity to finally own a farmhouse and tend a few acres in the country. I ended up with a 3,000 square-foot garden in what used to be a mule pen. Needless to say, the soil was very fertile, and I wound up with bushels of vegetables that we gave away to anyone who couldn’t run very fast. As an organic and soft-hearted gardener, I didn’t have the heart to banish any insects or misplaced plants (weeds), so by the end of the season one needed a machete to cut a path to towering seven-foot tomato groves and waist-high pepper beds.

You think I’m exaggerating, don’t you? I have the photos to prove it. Which I’m happy to drag out and bore you with at dinner parties, as any proud parent showing off baby photos. Unfortunately, after two years spent losing my way in the jungle of my own creation, I wound up overwhelmed and in denial, carefully avoiding the garden until after the first good frost as I would an old ex-lover. And, because of another little genetic gift passed along from the greener side of the family tree, I became too ill to handle a small tract yard, much less three acres of fertile ground.

Which leads me back to the suburbs, and a quarter acre of civilized lawn. As my life becomes increasingly cluttered with suburbanite overgrowth, I’m gradually letting go of the high maintenance flora and opting for simple. I have kept the perennials around the house, the June strawberry bed, salad fixings and tomatoes in containers on the deck (supposedly where the deer won’t dare go–yeah, right). My favorite containers come from Gardener’s Supply because they hold water reservoirs that keep the soil evenly moist, or at least keep me from running the hose out every two hours.

This year’s featured tomato variety is ‘Sun Gold’, an orangish cherry indeterminate that has a sweetness I would suspect closely resembles the nectar of the gods. I’ve learned the hard way that quality is truly better than quantity. It is far better to relish the comforting old friends and selected exotic hotshots of the season reclining on my patio in the twilight hours, rather than swimming waist deep in “misplaced plants” looking for the zucchini that got away and possibly mutated into a new alien life force.

Ah, but I have to say there are moments when I’m tempted to let the genie out of the bottle and go wild at the discount store. When I pass the garden center leftovers, their little voices cry out to me from their overgrown pots and dried up six packs, asking me for refuge.

It’s almost all I can do NOT to go score some mule manure.

Sun Gold tomatoes with cat on the side
Sun Gold tomatoes with cat on the side
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