The grand tomato that you see before you is one of my most emotional gardening achievements. The strange thing is that it was the easiest thing in my garden to grow. I did not lay mulch or compost. I did not even sow seeds. The plant that became this tomato is a marvel in and of itself. It is volunteer.
Volunteer plants are plants that seed themselves in a cultivated gardenscape. Plants that you don't ask for and certain do not want in that place! Most often mistaken for weeds, volunteer plants are forcibly removed from their locations of choice because they do not fit into our vision of what the garden should look like or produce. The story of this little guy (who ended up being not so little) is also the story of my lesson to release my own attachment to what was supposed to be happening in my garden.
When I was living in a rental property in Tempe, I had several large pots of ornamentals next to the front door. They were mostly started from clipping that I have a habit of taking from certain university campus plants....um, yeah. Welcome to guerilla plant propagation. But anyways, one day there was an unexpected intruder lurking in one of the pots. Now, these pots were also next a very shaded bed that I planted some delicated bulbs and root veggies in to try and break up some of the dense soils that were occuring right next to the property. So, logically I thought, this intruder must be some French Breakfast Radish gone wild, as I had scattered some the week or so previously. I gave it little thought for the next month or so, while the little thing grew but demonstrated none of it's later Jack and the Beanstalk proclivities.
By then it was the middle of January with rosy radish shoulders pushing their way through the soil and I was getting ready to move to the property I live in currently. The garden I had at the Tempe property was one of the lengthiest gardens I worked with, lasting almost 3 years. Consequently, I cried as I put it to bed and took my sweet time harvesting those last radishes. By now I had realized that my little interloper was no radish, nor was he a marigold, as the others scattered in that area were just starting to bloom. Fate and time limits stayed my weeding fingers and the whole pot was moved to the new house and placed in a sunny location until I could finish the inside portion of moving in.
A week later, as I was hauling in mulch for the start of the new garden, I took my first close look at that pot and promptly had a freak out. The invader had doubled in size! He was becoming the demise of the ornamental, already beginning to overshadow it and lean threatingly toward it's personal bubble. I took several deep, calming breaths and looked again. The poor hot pink pretty was not liking the sunny local of the new property, which had precious few shady areas to which it had become accustomed. After several more deep breaths and a spate of mediation, I decided to release my control of what nature obviously had in mind and let it do what it is best at: providing for life. It was hard, don't get me wrong, that little ornamental was the last remanent of my old garden and I was desperately attached to it. But nature has more experience at this than I do, and sometimes you do have to give credit for tenure.
Over the next few months, that little green intruder became not so little any longer, demolishing the ornamental and growing to four and a half feet (with the supports that I eventually and grudgingly gave it). And if you walked within 3 feet of the thing, the scent of tomato was assaulting. (Being mugged by a tomato is an experiential thing, not necessarily recommended for everyone :) So, duh, it was a tomato. Which I accepted with a slight heartening of spirit because I do, after all, really really like tomatoes. This monster started producing at the end of April and is still generously bearing fruit as we speak. And what tomatoes! Beautiful deep red, palm sized fruit with star bursts of yellow striations along the skin. Mmm.
I have to congratulate Nature, honey, you done good. That is one fabulous tomato. But as this process unfolded, I was plagued by one question: Where did that single tomato seed come from? The front and back yard at the Tempe place were separated by two gates and a span of gravel. I had never seen a bird near the front door, although hummers jealously guarded the back. A friend of mine proposed a theory that I am in favor of, although the world may never know the origin of the monster tomato.
I carry seeds in every purse that I own. I don't know why except that I do get the urge to randomly sprinkle seeds into the ground every once and a while. But the theory is that this particular tomato seed was lingering forgotten in a corner of my purse and when I pulled my keys out to open that front door, the seed jumped into the pot in an absolute fervor to grow, produce and be merry. I don't know for sure but the idea of Nature and I combining forces to bring more tomatoes into the world sure does make me happy.