Sentimental SpecimensBy Timmy Jo Given (timmijo)
June 15, 2011
This yearning seems strong in those for whom the green thumb was passed down. For others, the desire is vague until some event finds them face to face with the plants of their youth:
"Aunt Mary had a big Christmas Cactus just like that in her room!"
"Uncle Ted had a speckled bush just like that one!"
"My goodness, I haven't seen a plant like that in 50 years. Are they still around?"
"We had that kind of tree in the front yard when I lived in town!"
Why do we want to own the specimens of long ago? Maybe we want to be transported back to a different world when things were less complicated, when information overload was not the norm, and when watching tomatoes ripen in the sun was a worthy undertaking.
Or perhaps we'd like to remember a loved one who has gone on.
In some cases, our sentimental specimens are not hard to find. For example, my mother and father always planted our small beachfront home in tomatoes. Mom set great store in those tomato plants. She took care of them faithfully, reaping the reward for her work by summer's end.
I didn't think much about Mom's garden at the time; my head was filled with other things like school, friends, boys, and bike riding. To me, vegetable gardening was a quirky thing that got Mom and Dad all excited each summer.
A drive up to Tremont, Pennsylvania to visit my maternal grandparents, Mammy and Pappy Freeman, is where I observed the same phenomenon: a yard full of red tomatoes and green peppers. Oh, so this is why Mom and Dad do the same thing, I thought. It's in the genes.
Mammy and Pappy had a bit of Pennsylvania Dutch in their backgrounds. Mammy used the peppers to make Pepper Cabbage, a delightful side dish of finely shredded cabbage and green pepper bits in vinegar water. And she may have canned the tomatoes—I'm not sure. I was just a child.
Mom, on the other hand, did not can tomatoes, but she and Dad enjoyed them raw sprinkled with salt and pepper as well as cooked.
Myself, I did not acquire an appreciation for raw tomatoes until well into my teens and didn't like cooked tomatoes until I was in my twenties. These days, tomatoes and peppers are a no-brainer: of COURSE I must buy them and sink them into the garden each year. It's what Mom and Dad did. It's a family tradition.
My childhood beachfront home also had Mimosa trees here and there. The trees grew well in the sandy soil. To observe the pink, delicate blooms was a true escape; not only did I adore them, but I picked one every now and again to brush it against my cheek like a soft downy feather. What a burst of beauty in an otherwise dusty neighborhood.
After I became an adult and moved away, my mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness. I visited her as often as I could. She moved to a nice apartment complex during those last few years of her life. When I drove across the Chesapeake Bay to see Mom's new apartment for the first time, I was happy to notice Mimosa trees lining the hilly drive. On the way home, I made sure to hop out of the car and collect a handful of seed pods before departing.
In Mom's memory, I started six Mimosa seeds in cups the next spring. One of the trees made it. Eleven years later, that tree stands as a beautiful specimen in the middle of my yard today, its significance known only to me.
It's not hard to find tomatoes and green peppers, and Mom's memorial Mimosa is well-established in my front yard, but I have yet to acquire a Catalpa tree, another specimen that graced my childhood home on the beach.
When we were kids, we called it a "String Bean Tree". It's also known as an "Indian Cigar Tree." I loved the large, plate-sized leaves, the white shower of petals in late springtime, and the long "beans" that followed in the summer and fall.
Late one spring, reaching impulsively inside our thickly-leafed Catalpa, I was surprised to find an egg! It was a hard-boiled, painted Easter egg! My big sister and I laughed when we realized that the egg was left over from our family Easter egg hunt from the previous month. Guess what? I ate the egg!
Now that I'm grown and live in Delaware, I see Catalpa trees growing everywhere and long to go buy one at the nursery. That hasn't happened yet, but last winter I DID pick some dry pods from a neighborhood Catalpa tree to get the seeds.
I used to love the challenge of raising trees from seed when my kids were small, but a Catalpa started now might take many more years to become a majestic specimen. I may never see its full glory.
Nevertheless, the verdict is in: Just as with the tomatoes, peppers, and Mimosa, I cannot live without a Catalpa tree. It's in the genes. It's nostalgia. It's for Mom.
More information about the plants in this article:
- PlantFiles Cultivar Finder: Tomatoes: http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/finder/index.php?sname=Tomatoes
- Tomatoes Discussion Forum: http://davesgarden.com/community/forums/f/tomatoes/all/
- Tomatoes: Starting Tomato Seed and Other Helpful Information by Dr.Carolyn Male: http://davesgarden.com/community/forums/t/490323/
- Seed Starting 101: Grow the best TOMATOES ever from seed by Jill M. Nicolaus: http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/2846/
- PlantFiles Cultivar Finder: Peppers: http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/finder/index.php?sname=Peppers&submit=submit
- Peppers Discussion Forum: http://davesgarden.com/community/forums/f/capsicum/all/
- Seed Starting 101: Growing Peppers from Seed by Jill M. Nicolaus: http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/2266/
- Beginner Gardening Questions Discussion Forum: http://davesgarden.com/community/forums/f/b_gardentalk/all/
- Trees, Shrubs, and Conifers Discussion Forum: http://davesgarden.com/community/forums/f/tas/all/