Tuesday, November 3, 2009

One Tomato

Meet Larry. He’s retired and single and keeps his yard pristine. In the summer, he can be found poking at his plants, making artistic bird baths out of concrete, and responding several times a day to Maggie's loud “Hi Larry’s!” with nodding and waving from his place two doors down.

I’m grateful he’s not right next door because then our failing grass would be smack next to A+ quality, enormously magnifying our neglectful yard upkeep. A little space is welcome, but to our relief, Larry is just a hop away to soften our landscaping sins. Last spring he suggested we use this nitrate stuff that attracts worms into the soil—ammonium nitrate, maybe?--to fertilize our lawn. He next lent us his spreader with which to apply the fertilizer, and was often spotted edging our lawn with his (disregard my technical jargon) lawn edger. (And never mind that our lawn is now yellow and infested with mushrooms.)

And so Magnet knew just the guy to talk to when Maggie and I became determined to have a little garden. He went straight to Larry’s, who had the type of box we hoped to build, to ask for pointers. Not only was Larry a wealth of information, but Magnet came home with all of the materials needed to make the box (Larry’s scraps and leftovers). Larry even lent us his drill so we could start right then as the battery in ours was dead. He helped Magnet assemble it and within a half-hour we had a pretty little box all ready for dirt and seeds, water and sunshine. We intended to buy dirt the next day, but Larry insisted his cousin would gladly deliver some. Sure enough, the next morning a grumpy Italian man was shoveling dirt onto our driveway under Larry’s supervision. All we had to do was hand over $20 and listen to the cousin grumble:

“What, Larry?! You have me bring dirt to your neighbor’s? Who do you think I am? I thought this was for you. Never again, Larry, never again.”

With everything in place, the next week for family night we studied the backs of our seed packages and nervously proceeded to plant cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, green beans, and cantaloupe. Maggie watered them generously and had wonderment and glee in her eyes as she imagined how her garden would grow. I looked forward to the fresh vegetables I’d have at my fingertips and felt proud that we, the horticulturally challenged, might have pulled it off.

The first month was great. Maggie danced around her garden analyzing what was sprouting, what wasn’t. Sensing my pride and excitement about the project, my friends often inquired about how the garden was coming. I was showing it to one of my girlfriends, personally admiring how tall one particular vegetable was getting, when she kindly (really, this girl is so sweet) pointed at said tall vegetable and asked, “Do you think that’s a weed?”

It should have been a statement.

I shrugged and thought about saying, “Oh, of course. Definitely. I’ve been meaning to uproot it all week.” I also thought about telling her Maggie was really attached to weeds in case there were others—were there others? I couldn’t tell. I feared additional embarrassment and began strategizing how to distance ourselves from this uncomfortable inspection of my precious garden.

My friend pointed:

“Are those green beans?”

“Uh, ya know, I’m not really sure,” I said honestly. “I could go get my notes. I have a scrap of paper somewhere that tells me what was planted where," I said jokingly, yet again, truthfully. It was obvious I couldn’t tell a weed from a vegetable plant, let alone green bean sprouts from onion sprouts.

My friend: “Yeah, I’m pretty sure those are green beans.”

We laughed and I quickly pushed the conversation in another direction. Phew.

The rest of the summer was abnormally warm for Washington and at times reached record-breaking temperatures. And just like my house plants, our garden was dwindling, wilting, shriveling. It’s sad when your four year old asks if she can please, please, please water the garden!

At last, Larry came to the rescue.

His garden was overflowing and in need of thinning, and so he happily gave us one of his big and beautiful tomato plants that hadn’t yet produced. He planted it in the corner for us, and it was a strange sight: a garden of stubs with a plush and beautifully thriving tomato plant gracing the corner.

We were instilled with new hope.

Months went by and nothing substantial happened, although Maggie might say otherwise as she was tickled by the slightest changes. She was ecstatic when the yellow buds appeared on our tomato plant. And then one memorable day in August we “ooohed” and “aaahed” at a green baby tomato that miraculously appeared despite the dead leaves that decorated the plant's perimeter. September passed with little change other than the green tomato growing a little. It finally turned pinkish in late October and then red last week.

We have one red tomato.

We visit and admire it often. I snapped a few pictures and wondered if I should pick it. I would ask Larry, but he has a fence up now. He can’t wave and nod at Maggie when she calls; our sad garden is nowhere within his view. Is that why he put a fence up? Should I go tell him we have one red tomato? Wait, I can’t. He’s on an extended vacation to California and his yard is turning yellow and he has mushrooms sprouting. Larry wouldn’t like that. Not one bit. Maybe I’ll sprinkle nitrate on his lawn and weed out the mushrooms. When he gets back we can tell him how, thanks to him, the garden didn't fail completely.

Or maybe we’ll just have him come see for himself because nobody seems to want to pick our one tomato.

PS. I once expressed to Larry how impressed I was that he basically set up our garden for us. His response: "I couldn't help it, seeing how excited Maggie was just at the talk of it."


  1. I'm glad you got a tomato!! Hang in there with the gardening. Mine was an abysmal failure this year - but like you said - water helps. I was VERY neglectful in that area this year. It was too depressing to go in my backyard and water my struggling garden when everything else (aka weeds) were thriving.

    Larry sounds like a really nice neighbor.

  2. It's a beautiful tomato. From another of the horiculturally challenged, you have my sympathy.

  3. what a wonderful break from editing to read from my favorite author :)!! And I would be so excited if I produced even one tomato!!!

  4. That's funny and so exciting about your tomato! I would be excited too! And pick it! You might as well enjoy eating it. Tomatoes from your garden are the best. I am totally like you though. I've had conversations with friends about our yard/garden when they expect knowledgeable answers from me and I don't know much at all. Luckily Jaran has a green thumb and enjoys it, but our neighbors think it's me, so I look dumb when the topic comes up :)
    p.s. How's the pear tree?

  5. We did end up picking it, haha. We each ate a sliver and it was soooo good! And the pear tree...what can I say? It's not dead. I don't know what the heck my problem is when it comes to watering plants. :(

  6. Is Larry the one that cuts his lawn with a non-gas mower? I've noticed him if it is. We're still learning on our garden too!

  7. Oh my goodness, how SWEET!! What a wonderful story! It makes me tear up. I'm so glad you have a tomato--I'm sure the garden will perk up eventually, if you keep at it!

  8. what a fabulous cute post. You can write and you can take pictures, you are creative giant in a little tiny body. :)




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