Tomato Plant

We were visiting Alan at his allotment a couple of weeks ago and he asked if we’d like to take a tomato plant from his greenhouse.

I don’t remember saying yes but I was carrying a tomato plant in my hands as we walked home, so I suppose I must have.

A few days later, Samara suggested that we replant it into a bigger pot.

“Do we have to?” I protested. I wasn’t sure the effort was necessary. It was fine as it was. I called Alan to find out.

“Oh yes,” he said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, “it will need repotting.”

“How will I do that?” I asked, and I could hear him thinking me an idiot down the line.

We live in a city, miles away from anything like a garden centre, not that I’d be seen dead in one anyway. Plant pots and soil just aren’t a part of my life.

The last time I needed a plant pot for something, I had to buy it on Amazon. It had cost £3 and took three days to arrive and two entirely different “I’m sorry you were out” cards. I didn’t want to go through all that again.

“Come back to the allotment,” he said, “and I’ll find you a pot.”

“Okay,” I said, “Tuesday?”

“Tuesday,” he said.

On Tuesday, Alan called to tell me to meet him at his lock-up instead of his allotment. “Sure,” I said. I didn’t mind because the lock-up is closer to my flat than the allotment. Unfortunately, some heavy rain the night before meant that the lane in which the lock-up lives was a brown river of mud.

“Why did you wear those shoes?” asked Alan, looking at my mud-engulfed brogues.

“Well, it was these or my slippers.”

“Don’t you have any Wellies?”

“No,” I said. I thought of that bit in Seinfeld when Kramer asks Jerry if he’s got any black paint. Jerry says, “Yeah, in my toolshed, next to the riding mower.”

As we stood in the rain, up to our ankles in mud, we chatted about this and that and finally, he pulled two plant pots from his car’s back seat.

“Two?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, “One for now and another for in a couple of weeks.”

I hadn’t thought this was going to be such a project. I hadn’t consented, so far as I could remember, to any of it. And now there was mud in my shoes and rainwater in my socks and I was being handed two plant pots, some instructions for the future, and apparently a need get some serious outdoor boots if I wanted to get ahead in life.

“Okay,” I said in a sort of coma.

A rat the size of a guinea pig but as fast as a cat suddenly struck out into the lane. I decided to go home.

“Don’t forget your pots,” said Alan.

I did not forget my pots.

We repotted the tomato plant. When Alan came over tonight, he saw how much the tomato plant had grown and how healthy-looking, and he seemed to be impressed. Maybe even surprised. He nodded approvingly.

As he was leaving, I asked if he’d take the third pot back with him. “It’s really too big,” I said, “I don’t want such a big bucket of soil in my living room.”

“Just keep it for now,” he said.

He was going home on his bike and the pot would be too big to carry.

“And it’s up to you,” he said, “but you’ll need a bigger pot if you want to get any tomatoes.”

And then he was gone.

If I want to get any tomatoes? I had never considered that any of this had been about the tomatoes. I suppose I thought it was about the extra greenery or something.

Do I want to harvest my own tomatoes? Not especially. So long as civilisation stands, I am content to buy my tomatoes in the shops, rarely, on a whim, for 40p. And after civilisation, I probably won’t be worried about tomatoes. Wellington boots maybe.

How long do I have to keep this plant alive for? I suppose I’d been carrying a general assumption around that tomato plants die in the autumn. But what do I know? Do I need to update my will?

Tomatoes. Why would anyone want to grow tomatoes?


  1. Robert,
    This is exactly my own feeling on growing vegetables. Having grown potatoes a few times before, you spend a load of time and a fair amount of money on fertiliser etc only to end up with fewer potatoes than you could have bought from a shop for a quid.

    1. I suppose there are other reasons to do it. Curiosity. Connection with nature. Absorption into a project. It just never occurred to me that an appetite for free vegetable matter would be anyone’s motivator!

  2. I’ve given up on veg and I’m growing flowering perennials now. They are supposed to encourage pollinating insects and I do get quite a few bees buzzing around. I enjoy watching them more than digging up a few measly spuds.

  3. Hello Robert, your friend Scott E-B from the States. The thing about tomatoes is it’s all about the taste and for that you’ve got to grow the finicky heirloom type that produce fruit begrudgingly. You will spend a shed load of money but the six or seven tomatoes will be unlike anything you can buy in a store as for the most part store bought tomatoes are hybrids which are easy to grow, fruitful, homogeneous, and unfortunately taste like crap water sacks. I’m hoping your friend Alan at least bestowed heirloom-type tomatoes upon you or all your effort will be for nought. Or you can always go to your local farmers’ market and cutout the whole growing part…

  4. I clearly remember having the same view as yours and saying something similar to my grandparents many years ago – I just couldn’t see the point of growing vegetables like they did. Yet nowadays I grow rather a lot of them. What changed? Obviously living in a house with a garden is one thing. I also consider it part of a self reliant approach to life. Of course, I’m not completely self sufficient by any means, but it’s some small escape from dependency on the earn/spend system. And home grown veg tastes a lot better, is fresher than factory farmed produce and is untainted by nasty chemicals if you want to do it that way. I think once you start getting your hands dirty and trying to do more practical tasks yourself if only increases your resilience generally. I don’t mind “work” when it’s on my own terms and at home.

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