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Seattle Fling 2011

Garden bloggers meet in Seattle in 2011

View from the Bedroom Window – April 2015

April 5, 2015

April 5, 2015

The view from the bedroom window shows that winter is just not giving up. Snow squalls and below freezing temperatures.

View from the Bedroom Window April 10, 2015

View from the Bedroom Window April 10, 2015

Will winter never end?

View from the bedroom window April 12, 2014

View from the bedroom window April 12

Oh, my. Temperature up to 64 degrees.

View from the Bedroom window  May 4, 2015

View from the bedroom window May 4, 2015

I’m cheating a little here, but we went to Texas to visit our daughter’s family and celebrate grandson’s Eagle Scout ceremony.  When we returned it looked like spring might be here to stayl

For more (almost) Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.

 

Bridge of Flowers – Blooming for 85 years

Bridge of Flowers, Shelburne Falls, MA

Bridge of Flowers

This year is the 85th anniversary of the Bridge of Flowers. There have been many changes since the trolley was discontinued and Antoinette Burnham declared that if an abandoned bridge could grow weeds it could grow flowers. It was with community effort that the Bridge of Flowers first bloomed in 1930. It blooms exuberantly today, from April and well into October.

Anyone who has ever owned a house and dealt with necessary ongoing maintenance will understand the changes that have been put in place on the Bridge of Flowers (BOF) over the past few years. Fences and buildings deteriorate, while conditions of use change. Plants get too big and need to be removed and sometimes they just die. They need to be replaced.

Bridge of Flowers, Shelburne Falls, MA

Bridge of Flowers

Each year more and more people cross the Bridge, and more and more of those people are tourists, from around the state, but also from around the world. The volunteer BOF committee gets requests for information from touring companies in countries as different as Ireland and Japan. This is a very good thing for the businesses in town, and a spur to keep the Bridge looking at its very best all season long.

When repairs and improvements have been needed the BOF committee has tried to make even the most functional elements beautiful. For example, the colorful painted sign on the Shelburne side is embraced by a graceful metal support. It will soon be joined by a similar, but smaller sign on the Buckland side.

A protected and handsome kiosk was installed on the Buckland side to provide information about the Bridge, a guest book and a donation box. A smaller charming sign- in stand, and a donation box are on the Shelburne side. Contributions made through those donation boxes are very important to supporting the plantings on Bridge.

The Friends of the Bridge of Flowers, formed about six years ago, are also vital to the ability of the BOF committee to handle maintenance costs of the Bridge. A wooden fence separated the Bridge property from the VFW and the adjacent cottage for decades. However, wood rots, and the old fence was finally replaced by an elegant new fence. This spring a section of that fence is being repositioned to accommodate the new Garden House, and the drainage issues that affect the VFW and the cottage as well as the Bridge. The names of all these Friends, individuals and businesses, are listed on the Friends Tree which is another example of functional art on the Bridge.

Stone Spring on Bridge of Flowers

Stone Spring on Bridge of Flowers with new fence

In 2012, after years of searching for the right stones, the Stone Spring was installed, along with a simple stone bench. The quiet beauty of the fountain draws many people to sit and reflect in the loveliness of this shady spot.

River Bench

River Bench

Last spring the sculptural and very sturdy River Bench was installed on the Shelburne side.  Note the flowing design, and the river stones.

old shed on Bridge of Flowers

Old shed (you can’t see the rot, or ice inside)

This spring the 40 year old shed where Head Gardener Carol Delorenzo and the volunteer Flower Brigade keep their tools and equipment is being replaced by a Garden House. No longer will opening garden preparations be put off because the rotting shed doors, and wheelbarrows and other equipment are encased in ice.

The carefully designed Garden House will be slightly larger than the original shed, built to last longer than 40 years, and to be another element of very functional art.

Garden House site prepared

Garden House site prepared

Every gardener knows that a garden is never the same from year to year. Elaine Parmett, longtime committee member and occasional chairperson, said, “It’s been fun to watch how the plantings changed as different Head Gardeners came and left. Each one had a very different style. In those early years the Head Gardener was paid a small stipend, but there was no tracking of hours. There was no sense that she had a professional position. Of course, it was just a much simpler time,” Parmett said.

