Tomatomania

Kage Baker loved to garden. And she was good at it; inspired, in fact.

I kept her company in the gardens. We talked out stories, threatened the weather, waged wars on snails and aphids; before my youth collapsed so spectacularly a couple of years ago, I was the muscle of the enterprise. I dug holes, raised fences, mowed lawns, chain-sawed branches. I must recommend chain saws, by the way, as a wonderful way of letting off steam – you get to commit noise and mayhem in the cause of order, and when you’re done you have firewood!

My sister Kimberly is also a good gardener. In fact, she taught me how to use a chain saw. Also introduced me to weed whackers and how to make bio-degradable pots out of folded newspaper (Kage preferred Jiffy pots. I just carried stuff.) Kimberly especially likes an annual veggie garden, but in recent years has found it more and more difficult to get it in the ground and under control by herself. We’re pretty much entwives in this family – the menfolk don’t do much but admire and eat the produce.

However, since I moved back to Los Angeles, Kimberly and I have been making progress on extending gardening. I have years of sororal experience! And it is now planting season …

Anyone can manage greens and tomatoes. A little effort, enough brains to remember to go out and spend a quarter hour each day and water and weed, and voila! A universe of delightful exotica is available to the gardener who takes up tomatoes, and you can plant a veritable Garden of Iden in pots. It’s nice if you can manage the whole cultivator and raised bed thing, but a dozen pots will yield Paradise to the devotee.

My dear old friend Athene is another native Californian who has been growing whatever takes her fancy in her family home her whole life. She is a true avatar of the Grey-Eyed Goddess, too, and has never steered me wrong with her advice. Two years ago, she turned me on to the joys of Tomatomania.

Tomatomania (www.tomatomania.com) is a Chatauqua Show of tomatoes that appears on consecutive weekends at nurseries all over the country. They specialize in heirlooms, though they sell all sorts – 300+ kinds of tomatoes at every stop. Right now they’re in California, in the San Fernando Valley; specifically, this weekend, at Tapia Brothers nursery in Encino.

Kimberly and I went yestreday afternoon. Oh, the green dancing waves of tomato seedlings! The names, the descriptions, the dedicated gardeners hurrying between the aisles and islands of alphabetized baby plants! People with carts and careful lists and a steely-eyed determination, cutting off other shoppers at desired plants and making sure they were not out-maneuvered for an especially-beloved plant! The little kids climbing on tractors, the giant tomato balloons, the employees wearing shirts that read I See London – I See France – I See Lots of Tomato Plants! It’s no end of fun, Dear Readers.

I must confess, Kimberly and I are happy dilettantes. We go for only a dozen or so plants – ’cause we do plant in pots – and we tend to wander around reading labels and giggling. We buy specific plants because they’ve done well by us for the last two years, and because the names amuse us. This is why we now have a Furry Pink Boar, and a Mike’s Mortgage Raiser. But we also have an Arkansas Traveler, the standard for heirloom tomatoes; and cherry tomatoes both red and green, and three kinds of Romas. We have several great slicers, and a big pink globular one, and one that tastes of pineapple.

You can just go insane with these marvellous plants. Even the wise Athene succumbed to the Furry Pink Boar. It was just too funny a name to pass up.

Anyway, we got them all planted this afternoon. Did the initial grooming on the winter-shaggy yard, and now have a tidy tiny forest of happy baby tomatoes out in the back yard. And since it’s supposed to rain tonight, they will be welcomed into their productive life with singing and banners!

So many great, mad, heirloom tomatoes! Kage would be so pleased. And proud of me, I hope.