Tricky Tomatoes

When we added onto our house five years ago, the builder told us he would have to resolve a drainage problem by burying a large perforated plastic pipe on the half of the front yard that slopes downhill, and covering it with material that was little more than 2-inch limestone gravel and sand. Since we live in an area of acid soils, our little alkaline patch presented a real gardening challenge. No amount of amending could ever make this into suitable “soil.” I experimented with a wide variety of perennials, only to have them all die within a couple of weeks.

I considered a gravel garden, but decided that the look of it would be jarring, given the Arts and Crafts styling of the house and the floral and foliage colors we’d chosen for the rest of the property. In the back of my mind, I kept thinking that this sun-baked site might be the ideal place for a modest vegetable patch.

Eventually, the spot disclosed itself to be the perfect location for a lavender border. In their second year, the plants grew large and fluffy, with tons of flowers attracting bees and butterflies. A photo of lavender used as a ground cover in a mail order catalog clinched the deal. This year, I planted three each of seven different lavender varieties. But because Dan needed to complete some hardscaping, I had only one day to get the plants in before we left on our next trip out of town.

With no time left to buy mulch, I turned to my compost pile for something to hold down the bare soil, opting for not-yet-decomposed leaf litter and shredded paper. Two weeks later, after returning from our trip and being laid low by a virus, I ventured out to weed my scraggly plot. I was still a little groggy from the head cold, but I suddenly realized that my garden was filled with healthy, foot-high tomato plants. Whether this is a demonstration of the power of intention, an ode to the genius of place, or the result of too casual composting, it works for me. I’ll learn whether tomatoes can grow here while I’m waiting for the lavender to fill out. If we’re lucky, we’ll get to eat some of those tricky little tomatoes.

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