Friday, August 20, 2010

Tomato Discrimination

When my sister brought my 7 year old nephew to Chicago for the first time a few years ago, we took him to this cool place where he could build his own remote controlled car then race it against other kid's cars on a track right there in the store.  When he was selecting the car he wanted to build and customize, he was really drawn to the more expensive, hot looking cars.  When I asked the sales guy what the differences were besides price and style, he said "these cheaper ones are faster.  And they last longer."  Still, my nephew went with the more expensive hot-rod.  He had a great time building and customizing the car but when it came time to race it, his lost.  It wasn't nearly fast enough to beat the other kid's cars.  He had a complete breakdown when we refused to buy him the other cheaper uglier car.  On the way home that night I was on the phone telling my husband about the whole ugly fast car versus pretty slow car debacle while my nephew sat pouting in the backseat of the car.

me: "I think there is a lesson for him to learn here"
husband: "Always pick the ugly girl!"

When I give tomatoes away to friends, I always give them the prettiest ones and keep the ugly ones for myself.  If you have ever grown tomatoes, you know that even the ones with ugly craters can be eaten.  You just cut around the flaws.  The damage is almost never beneath the skin.  Still, my vanity spills over into my tomatoes and prevents me from sharing the ugly ones.  Before I started gardening, my friend B used to bring homegrown tomatoes to work and leave them in the break room for us to take.  Even though I love tomatoes, I almost never took them because they were not flawless and somehow I assumed that meant they could be on the verge of rotting or maybe even diseased.  At that time, my only frame of reference was grocery store tomatoes, but now that I've grown my own, I know that's just what happens to homegrown tomatoes.  B's tomatoes looked just like mine do now.  I wish I had taken some.  I'm sure they were delicious.

Cafe Baba Reba's Show Me Your Tomatoes! contest is tomorrow morning.  I'm competing for Tastiest but I'm agonizing over which tomato to enter.  I've got one tomato I grew from seed which is the same variety that I won this contest with last year, but the top is ugly and scabby looking.  If you flip this thing over, it is the most beautiful shade of deep purplish red you've ever seen.  It is tender to the touch which lets me know it's juicy as hell, too.  And then there's the other tomato.  A hybrid I also grew from seed which is producing tons of beautiful flawless red tomatoes.  They remind me of the ones you buy at the grocery, except these are much more flavorful.  Although I know that appearance is not judged in the Tastiest category, I can't help but think of how embarrassing it'll be to set my ugly scabby tomato up on the table where other contestants and guests will be staring it. Talking to their friends about it before the judging starts.  It's not just me.  My neighbor isn't entering because all hers look similar. 

I thought my husband's "always pick the ugly girl" comment was harsh, but I get his point.  There are costs in limiting yourself to only pretty girls and pretty cars.  In the case of the ugly tomato, it really is what's inside that counts.  And though I know this, I am still struggling.  Ugly, or pretty.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Virtual Garden Tour: Heather's Tidy Connecticut Garden

Location: Branford, CT
Size: 150’ x 50’ with about 6,000 sq. ft. that could be growing space
Age: 4 years
Bio: My husband Lee is my partner in crime.  We started gardening when we bought a new grill and I sent him outside to dig out a flat spot for it on the slope next to the house (the old one was balanced on a cinder block to keep it level).  He found a stone walkway under a few inches of tree roots and soil and we started thinking how nice it would be if that walkway led somewhere instead of under the house (we think the addition was built over a stone patio and the walkway was covered up during construction) so we had our first patio installed.  Around that time, our neighbor cut down a row of hemlocks running the length of the fence between our houses giving us sun in our yard for the first time ever!  I started blogging about the garden because it seemed easier than creating the huge photo albums with paragraph long labels that I was making for my mom.  Other people started reading, we learned more about gardening, and that’s where we are today
Garden Survey:
Type: A big mix, but lots of containers, veggies, herbs, and perennials
Garden style:  Tidy, I’m a straight line kind of girl even though I know curves are supposed to be better design.
Inspiration: Other gardens, nurseries, on-line, television, film, etc., but not books.  For some reason I can’t get into gardening books even though my family keeps giving them to me on any gift-giving occasion.

Favorite plant: It changes so often, but at the moment definitely the heirloom tomatoes. 
Biggest challenge: Too much shade!  Oh, and since we don’t actually own this property (we’ve rented the first floor of this house for 12 years), trying not to put too much money into ground that isn’t ours.

What your friends say: “Wow, I could never do this.  This is really beautiful, you have such an eye for design.”  To which I reply, “Yes you could.  Thanks, we like it.”

