Wednesday, May 14, 2008


I read a lot of gardening blogs, and for one reason or another, a lot of them are in England. Perhaps it’s the familiarity with the climate, the growing season, perhaps it’s because the English love their gardens and I can speak the language (the French love their gardens too). Whichever it is, I read a lot of them. And the thing I’m struck with over and again is the mention of the names of each vegetable or fruit. Everyone talks about the variety they are planting. I remember poring over seed catalogs comparing, contrasting, being overwhelmed by choices. The sense I get from the way these varieties are named is that these gardeners are also – or have been – overwhelmed by the choice presented to them. People don’t just grow tomatoes anymore, they grow the jee-whizz-bang, H4 Hybrid, and that means – what? I am absolutely for heirloom seeds, old varieties, strengthening the gene pool, but there’s something to this that seems, well that seems very much in keeping with modern life. Why do we need so much choice? In other times and in other places we would save the seeds from the previous year, or get them from neighbours, or we would know that the seeds we took from the tomato we bought at the shop would do just fine, because they were grown just around the corner. But of course, unless we are lucky and buy from a CSA or a local farm, that no longer applies: the tomato we buy may have been grown half way around the world in a greenhouse under specialized conditions, or who knows, may even be sterile. The jee-whizz-bang comes with statistics and quasi guarantees; anti disease, bug resistant, early bloomer – all things which alter the essential ‘plantness’ of the plant. Maybe I’m way out of touch (I most assuredly am), maybe once the tomato begins to grow and is tended and cared for it will taste as delicious as any other homegrown, straight from the garden tomato. Is it still basically simple under all its fancy names and proven ancestry?