All right, they’re not that new any more, it’s just that I haven’t managed to talk about them yet. I picked them up at Brockbushes Farm Shop in Corbridge, Northumberland, as I travelled between Edinburgh and Derbyshire a few weeks ago. Buying tomato plants ready-grown was my grandmother’s idea. She grows her own from seed, and when I saw the wee tomato plants all shooting up on her windowsill I felt sad that I’d missed the boat for growing my own, so she suggested buying some young plants, an ideal option if it’s too late to plant seeds or you just don’t want the bother. Raising them from seed is the cheaper but more labour-intensive and risk-prone option. Let someone else do the initial work, I say.
Anyway, here they are. Jeremy, naturally, is the vine on the right, and Kate is the bush plant on the left.
We used to grow tomatoes in my mother’s greenhouse when I was a child. I can remember very clearly the process of growing tomatoes, the dark smell of the vines in the fearful heat of the greenhouse, learning to remove the side shoots to encourage growth, watering them before they wilted, tying them against canes as they got taller. Yet it’s a funny thing, I have no recollection of collecting and eating the tomatoes. Clearly it was the process rather than the result that I found fascinating. As everyone knows, journeys often more important than their destinations.
Tomatoes are a difficult thing to grow successfully in the British climate unless, like my mother and grandmother, you have a greenhouse — or a very good summer. Growing them in Scotland seems a bit optimistic, but then I am an optimist. If I get even one tomato I’ll be thrilled.
The idea is that each of these yellow flowers is going to become a tomato. In practice, even if each one indeed becomes a tomato they’ll need a lot of sunshine to ripen, or else I’ll be making a great deal of green tomato chutney.
I have put the tomato plants in the sunniest spot possible in the south-facing back garden. As they get bigger I will place them against the stone wall, as stone walls collect heat and keep nearby plants warmer.
The tomatoes have been potted up in a mixture of garden compost and horse manure, and I feed them regularly with a good all-purpose fertiliser, although my mother will probably weigh in and tell me I should buy some proper tomato feed. In my opinion you can have too many different types of fussy, specialised feeds and soils and things. Life is complicated enough.