Nan Fischlein, current co-chair, and Elaine Parmett were on the BOF committee in the 1980s and both remember how simple an operation it was, much more informal and run on a shoestring. Back then the main funding came from small donations from the towns, and from the annual plant sale.

Parmett said she joined the committee and wanted to learn more about flowers. After 40 years she feels her own gardens have been enhanced and that the Bridge has grown more beautiful every year. “Nowadays there is more awareness that the Bridge is a community effort and needs community support.”

Fischlein agreed with Parmett that there have been great changes over the years. “I found a seachange in the way the board operates now, including the energy spent on keeping the Bridge in the public eye with a website and Facebook page. It is quite a new way of thinking about the public image of the Bridge. I think there is no way to understand how much the Bridge is involved in the local community. We have an educational program with the elementary schools, and are now giving tours to garden groups. We appreciate the growing support given to the Bridge. I’ve learned this time around that there is a lot of administrative effort behind the scenes to make the Bridge successful year after year!”

Like Parmett and Fischlein, I am also a member of the BOF committee, working harder than I expected. When people ask me why I do it, I echo the feeling of all the committee members and say, “For the pure joy of it.”

 

Mountain laurel

Mountain laurel

 

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day – May 2015

old apple tree in bloom

Old apple tree in bloom

It has been a  while since I have been able to post on Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, but May has brought many blooms to the end of the road. Old apple trees and wild cherries  are blooming in the garden , along the road and in the fields.

Apple blossom closeup

Apple blossom closeup

Blooming trees are wonderful, and each blossom is a delight.

Sargent Crab

Sargent crabapple

The Sargent crabapple could not fit any more blossoms on itself.

Sargent crab apple blossoms

Sargent crab blossoms

Didn’t I tell you no more blossoms could fit on a branch?

Cotoneaster in bloom

Cotoneaster in bloom

I never get over my initial surprise that cotoneaster bears flowers!

Ornamental plum blooming

Ornamental plum blooming

How is it possible that I never noticed blossoms on this ornamental plum?  Could this year be the first time? The tree has to be at least 15 years old in this spot.

Bluets

Bluets

Sometimes bluets appear in the fields, or the lawn. These bluets seem almost white

Epimedium sulphureum

Epimedium sulphureum

This clump of Epimedium sulphureum has increased so much. So has Epimedium rubrum on the other side of this lawn bed.

Daffodils, Waldsteinia and tiarlla

Daffodils, Waldsteinia and tiarella

My idea was to get rid of grass, and this area on the road side of the Peony Bed is coming along. Waldsteinia or barren strawberry is a native groundcover that has little yellow strawberry-like flowers.  This isn’t a good photo but in the upper portion of the photo, up against the peonies is a growing section of tiarella. The white blossoms are so foamy that they don’t show up in a photo – even from this little distance.

lilacs

Lilacs

Not a great photo, but these are great old white lilacs that have been at the end of the road since long before we arrived. There are old lilac lilacs, too, but we have added pink Miss Canada and Pocahontas, the white Miss Ellen Willmott and the Beauty of Moscow. I just this moment noticed that these are all ladies.

Dandelions and violets

Dandelions and violets

There are other bloomers: the forsythia is going by; grape hyacinths in the lawn here and  there; a pot of sunny pansies; and of course, that common weed, the dandelion blooming in the lawn with violets and ground ivy. My own springtime flowery mead.

Carol, I am glad to be posting on Garden Bloggers Bloom Day once again. Thank you so much for hosting over at May Dreams Gardens. New dreams are coming true this May.

Monks Garden at Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Monks Garden

Monks Garden at Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

On Mother’s Day we went to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum so I could revisit the Monks Garden , newly designed by Michael VanValkenburg in 2013. I wanted to see how it was filling out, and if it really went ‘crazy with hellebores” in the spring. This is where we entered on the graceful curving path.

Monks Garden

Monks Garden Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Visitors to the Museum can also enter the Monks Garden from one of the galleries. The trees are indeed filling out.

Monks Garden

Monks Garden Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Hellebores are very modest plants and it’s hard to see them going crazy, but the garden is certainly crazy with varieties of white daffodils that really stand out among other ground covers, and plants that will come into bloom later in the season.

