My Father’s Tomatoes

I started my first vegetable garden in a long time this year. It’s very small, consisting of two white cedar raised beds ( and a few extra planters for patio tomatoes and herbs. The lettuce and Swiss chard in the raised beds seem stunted, possibly due to the chilly and wet spring and early summer, possibly due to the soil-compost mix, probably because I don’t know what I’m doing.

My circle of local friends is absolutely chockablock with master gardeners, one of whom writes a gardening blog ( I turn to all of them for advice and if not too late, I take it. However, we already have eaten one ripe tomato and have another red one on a vine, both very early for gardens in these hills. One of my master gardeners accused me of painting it. Beginner’s luck, I said.

His wife, another master gardener, warned me that gardening is an addiction. She’s correct: I’m already plotting and planning expansion, especially for asparagus, which will keep us waiting for two years, at least. We are low on room with sun near the house, so the plotting may be thwarted. We have a large field next to the house, but we’re staying out of there with the exception of planting fruit trees and plants the pollinators like, leaving the space to the deer, the bears, the bees, butterflies and birds.

My father was no gardener, but he spent a lot of his childhood on his uncle’s farm outside of Philadelphia, and so was familiar with the rhythm of the seasons and planting, a fact not revealed to me until one of the last summers he was well. He carved up the yard behind their small house in North Carolina, to which they retired from Brooklyn. He knew to dig it and dung it, a feat of backbreaking energy that was also a revelation.

He planted tomatoes and nothing else. Rows and rows of tomatoes, possibly all the one type, because the harvest was overwhelming. My mother, a real city gal, had them coming out of her ears, but she had no impulse to can them, nor room to freeze the sauce that she made. Spaghetti sauce and sliced tomatoes appeared on everything.

That was it, though: the start and the end of his foray into gardening, possibly because he got sick that year, possibly because he’d gotten it out of his system. I can’t remember and there’s nobody to ask. My father died in that house after a very long illness, during which my mother hired a fellow to mow the yard weekly, but I still could see the outlines of my father’s hard work, of his tomato patch, the day I moved my mother out of that house.

8 thoughts on “My Father’s Tomatoes

  1. Finding things out about parents late in life really speaks to me. By the time you met me in Melrose, I was out of the gardening phase of my life, but in my early home-owning years I become addicted to gardening. Those were good years and they may come back, just like your father’s interest came back. Good stuff.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Steve! There’s a lot of pleasure in having pots of growing things on the patio!

  2. Sounds to me like you are doing well. And I can tell you that the garden blogger you speak of has her own vegetable disasters this years. That is just the life of a gardener.

  3. How I regret reading well written pieces that kindle in me even the remotest desire to garden. Your piece fills me with great regret. I fear I may follow your first link and explore purchasing a raised cedar planting frame. You are leading me down the garden path, and I can’t seem to stop. Please write about the joys of napping. Soon, please.

    1. Will do, although with the gardening, I’ve forgotten how to nap. Write what you know.

  4. I loved your tomato story…and yes, it has been a hard summer for veggies with one day rain, next day 90 plus degrees, bugs etc. My administrator of our garden has no tomatoes yet! You beat him…always a good sign of top notch, if only a beginner, gardener. He had to replant peas, fave beans, and basil…and in addition no parsnips even came up. Don’t be discouraged, but you have now joined the select group of gardeners who have successes and failures, but always keep going and hope for better results next year!

  5. This is a lovely story! It reminds me of my own introduction to gardening. My interest came from my Aunt Marion (Richard, David and John’s mother). She gardened here in Hawley and so it seemed like the thing to do in the summer. But we did not really know what to do when we started our first garden. Jerry did research and we made and continue to make mistakes. BUT we are garden addicts.

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