On Tomatoes

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Nothing takes me back to early childhood quite as quickly as the smell of ripening tomatoes in a  greenhouse.

When I was small, we had neighbours of a similar age to my grandparents. This was the 1970’s, when elders were still referred to as Mr and Mrs; but for small children, “Mr and Mrs Burton” was too much – so these neighbours/surrogate grandparents became and always were to my brother and I, Burt (actual name Olive) and Uncle Jack. Our garden was separated from Burt and Uncle Jack’s by a low fence, and whenever I saw Uncle Jack in his garden, I would stand at that fence and yell “can I come oooooveeeeeerrrrrrr?” Eventually I would be lifted over the fence to spend many happy hours “helping” Jack in his garden. It is, in fact, to Uncle Jack that I owe my own passion for gardening. 

Uncle Jack


In the spring and summer months much of my helping took place in the greenhouse, where Uncle Jack grew tomatoes.

 I would help him to sow the seeds in spring, watch him prick out the delicate seedlings (too delicate for the hot little fists of a 5 year old) and then help to pot them on. Smashing old pots to make crocks for the bottom of the pots was my specialty. 

Once the tomato plants began to really grow away, tying them in and pinching out their side shoots was my job alone. Even then I loved the heady smell of the foliage and the ripening fruit. 

Each year I’d be allowed to eat one of the first fruits to ripen – wiped on a trouser leg to remove any dust, and sprinkled with a little salt from a shaker kept in the greenhouse for that purpose.

I now grow tomatoes myself, and each step of that process every year – from the sowing of the seeds to the taste of the first fruit (with a little salt) takes me back to those happy hours in Uncle Jack’s greenhouse

It will soon be time to start the process for this year, and I look forward to time traveling through tomatoes once again! 


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