Monks Garden

Monks Garden Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Because I am thinking how to create my own stroll garden I was paying particular to  the way the paths curved and split and joined again, embracing the beds of trees and flowers that provided so much privacy for the visitors.

Katsura at Monks Garden

Katsura at Monks Garden

The oldest tree in the garden is the ancient Katsura. All the shagbark maples, birches, stewartias and conifers are new.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Courtyard

Orchids in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Courtyard

Of course, there are many beautiful flowers and trees in the famous interior courtyard. And the new museum rule is that photos  are  allowed in the courtyard, and in the Monks Garden. Hooray!

A beautiful celebration for a hot Mother’s Day.

Celebrations and Caladiums

An Eagle Scout family

An Eagle Scout Family, Kate, Greg, Anthony and Drew

My husband and I just returned from a celebratory trip to the southland. We visited an uncle in Gulfport, drove through very wet bayou country in Mississippi and Texas, and then on to beyond the big Houston metropolis where towers of the city are a showy exclamation point in the flat landscape. We were off to Sienna Plantation where daughter Kate and her family live. We had come to Texas to participate in a solemn ceremony as grandson Anthony received his Eagle Scout award.

Anthony is a third generation Eagle Scout, following in the steps of his father and grandfather. The ceremony was attended by family, brother Scouts, Scout leaders and mentors, friends and neighbors who have watched Anthony grow and helped him along the way. There was some mention of an occasional ‘kick in the pants.’ The ceremony was a moving and important moment in Anthony’s life, and in the life of our family.

The celebration included barbecue at famous Rudy’s. We could tell it was authentic BBQ because menu items, ribs, brisket, pulled pork, sausage, coleslaw and beans, etcetera, were sold by the pound and served on waxed paper with plenty of paper towels. No dishes. This is real barbecue! The barbecue was so celebratory we didn’t even have room left to eat any of the leftover celebration cake.

Enchanted Forest nursery

The Enchanted Forest nursery

Of course, no celebratory trip is complete for me until I have visited a nursery. Fortunately Kate needed some new plants for her decorative pots, so we sailed down The Six (that’s the nearby highway) to the EnchantedForest. There, under the shade of enormous century old pecan trees, was a fabulous array of plants. Many of these are too tender for us in Massachusetts, but it is fun to see new, exotic plants that are native to an area where they are as common as sugar maples in our neighborhood.

I had to admire the rose selection that included the brilliant red Miracle on the Hudson named for Captain Chesley Sullenberger’s heroic landing of a passenger plane on the Hudson. I also got to see the array of Drift Roses that are low-growing landscape roses. These roses are not only perfect for mass plantings, low hedging, and at the front of the border, they are disease resistant and bloom for a long season. I was quite partial to the peach and apricot Drifts. I am hoping I can find them locally for my proposed new garden.

The one shade plant that made the biggest impression on me was the caladiums. Caladiums are a tender bulb that needs to be dug in the fall if you want to hold them over for the next year. Many cultivars are quite large and they make it possible to have brilliant or bright color in a shady garden.

I did grow caladiums a couple of summers ago and made a couple of mistakes. First, I chose a cultivar with red and green foliage. They did not show up as grandly on either side of the Cottage Ornee as I had imagined.

Second, I did not pay attention to the fact that the roof overhang kept the potted caladiums from getting rainfall, so I didn’t think to water them very often.

Third, I didn’t set the plants firmly enough so that a critter or two knocked the pots over, damaging the delicate roots. If these three errors can be avoided, caladiums can be a great addition to the shady garden.

Kate bought a few plants for pots in front of her house, torenia, shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeeana), a hybrid impatiens sold under the name Bounce, an unusual kalanchoe named Flap Jacks, creeping jenny and a white Shades of Innocence caladium. It was quite a task to remember the light requirements of each plant as we made our choices because we did have a particular site in mind. We spent Tuesday morning potting them all up for a shady  space in front of her house that gets some afternoon sun. Too much sun and heat is one of threats in Texas.

Caladium

Caladium

I think they will all make a delightful show, but we planted the caladium in a substantial tall blue pot, with a bit of golden creeping jenny to cascade over the side. We chose a spot where the pot would be surrounded by shrubbery. The caladium is relatively small at the moment, but it will grow to be about 18 inches tall, and the leaves will become larger than they are now. The surrounding shrub may need some pruning as the plant grows and this is easily done.

