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Merry Christmas! I spent mine in the land of evergreen, where rosemary bushes live through the winter and it snowed on Christmas for only the third time in sixty years. Mom gave me some scallion seeds from her garden. I’ve promised her some basil and cilantro seeds from mine. My plants survived my time away and the Christmas tree smells better than ever (we’re taking it down after the New Year’s party).

When we came home we exchanged presents with Eric’s family. His mother is very much into the big-Christmas idea and as a result we got more presents than we gave (though Edith loved her gardening hat and the atomic jewelry was very well received). I got Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, as I’d requested (“It’s so easy when you have a list,” Edith said), plus a rolling pin and some other nice things. And: I got a greenhouse. That is, it’s a metal rack with a plastic housing, on wheels, and now I don’t have to worry so much about running out of seedling space. I have a greenhouse! And in only a couple of short months it’s going to be overrun! What a great Christmas.

Today I give all my houseplants an extra-good watering and hope they’re still alive when I come back. We’re off to Seattle for a week, and I know that realistically there’s no reason for my plants to do anything but what they’ve been doing, quietly maintain themselves and maybe do a little growing. But I’m vaguely concerned anyway. I didn’t worry when I only had the one plant, because it was a Christmas cactus and obviously a few days without water or attention weren’t going to hurt it. But now I’ve got some twelve or thirteen, depending on how you count them, plants inside (I know it’s nothing to, say, Kylee’s 177, but it’s much more than I had this time last year), and they take up more of my brain space–as well as my windowsills.

I’ll probably be checking out Mom’s garden when I get there, because it’s supposed to be in the 40s all week and no snow. She mentioned earlier she had lots of onion seeds; I hope she saved some for me. I’m bringing those tiny bulb-growing kits as part of her present (to go with her flower quilt). Otherwise, there won’t be much garden action. But it’ll be a nice time for me to revisit my roots. (And make cookies.) Merry Christmas!

I have a roasted garlic sourdough in the fridge, slowly rising and waiting to be baked tonight. I’m sitting here craving it, and I’ve never even tried it before. So what do I do? I go read The Fresh Loaf. Which starts me thinking about other things to put in bread…like tomatoes.

I have some dried tomatoes I could potentially use this winter, and I probably will; but what I’m really looking forward to–and now craving as much as the garlic bread; why am I doing this to myself?–is using fresh tomatoes, as in this recipe. Especially my own homegrown ones…especially during a glut as I had this year and fully expect to have next year.

I remember hearing about heirloom tomato seed-saving several years ago and thinking it sounded like too much work for something so esoteric. Naturally, here I am several years later, having completed my first season of heirloom tomato growing, saving the seeds and pretty much set on never doing anything else if I can help it.

I grew eight types of tomatoes this year: Taxi, Brandywine, Purple Cherokee, Roma, Celebrity, two F2 hybrids from my stepmother-in-law’s tomatoes, and the mystery cherry. Three of the latter four were unremarkable; the Celebrity tomatoes were nice and pretty, but a fairly standard tomato (note that I’m not exactly a tomato gourmet), the mystery cherry was spindly, and the big F2 cracked. The F2 cherry was sweet and extremely productive, and I saved some seeds from it. But the notable part of the tomato harvest was, of course, the heirloom types.

I had never tried a Brandywine, and I started out unimpressed, but apparently that first tomato wasn’t a very good one, because I loved them the rest of the summer. The Roma didn’t do well–it was choked out by the F2 cherry–but the few tomatoes I did get from it were great for drying, and I’m going to try again next year. The Taxis were very early, which I appreciated; otherwise not very remarkable, though I loved the color. I’m going to see if I can find a better-tasting yellow tomato. And the Purple Cherokee was my favorite; I loved the slightly aromatic taste, the heavy, irregular shape, the meaty juicy bits that I popped into my mouth while chopping up for other uses.

Next year, I have a whole host of tomatoes to try–San Marzano, Black from Tula, Garden Peach (I got a few off my neighbor’s plant, but would like to try them myself), Costoluto Genovese, Cosmonaut Volkov, Tiger-Like, Golden Jubilee, a grape (for Eric), and others I can’t remember at the moment. Eric wanted me to cut down on the number of tomato plants I had, but how can I, with so many varieties to try? I’ll find recipes or jars or freezer space for all of them (I say, in the middle of the first serious snow of winter). I’m confident I will.

We got our Christmas tree last night. And a poinsettia. After selecting our tree, we walked into the nursery section of Andersons, past rows of clearly spray-painted ones (“Poor things, they’ll die,” I said. “Whoever did this MUST BE SHOT,” Eric said),  and I showed him the citrus trees I covet. Then I headed for the small pots on the end of the poinsettia section.

“You want a small one?” he said dubiously.

“Well, I guess. Why? Do you want a bigger one?”

