My Grandfather Rede was a colossus, in everything except height. Standing at only 5’5”, he still managed to pack an awful lot of talent into his small frame. He left school at 13 to take care of his younger sisters and brothers after his dad died. Despite fighting for his country during the Great War and being invalided out as a result of a gas attack in Verdun, working down the coal mines in Northumberland and being the breadwinner for a large family, he found time to read profusely, listen to his classical records, embroider exquisite flowers onto Irish linen, and keep the most beautiful garden and vegetable allotment, full of prize winning Dahlias and tomatoes.It is to the last achievements on this list that I want to discuss, as it is his tomato prowess that has caused more distress in my life on a regular basis than any thing else. I can’t smell tomatoes on the vine without having flashbacks to his large greenhouse and him peering over his glasses to inspect his bountiful harvest. My Mom inherited his gardening talents, but successfully failed to pass any of it on to me. To be honest, I had no interest in gardening until I bought my own house in my late twenties. It would have been difficult to engage in gardening prior to that, as I was fully engaged in perfecting the life of an itinerant ski bum in Europe.
My first house in Stony Stratford, England, had a small back yard. For some reason which totally escapes me now, I decided to try and live up to my Grandfather's name and be self-sufficient on the tomato front. That was my first mistake.
I soon realized that being away from home 2 weeks out of 4 every month was not conducive to rearing tomatoes, or any other living organism for that matter, except mold. I could have supplied our local women’s institute with a fresh supply of dried flowers on a regular basis on account of my extraordinary ability to turn vibrant living things into desiccated and brittle structures for the spiders to attach their webs to.
I rented a part of an old manor once, with a wonderful southerly exposure which I thought would be perfect for growing tomatoes.
I can’t remember ever being so excited about any of my achievements before or after, so you can imagine my horror one morning when I heard the mooing of cattle outside my bedroom window. I peered out across the garden, only to see the best part of the neighboring farm’s Friesian herd standing side by side on top of where my tomatoes used to be. I ran downstairs completely starkers and dashed out the back door screaming like a banshee. The garden gate had been left open and as the farmer was transferring his herd from the field to the milking barn, one of them must have decided to make a detour. Of course, they all followed.
It is difficult to express complete outrage when you have no clothes on, so I don’t think the farmer and his little band of helpers were too concerned. In fact, I distinctly heard muffled guffawing retreating down the lane as I sat in the middle of the carnage in total disbelief.
I have managed to transfer my inability to grow tomatoes to my current garden on bucolic Vashon Island. Despite many attempts, I have still not managed to emulate my Grandfather’s success. Not even close. I can see a small patch of garden from where I sit. It holds a small crop of tomatoes, some with bottom end rot, some stunted and tough skinned like shriveled walnuts, and some that appear to be just perfect.
Maybe next year, if the deer don’t get them first.