I do think the plant labels that come with most plants these days are helpful. They give requirements for sun or shade, dry or moist soil, drought tolerance, size of the mature plant, bloom season, fertilizing and pruning advice. It’s a good idea to keep these labels to refer to if there is a problem. They also help you keep a record of plants that do well.

The time we spent with Kate and her family was a reminder that everything changes. Anthony has achieved the rank of Eagle denoting his leadership skills, and soon he will graduate and his intellectual talents will be recognized. Then he will become a lowly freshman at the University of Texas at Dallas where his intellect and leadership will be tested anew. His parents and brother will create a whole new daily rhythm without Anthony. And Henry and I will be anticipating big changes in our life. Gardens grow and change, and so do we.

Between the Rows   May  2,2015

 

 

First Dandelion – First Signs of Spring

dandelion

First dandelion of 2015

The first dandelion seems  early this year, an indication that spring has arrived almost all in an instant after our very long and very frigid winter. The grass is suddenly green and the green veil across the trees at the edges of our field is becoming more opaque. The lilac leaf buds seem to double in size every day. Violets are blooming in the hots spots along the house foundation, too thick with weeds to make a good photo.

Van Sion Daffodils

Van Sion daffodils

Van Sion is an old variety of daffodil, multi-multipetaled and very early. It has been blooming for over a week, while the other daffs are just beginning to bloom.

Forsythia

Forsythia

When we moved to the end of the road in 1979 this forsythia never bloomed. Just as a bud or two began to open there would be a hard freeze that would blast all the buds. Forsythia is very hardy so the shrubs themselves were not really damaged, but never any bloom. Last year we were shocked by the brightness of the forsythia hedge for the first time.  This year is another year of bloom, just beginning. The cold lingered and lingered, but was not freezing and so now that we are having instant spring the bloom is beginning. How appropriate that so many spring bloomers, dandelion, daffodil and forsythia shine with a reflection of the warming spring sun.

For more (almost) Wordlessness this Wednesday, click here.

Perennials for the Cutting Garden

 

Peony

Peony

A cutting garden needs annuals to give you a particular blossom for your bouquets all season long, but it also needs perennials to give you blossoms in their season -  and more new plants next year.

In my garden the first perennials that make a big splash are the peonies. They bloom in June. I began growing early season peonies, but soon added late season peonies. My reasoning was that visitors to the Annual Rose Viewing, held the last Sunday in June, would have a glorious show of pink, white and red peonies, even if the roses were a little slow to bloom.

Peonies are a long lived plant, are mostly disease free, and need very little care. Unlike most perennials they don’t even need dividing. The clump will just get bigger and more beautiful every year. It used to be that you were supposed to plant peony roots in the fall, but nowadays you can go to many garden centers and buy a potted peony in the spring. The secret to success with peonies is good, well drained, slightly acid soil, and careful planting. Peony roots should be planted no more than two inches below the surface of the soil. If planted too deep they will not flower, although the foliage will thrive. The cure is to replant at a shallower depth.

Alchemilla or lady’s mantle blooms in May and June. This low growing perennial has round scalloped foliage that is very pretty, and useful, in flower arrangements. The lacy flowers are greenish, a striking element in any bouquet. Lady’s mantle spreads and makes a lovely ground cover as well as abundant flowers and foliage for bouquets.

Achillea 'Terra Cotta'

Achillea ‘Terra Cotta’

Achillea or yarrow is a care-free plant that is not fussy about soil, and is drought tolerant. It repels deer, but attracts bees and butterflies and gardeners who like a guarantee when they buy a plant. Yarrow guarantees success.

Yarrow usually grows to between 16 and 24 inches tall. It has flat flower heads with many tiny flowerets in shades of white, peach, red, yellow and gold.  Coronation Gold which also makes a great dried flower, and Moonshine are favorites. Terra Cotta is a favorite in my garden, and I keep waiting for Paprika to gain the orange tint that shows up in the catalogs. There is no guarantee that flowers in your garden will look exactly like their catalog images.

