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Around Town: Just crazy about tomatoes

By Anita S. Brenner

11:55 PM EDT, April 3, 2013

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The seed catalogs arrived last month. The daffodils are blooming and there are tiny pomegranates on the pomegranate tree.

It must be time to plant the garden.

Last month, I was eager to get started. This week, I'm not so sure, but the time has come.

This weekend, “Tomatomania” arrives at Descanso Gardens.

Tomatomania is an annual festival and tomato sale described as “the world's largest (and most fun) heirloom tomato seedling sale!”

Any way you slice it, tomatoes are fun. Tomatoes are the most rewarding and easy-to-grow garden vegetable.

For most tomatomaniacs, this festival marks the beginning of the spring gardening season. Armstrong in La Cañada and Orchard Supply Hardware in La Crescenta begin to stock the non-heirloom varieties of the essentials, tomatoes and zucchini. Trader Joe's sells potted basil. Coincidentally these, along with corn, are the main ingredients of our favorite summer soup.

But corn can be a jealous mistress. It blocks the sun, takes up space and requires frequent fertilization.

Basil is prone to bolting. Unless snipped weekly, the blossoms turn into tiny basil flowers, which suck energy from the plant and flavor from the leaves.

Zucchini can be wonderful, when the fates allow. Last summer, the zucchini union must have called a strike because the only squash that grew were the yellow crooknecks. The summer before, the zucchinis were happy and the crooknecks were dismal. Go figure.

Tomatoes, on the other hand, are easy to grow and have inspired writers and poets for generations.

Pablo Neruda, the great Chilean poet and politician, began his “Ode to Tomatoes” with these words:


The street

filled with tomatoes,

midday,

summer,

light is

halved

like a tomato,

its juice

runs

through the streets....”


The advantage of growing any kind of tomato, whether heirloom or garden variety, is the marked difference in taste compared to store-bought. The farmers market tomatoes cannot compare to a home-grown tomato that's been fresh-picked from the vine.

Tomatomania at Descanso will include tomato tastings, the sale of more than 300 varieties of tomato plants, and tomato accouterments. Need a pot? Stakes? Tomato food? You can find those items at Tomatomania this weekend.

There will be free classes both days on “How to grow perfect tomatoes in your own backyard.”

Let the juice run through the streets!


ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. Email her at anitasusan.brenner@yahoo.com and follow her on Twitter @anitabrenner.