Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tomatoes, pumpkins and seedy memories

I dropped in to 'visit' Landgirl's blog, Home in the Highlands, this morning and read that she's preparing to receive actual flesh and blood visitors from America. Landgirl, though a native Midwesterner, now lives about as far north in Scotland as one can without drowning. She's passed beyond mere gardening; she's become a farmer.

Landgirl's most recent story was about her pending visitor's one-time flirtation with gardening. Landgirl's friend Joanna decided to see what this gardening business was all about -- and, in the end, she grew one, count 'em, one tomato... which she named Molly. And this story got me thinking and remembering....

I got gardening out of my system very early in life.

For awhile, though, I really wanted to grow pumpkins. My folks would have a jack-o'-lantern at Halloween -- no one had the elaborate lights and special effects displays in the 1960s that are so common now -- and we would carefully save some of the seeds for planting in the Spring.

We lived on the South Side of Chicago then. I'm pretty certain that, by the time I went through my pumpkin-planting phase, my father had installed a flagstone patio between the backyard's one maple tree and the chain link fence that marked the boundary with the alley. He put up a basketball hoop next to the garage, on the north side of the patio... but, oddly enough, I never learned to dribble well on a flagstone patio.

Anyway, there was space between the end of the patio, on the east end of the yard, and the fence, where the pumpkins could be planted. And so we did.

If vines were the sole criteria, I would have been a very successful junior pumpkin farmer. We got vines aplenty, and they'd climb the fence, too -- a good idea for cucumbers, perhaps, but a bad survival strategy for pumpkins. Most of those years (looking back, it feels like there were several, but I realize it couldn't have been more than two or three) I also got lots of beautiful orange flowers.

Pumpkins start as little green swellings beneath some of the dying flowers. There was a botany lesson in all this about male and female, I suppose, but it went over my head entirely. Some of the little green swellings grew into dark green proto-pumpkins... but that's as far as I ever got.

Not once did I get a full-fledged pumpkin -- sincere or otherwise -- out of that little patch. I watered too much... or too little. We had too much sun... or too much shade. Frost came early. I know that one time kids came by and smashed the biggest of the proto-pumpkins.

Years later, after I was allegedly grown and unquestionably married, my Long Suffering Spouse suggested we try pumpkins again... she said something about the virtue of purging childhood traumas....

Now my wife is a fabulous gardener. She enjoys rooting about in the dirt and she succeeds admirably with almost anything she plants. Seeds actually sprout before they leave her hands.

She has one blot on her near-perfect gardening record.


For a few more years in the late 90s -- over 30 years after my failed juvenile efforts -- my Long Suffering Spouse tried to grow pumpkins. My negative karma... or hostile aura... or whatever... doomed these efforts to failure.

I know pumpkins are real. We sold them by the truckload for the Cub Scouts back in the day; we've bought one or more for the house nearly every year. But I have come to believe that pumpkins do not actually grow in the ground; they are probably manufactured in a Chinese factory like pretty near everything else these days.

All else is marketing.


Steve Skinner said...

My experience with pumpkins ended pretty much the same. Loads of vines but not much else. It's a good thing that they are pretty cheap to buy for the annual celebration.

The Beach Bum said...

Curmudgeon -

I bust a gut reading this blog. It reminded me of me.

I have attempted both Tomatoes and Grapes, but never Pumpkins.

My 6 tomato plants grew to be six feet tall and bore a total of 8 tomatoes. After four years my grapevines produced two or three bunches of the worst tasting grapes that I have ever eaten.

I switched to growing herbs, they grow well, probably because most of them are weeds.

The Beach Bum (AKA Mr. Brown Thumb)

Jean-Luc Picard said...

It sounds like you wouldn't have sold many at Halloween.

Sarge Charlie said...

You need to dip your hand in green paint, then chicken shit, spread it around real good and you can grow anything.

I must admit that the unsolicited offer amazed me also.

Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

i cannot grow anything. but (and this is the TRUTH) 2 years ago i left a pumpkin outside when we left podunk by accident and it melted and grew a vine and when we came back it was there. it got LOTS of flowers but only one pumpkin. it was big and orange and lovely. it melted in august though, never made it to fall. now i buy them in the walmart.

smiles, bee

Shelby said...

never tried pumpkins. no garden this year. nor last year. But the year before I had one.

maybe next year. but probably not pumpkins.

dragonflyfilly said...

hmm, yep, i tried pumpkins on my balcony once...only one sprouted, then died. about a month ago i planted some Kale in the planter on my balcony and before they even had one day of sun my cat nibbled all the young leaves off, so i had to put them up out of her way and have been babying them along...i also planted lettuce, which i have to keep out of her reach. if anyone is interested Cherry Tomatoes grow well in pots, although they need lots of sun.