My granddaughter, a new gardener, was telling me she likes plants with straight stems. She planted tulips, but critters ate all the bulbs. I suggested she try alliums with tall straight stems like Globemaster, which grows to a height of over three feet with a 10 inch globe shaped violet flower head made of tiny star shaped blossoms. No deer or rodents go after these ornamental onion plants. Other varieties include the 8 inch purple Firmament with silver anthers, the Gladiator with 6 inch pinky-purple blossoms and Graceful Beauty which has more delicate white 3 inch blossoms. They all need rich, well drained soil and a sunny location. Alliums in an arrangement are very dramatic.

Helenium, heliopsis and gaillardia are three flowers that seem so similar to me that when I see them in the garden I never know which is which. Heliopsis has sunny yellow/gold petals and centers. Summer Nights and Summer Sun are between 3 and 4 feet tall Songbirds will love the seed in the fall and you will have endless bouquets.

Helenium 'Mardi Gras'

Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’

Helenium and gaillardia are daisy-like flowers in sunny colors, shades of yellow, gold, orange and red. Both come in similar colors but heleniums have slightly reflexed petals like a skirt, around deep brown mounded centers. They are about 3 feet tall. I have Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’ in my garden and it hearty, hardy and makes great bouquests.

Most gaillardias are smaller, and include varieties like Arizona Apricot and Goblin that are suitable for containers. Like the heleniums they have colorful rays arranged around a dark center. They need sun and well drained soil, and the bees love them.

The large dahlia family gives you everything you need in a cut flower, different flower forms and sizes, good long and strong stems, and a long vase life.

Most dahlias start to bloom in midsummer and there are many sizes from low growing tiny pom pom varieties to blossoms so large, 10 inches or more, that they are called dinner plate dahlias. Hummingbirds like dahlias. The Swan Island Dahlia catalog and website even have pages devoted to their best cut flower varieties.

Once you have your cutting garden you’ll be making bouquets on a regular basis. Some people have natural artistic talent. I cannot lay any claim to artistic talent at all, but putting together a bouquet is a relaxing activity, and in the end the flowers, leaves and grasses are so pretty in you can hardly make an unattractive bouquet. The flowers themselves will help and speak to you.

Needless to say there are many more excellent annuals, perennials, grasses, and bulbs suitable for flower arranging than I can include here. Years ago I bought A Garden for Cutting: Gardening for Flower Arrangements by Margaret Parke and it is a book I turn to time and again because it is so beautiful and inspiring. Used copies are available on Amazon, but there are new books like The Cut Flower Patch: Grow your own cut flowers all year round by Louise Curley.

A cutting garden is an easy way to have colorful flowers, and uncountable bouquets for your friends – and yourself.

Between the Rows   April 28, 2015

Cutting Garden – Annuals

Profusion zinnias

Profusion zinnias

I have always dreamed about having a cutting garden that would enable me to give out endless bouquets to all my friends. One good thing about a cutting garden is that it is not designed to look beautiful in any organized way. A cutting garden has no other design purpose except to give each plant room to breathe. That means flowers can be planted in rows without consideration of whether they will clash with the other flowers around them. Rows and rows of flowers cannot help but be as beautiful in an unstudied mass as they are in considered arrangements.

When planning a cutting garden I might think of the flowers I like best, beginning with annuals which stay in bloom over a long season. Zinnias immediately come to mind because they are so easy to grow and come in so many forms and colors.  I am particularly interested in the Profusion series of single zinnias because they have won prizes from the All America Selections in the U.S. and from Fleuroselect in Europe. Profusion zinnias, yellow, apricot, cherry pink, orange, white and more, attract butterflies and bees. The single form gives pollinators a landing strip on the petals pointing to the center of the flower where the pollen and nectar are waiting. Profusion zinnias are about 15 inches tall with an equal spread and will bloom all summer. Cut all you want and the plant will continue to create blossoms.

Cosmos are taller and have always been a staple in my garden. One reason I like them is because they also attract bees and certain butterflies. They come in many colors, pinks, white, yellow and gold. There is even a dramatic chocolate cosmos, with deep maroon color and a chocolaty fragrance. Renee’s Garden Seeds offers a whole palette of cosmos from single flower forms to ruffly double forms. Some have petals that are rolled tubes like a seashell. In addition to the flowers themselves, cosmos also gives you lacy, light green foliage. If you don’t plant from seed, it is easy to find six packs of seedlings.