“Might as well,” he said, and picked up a big, healthy-looking plant. “How about this one? It’s pretty. And some of the leaves are still green, that’s cool.” Enabler.

My wildflower seeds from Burt’s Bees came. Amazingly, I know what most of them are–or at least I’ve heard the names and have a vague idea of what they look like. I hope that they grow where I’m going to plant them, in the spot where the previous owners’ sand box was. I suppose I should try amending the soil a bit before I leave the seeds to their fate.

I was in Meijer yesterday, getting salt (for the driveway) and birdseed (for our cars, as winter weights and emergency traction) and shoes (because my old black work shoes were falling apart), and noticed the poinsettias. Or it could be that I went looking for them. Meijer has a pitiful plant section, of course, but it made me happy anyway–though I finally witnessed the curious horror of fake flowers glued on cacti. Poor things.

They were selling “Christmassy” arrangements, mostly with glitter sprinkled on them, plus a decent selection of poinsettias. After the cactus flowers I couldn’t be sure that the pink- and purple-shaded ones weren’t spray-painted, so I wasn’t tempted to get them…plus I’ve never had one before and am more or less convinced it would die. (Though this site is making me think otherwise…)

Then I saw “Winter Rose” poinsettias, miniature plants, bright red, very cheerful, very cheap. I was tempted. My hand moved to pick one up. I noticed the glitter on the leaves and my hand moved back. I wish Meijer (or wherever they got these plants) hadn’t felt it necessary to dress up the plants for the holidays. I want something fresh and real, not a spangly fake. But if I see those plants again I might buy one anyway and see if the glitter washes off.

The snow has completely put a stop to my thoughts of going out there and working on the new garden. It’s amazing. Before it was “I really need to spread some compost on the dirt so I’ll get a jump on next season.” Now it’s “Eh, it’s frozen anyway, I did it last spring, it’ll be fine, and anyway, it’s too cold to work in the yard, whatever.” Except it’s not so many words; it’s indifference, strong and pure. I suppose in the event that we got a couple of days of 50-degree weather my guilt would reawaken, but for now, it’s been put to bed like everything else in the green world, at least at my house.

We haven’t raked our leaves at all this fall. For the most part this is unnoticeable because the grass also hasn’t been mowed in too long, but the neighbors have this one gorgeous tree (copper beech?) that lost all its leaves in one night and thickly carpeted both our front lawns. It’s beautiful, but it does indicate that we’re not the most attentive homeowners.

However, I am no longer worried about it. This is partly because I consider it Eric’s job, since he’s the one in charge of the lawn, and he’s still busy with work and school. It’s also partly because we don’t seem to have a leaf rake. But mainly, Eric and I discussed it recently, on a walk around the neighborhood (our only exercise lately…I need to hook up my VCR so I can play the one exercise tape I have that I like), and he said, “It’s not like it’s going to hurt the lawn.” I said, “It isn’t? Won’t it kill the grass?”

“No.”

“Then why are we worried about it?”

“Because it looks bad?”

So who cares? It didn’t look bad, it looked beautiful…and now the snow has covered it and it no longer matters. I love snow. It’s beautiful, it’s nostalgic, and it makes me indifferent to yard chores.

I found these adorable, tiny bulb kits at Joann. A tiny pot–we’re talking two inches across, if that–a pellet of soil, and two bulbs–crocus, anemone, or grape hyacinth. $1.50. I got two for my mom and one for my gardening stepmother-in-law. I didn’t get one for me. Now I’m wondering why not. We’re saving up for a computer for Eric, it’s true…but $1.50! And there’s room even in my crowded plant window for a two-inch pot!

On the other hand, I’ve received a couple of other seed catalogs in the mail–this displeases me, actually, as they were both from places I haven’t ordered from, which means my name’s gone on a list and I am contributing to junk mail pileup (though we do recycle). One of these was Totally Tomatoes, and while I found the lack of breadth a little disappointing, the depth of material was impressive. The other was some flower catalog–Solomon’s?–and I flipped through it once, and found that even with my avid and sincere interest in trading for flower seeds to grow next year, I’m still not a flower gardener. I was indifferent to most of the offerings, and even the ones that interested me didn’t really say “Buy me!” They were more laid-back, kicking it with their flower bros, saying amongst themselves, “We’re pretty cool, maybe she should remember our names so she’ll know to pick us up if she comes across us later.” (Not that I do.)

So I can’t promise I won’t pick up a couple of tiny kits when I go back, but it won’t herald the beginning of an era as a flower gardener. I’m interested in learning about them, but they clearly don’t have the hold on me that, say, peppers do. Or tomatoes. Or corn. Or beans. Or…

Flowers and even fruit are only the beginning. In the seed lies the life and the future.

Marion Zimmer Bradley

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