You ought to see my tomatoes

I realize this heading could be taken as a lascivious invitation, with a retro twist. Sorry to disappoint. It’s about gardening. Or more to the specifically, non-gardening and being incredibly successful at it.

Long before my love and I decided to move to the country (the many consequences of which may surface in this blog from time to time), I was quite content with my tiny patio garden. Since fences were verboten at our condo, every summer I would attach high trellises to long flat plastic window boxes and grow dense, tangled braids of dark green-leafed morning glories. Not only did their tea saucer-sized deep blue, magenta and white blooms make me happy every morning, when we wanted privacy, we simply arranged the window boxes to form a barrier. No fence here, for those who felt it was their right to enquire; this was merely a series of planters placed closely together. I grew a few tomatoes and peppers in pots and didn’t realize until recently that our miniature apple tree failed to produce apples because it was alone and forced, by our lack of knowledge, into what can only be termed fruit tree celibacy. The garden was tiny and for the most part, portable and perfectly manageable. Not the stuff of guilt at all.

Four summers ago, we moved to a bungalow in a then sparsely populated adult community 15 minutes outside the city. The yard was gargantuan in comparison to our former home. The first summer we grew mud, mainly on the kitchen floor, as a by-product of waiting for our yard to be sodded and spent the winter dreaming over seed catalogues and HGTV. We lived in the country now. We would become expert gardeners. We bought a rototiller. We bought a garden shed (that had to be transported home on the roof of our Ford Fusion, with us each holding down a side from the car window.) For the next two summers, we dug, we planted, we weeded, we fed and watered, winding up so sick and tired what was becoming an obsession that we finally admitted to each other that we could barely stand to be outside. The squirrels would eat our corn before it had a chance to germinate, our carrots twisted in the ground like bulbous orange screws and our cauliflowers were dry and woody.

This spring we started out at a disadvantage. My love had surgery in March, followed by unexpected complications that robbed her of her usual energy and left her unable to lift much or bend for long periods of time. Still determined to live up to our land, I turned over the ground by hand and we threw some seeds in the ground, planted a couple of tomato and pepper plants and cut back and staked the three small raspberry canes I had planted the previous fall. Throughout the rest of the spring, we made half-hearted attempts to deal with weeds and built a lazy-woman’s watering system by pinning rounds of cheap irrigation hoses throughout the yard. By July, we washed our hands of the whole thing, and reverted to our city weekends of brunching and shopping. We could, we reassured each other, buy produce at any of the several farmers’ markets that dot the region.

But by mid summer, we noticed a profusion of huge cucumbers rising up defiantly through the weeds. I counted more than 70 green tomatoes, the pepper plants were white with blooms and the raspberry canes had spread over one entire side of the house and were close to six feet high and full of blossoms. It was as if the plants were growing and bearing fruit to spite us for having ignored them. By the end of July, we had eaten so many toasted tomato sandwiches, just smelling these huge red gems made us nauseous and I couldn’t bare the thought of biting down on yet another cool, fragrant slice of cucumber. The more indifferent we became, the more excessive and resplendent the yield. My love took bags of tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and peppers to her staff and I made bi-weekly trips around the block, dropping off whatever was fresh-picked that evening, to unsuspecting neighbors, going so far to leave bags of produce on the not quite finished veranda of our newest addition to the community, whose names I don’t even know, then running away like a vandal. Our garden was showing us who was boss; we could ignore it, we could leave it to suffocate in weeds, but it would survive, nay thrive, and bury us in its bounty. And it nearly did.

This year, I’ve already picked 237 grape tomatoes (yes, I counted them—that’s more than 10 of the pint containers you see in the store, from a single plant), about 25 cucumbers, more than a bushel of peppers and well over 100 full-sized beefsteak tomatoes. A single row of lettuce kept my love’s entire staff in salads for the summer. The late raspberries are just now ripening and I’ve been picking better than a quart of berries every second day. Spurred by Wal-Mart’s sale on freezer bags and the thoughts of Christmas pies, I will accept my fate and freeze as many as I can.

By not gardening, we have managed to achieve the best results we’ve ever had. I’m wondering if that tactic will translate to other activities we don’t do. I don’t sew, but I’m thinking I should buy a few yards of material and see if it makes itself into a nice fitted cocktail dress while I’m at work. Perhaps the carpet will get fed up with being neglected and shampoo itself. It could happen.

I know there’s a lesson in this. Something about not trying too hard and (in this case, quite literally) letting nature take its course. Maybe the plants sense we’ve had a rough year and are trying to teach us something about perseverance. Something noble, like the more life throws at you, the more you need to dig in and fight to win. Perhaps my plants feel growing well is the best revenge. Or maybe it’s just that they just prefer the company of weeds to my fussing over them. I’d like to ponder this and come away with something profound, but I’ve got berries to pick and need to convince a few of the neighbors to take just one more ruby-hued small pumpkin-sized sweet pepper. Please.


3 Comments on “You ought to see my tomatoes”

  1. jensketch says:

    I have this horrible idea that our subdivision won’t allow gardening in the backyard — but I’d dearly love to try this. We have loads of rabbits around though and deer — they’d surely make nighttime visits. Perhaps leaving our Border Collie out at night so she can keep her territory clear (she /adores/ chasing the rabbits out of the yard).

    I’ll have to take a peek at our covenants. I wonder what could grow next year in the clay around here?

    Lovely, inspiring post 🙂

    • joyparks says:

      Thanks —

      You can always do a sneaky garden with pots like I did at the condo. Or plant tomatoes among your impatients in a flowerbed. Leaf lettuce makes a great ground cover. Geez, I’m starting to sound all Martha Stewart!!! Also, having had a border collie and knowing they are the smartest dogs ever, I shuddered a bit. That’s because if you have rabbits, you might also have coyotes (even in subdivisions, there’s an epidemic of them in various parts of North America), so I’d think twice about leaving the dog out overnight. They’re quite vicious.

  2. Karen says:

    I had a wonderful crop of tomatoes this year as well. I giggled that you counted your little tomatoes. I would have had to of subtracted for all the ones that went into my mouth.

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