Salvia 'Victoria Blue'

Salvia ‘Victoria Blue’

The Salvia family is large and includes perennials and annuals. Some of the perennial varieties are sold in our area as annuals because they are too tender to survive our winters. I always buy at least three little boxes of Victoria Blue annual salvia which I plant around a rose bed in lieu of a lavender edging. But I regularly steal a few spikes for the few bouquets I do make.

There are also attention getting red salvias with names like Salsa, Bonfire and Firecracker. They range in size from one to two feet tall. Salvias are another plant family that provide nectar to bees and butterflies.

Snapdragons are wonderful annuals that come in a whole variety of colors from pale pastels to rich reds, brilliant golds and yellow. There are tall varieties, usually two to three feet tall, and dwarf varieties that are only a foot tall. The Rocket series grow to almost three feet tall and are considered an excellent cut flower.

Most of us will buy snapdragon seedlings because they take so long to come into flower, but when we finally get them into our gardens they might welcome a little bit of shade. They do not like very hot weather. Of course, our weather has been so uncertain recently, that maybe this is something we don’t need to worry about too much. I know that in Heath I have not had to worry about long spells of hot summer weather for some years. But of course, that is Heath.

Even this small list, zinnia, cosmos, salvia and snapdragon, includes a variety of flower forms and this will make a bouquet interesting.

In addition to flowers a bouquet needs foliage. Cosmos have their own lacy foliage, but you can also plant annual artemesias like Dusty Miller. Dusty Miller looks like heavy silver lace and is sold in six packs in the spring. It is valuable for its silver foliage, but it does produce a yellow flower which many people remove. The foliage can be used as a kind of collar around the bouquet to hide the lip of the vase. Of course, other foliage plants will also serve this purpose, including lady’s mantle, alchemilla, which is a perennial and that is a topic for next week.

If you are bedding out your cutting garden in rows, as I hope to do, it is easy to remove sod if necessary, then add compost to the new bed. Dig the compost in well. When I am starting a new bed I usually add some greensand to provide potassium, also called potash. When you see commercial fertilizers marked with N-P-K numbers, the last number is potash. Greensand releases potash slowly so there is no worry about harming tender roots.  It is needed for root development, and plant vigor because it moves water and nutrients through the plant.

Whenever you are starting a new bed it is good practice to dig in plenty of organic matter, rotted manure and compost. I am not very scientific so I add rock phosphate (NOT superphosphate) as well as greensand because both release nutrients very slowly. I do not use commercial 5-10-5 fertilizers which are commonly available at garden centers.

After digging your bed, incorporating any compost and fertilizer, you can plant your seeds or seedlings. Keep them watered while they germinate and become established.

Next week I’ll write about those perennials that make good cut flowers.

Between the Rows   April 18, 2015

Coltsfoot, Not Dandelions in April

Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara

Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara

Coltsfoot, properly known as Tussilago farfara, has other names like horse foot, foal’s foot and bull’s foot all referring to the shape of the plant’s leaves which will not appear for a while yet. Another name for Coltsfoot is Coughwort because of its use as an antitussive, a remedy for throat irritation and coughs. In both China and Europe it has been used in medicines for all kinds of respiratory complaints.

I have a cough but I have never made a tea or tincture out of coltsfoot. I just admire it as one of the earliest wildflower bloomers in my garden. This is growing on the Rose Bank where I thought it might form a ground cover, eliminating weeds. You can see this theory has not been successful.

I have written about coltsfoot many times before, and I  just noticed that its bloom time has been pretty conisistent.  I am just so glad to see color in the garden.

 

Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHoullier

Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHoullier

Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of all Time by Craig LeHoullier

Tomatoes are the most popular fruit in the world. First grown by the Aztecs and Incas around 700 AD, they spread to Europe in the late 16th century and are now grown all around the world.