Biggest embarrassment: I can’t grow heather.  Heather’s Garden should have heather.  But I’ve killed two plants and don’t plan to try again, they just need more water to get established than I can remember to provide.

Proudest DIY: I’m pretty proud of our ‘patio garden’ because it’s the first bed I really planned.  Lee’s proud of the stone wall he built there and all the plants that he actually dug the holes for and planted all over the garden.  And together we’re pretty proud of the raised veggie bed we built this spring.

Biggest indulgence: All the ceramic pots I’ve purchased at Ocean State Job Lot.  They’re inexpensive and beautiful, but not a necessity, and I probably have too many of them.

Best advice: Jump in and try.  Whatever it is that you’re thinking of attempting you can do it.  Do a little research first so you don’t do anything silly like plant mint in a mixed herb barrel (easily rectified once I read about mint’s propensity to spread and take over).

Resources: I buy most of my plant material at two local nurseries – Vaiuso and North Guilford Nurseries.  But I always keep an eye out for a good bargain or something that could be repurposed in the garden.  And I have absolutely no problem buying stuff at a big box store.

Garden Tour:

Heather - thanks for participating.  I absolutely loved your biggest embarrassment.

If you would like to participate in virtual garden tours, please email me at myskinnygarden (@) gmail (dot) com.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Xan's Darwinian Chicago Garden

Name: Xan Nelson
Location: Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood
Size: 1800 sq feet
Age: 22 years
Bio: I’m an artist, a gardener, and a crazy old lady (not that old, but pretty crazy) with pink hair. I also teach figure skating and my day job is in fundraising for the arts. Lately I’ve been volunteering for the Peterson Garden Project in Chicago.  I started gardening a couple of years after we bought our house because I had this big bare backyard (the prior owners just had grass) and I thought, well flowers would be pretty. 20 or so years later it consumes me. I’m now very active in online gardening communities like MyFolia, Garden Bloggers, Twitter gardenchat. If someone can figure out how to make this my job, I’m listening.
Garden Survey:
Type: Overflowing. I have about 700 square feet of shrubs and perennials and 500 square feet of edibles/herbs in a Chicago backyard (30x60 feet). The lawn is down to paths between the beds. It’s full sun, as I have only one small wild apple tree and my neighbors’ trees don’t really shade me, which is great.
Style: I refer to myself as a “Darwinian” gardener—it’s strictly survival of the fittest out there. If a plant gives me too much trouble, it’s toast.  Right now I’m looking with evil intent at a couple of rose bushes.
Inspiration: My garden is my art; I was a working artist (the kind that actually makes money at it) when I was a young woman. Circumstances ended that career, and now the garden is my canvas.
Favorite plant: The kind that grow in the ground. I don’t have a favorite.  Every time I try to choose, I’ll think, oh but there’s that other one too, I like that too. Quick association? Corn, Horsetail rush, mixed perennials in bright colors.
Biggest challenge: Having to work for a living, plus the constant suspicion that I don’t really know what I’m dong. Also, marauding rabbits. I also can’t keep a houseplant thriving to save my life (or its).

What friends say: Jaws drop.

Biggest embarrassment: Stuff I don’t know. I’ve been gardening for almost a quarter century, and yet still I’ll find out something that every gardener seems to, or should, know. I just absorb the info and pretend I knew that already.

Proudest DIY: My entire life is DIY—I make it all up as I go along. But if you’re talking about building stuff, I am the world’s most disastrous DIYer. The term makeshift doesn’t begin to cover my incompetence. I make my husband and kids put in all the important stuff; they built a pond and a wall, several paths, a trellis, a flagstone patio, and installed three rain barrels.  I put in the little brick wall that keeps falling over.

Biggest indulgence: Gardening when I have other things I really should be doing.

Best advice: Don’t be afraid to get started.  Plants have been growing without our help for tens of millions of years. They’ll do just fine whether you know what you’re doing or not. For American backyard gardeners really nothing is at stake—if your garden fails, you can go to the grocery store (but when the Apocalypse comes, you’ll know how to feed yourself!)

ResourcesI really love Urhausen Greenhouse in Lincolnwood for plants, and Lurvey’s in DesPlaines, which is better than the Botanic Gardens in some ways, and almost as big. For seeds, I like to swap. I like to go to my local Ace or True Value for tools (I try to stay out of national chains, as a matter of philosophy). Seed swapping is so much fun, both for the variety of seeds you can find and for the friends you meet that it inspired me to finally get serious about seed saving.

Garden Tour:

Xan - thanks for participating.  Loved it!

If you would like to participate in Virtual Garden Tours, please email me at myskinnygarden (at) gmail (dot) com.