There aren’t too many tomatoes used in dishes at your local Chinese restaurant, so it may come as a surprise that China grows and consumes more tomatoes than any other country. Still it is not so surprising when you consider that China is home to at least 18% of the world’s population. India with 17% of the world’s population runs a close second in tomato consumption, while the United States with only about 4% of the world’s population, is third on the list by eating 11 million metric tonnes of tomatoes to China’s 34 million metric tonnes. That is a lot of tomatoes! Those population percentages suggest a lot about what changes are likely over the next decades, not only with tomatoes.

In our country the vast amount of tomatoes are grown in California and Florida which means many of these tomatoes are grown to withstand hundreds and even thousands of miles of shipping. Some are grown to ripen all at once to make harvesting more efficient for food companies like Heinz and companies that can tomatoes in various forms. And yet we all long for flavorful sun ripened tomatoes to eat off the vine on a summer afternoon – which means that a lot of us grow tomatoes in the backyard. Fortunately, with the rise of local farms and farmer’s markets, it is easier to get those fresh grown tomatoes even if we don’t have yards.

Craig LeHoullier, tomato aficionado extraordinaire, has grown over 1,200 tomato varieties over 30 years and has now written Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time (Storey Publishing $19.95). This is a book about the history of tomatoes, and the delights of heirloom tomatoes. He does admit “To be fair, with the exception of Moreton, Supersteak, Early Cascade, Big Girl and Ultra Sweet, the hybrids did very well in terms of yield and flavor. However none of the hybrids were superior to the best of the open-pollinated varieties – Nepal, Brandywine, Anna Russian, and Polish, to name but a few of the superb heirlooms that I tested.”

Epic Tomatoes is just chock-full of amazing historical facts including the famous public tomato consumption event staged by Robert Gibbon Johnson, a leading citizen of Salem, New Jersey in 1820. Because they are members of the nightshade family tomatoes were generally considered poisonous at that time, so hundreds of people came from miles around to witness this startling event. “The story goes that when Johnson bit into a tomato some onlookers fainted, and with Johnson suffering no ill effects, the tomato industry in America began.”  However tomatoes did not really become popular until after the Civil War.

History is fascinating, but LeHoullier goes on to give information about his favorite varieties which include Tiger Tom, Lillian’s Yellow Heirloom, the now more familiar Brandywine and the encouraging Mortgage Lifter. The book would be fun to read if only for the names of these historic and delicious tomatoes: Kellogg’s Breakfast, Stump of the World, Rosella Purple, Mexico Midget, Giant Syrian, Black from Tula, Green Zebra, Black Prince, Hugh’s German Johnson, and Gregori’s Altai.

All this information is as delicious as a sun warmed Cherokee Purple, one of my own favorites, but LeHoullier has practical advice and instruction to offer new and experienced gardeners. When do you plant seeds indoors? What’s the best planting mix? There is full information about caring for seedlings indoors and when to plant them outdoors. He also gives advice on buying transplants and even the new grafted transplants. He thinks the jury is still out on the benefits of grafting, but that the idea is promising.

Cat faced tomato

Cat Face afflicted tomato – Now I know what cat face looks like

Chapter 9: Troubleshooting Diseases , Pests and Other Problems was particularly fascinating and useful. Clear photographs make it easy to identify the problems that can occur, with causes, and control. I had heard the term cat-face but never knew what it meant. Now I do. Cat-face causes brown corky folds at the blossom end of a tomato that usually afflicts beefsteak tomato varieties. I have grown cat-faced tomatoes.

It is easier to find heirloom tomato seeds, and even transplants, than it used to be. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (www.rareseeds.com) offers dozens of varieties from green, to yellow, pink, red and purple as well as paste tomatoes, cherry and plum. Local garden centers also offer an array of these heirloom seedlings.  How to choose from so many? LeHoullier provides a list of 250 recommendations, across the various spectrums, listing size, season and flavor.

In spite of the discouraging snow cover around our house, it is time to start gardening. It is time to start planting tomato seeds indoors. It is time to start visualizing fresh picked tomatoes eaten on the way from the garden to the house. With juice running down your arm. LeHoullier has definitely put me in the mood.

I do not expect to have a vegetable garden this year, but I was given a couple of fabric Smart Pots to test, and I plan to Smart Pot up some small heirloom tomatoes. Expect to hear more about Smart Pots, and my heirloom tomato adventures.

Between the Rows   April 11, 2015