One of the worst Mother’s Day gift ideas in the history of my life is the one of a dozen or so tomato plants.
At least Betty thinks so.
“Because I really want to plant your tomatoes on Mother’s Day?” said my loving bride of many years. “Are you seriously trying that one again?”
Sigh. It’s true. I’ve tried before. But only because after that big Sunday Mother’s Day brunch, moms are usually feeling sluggish.
After those terrible brunch crowds, the sweaty kids, the husband complaining he’s hungry, then the eggs and the ham and the mimosas and so on, who doesn’t feel sluggish?
After brunch, don’t mothers need to stretch, enjoy the fresh air and feel the sun?
“Not by planting your tomatoes,” she said. “And stop fishing for quotes. No further comment.”
After all these years, she knows the jargon. But I reminded her that I never fish for quotes.
I hunt for quotes.
So I went hunting for a Tomato Man who’d understand me, and found him in La Grange Park:
Bob Zeni, Tomato Man.
To be a true Tomato Man, you’ve got to be somewhat obsessed with growing the perfect tomato.
And Bob Zeni, a famous Tomato Man in the western suburbs, is obsessed. He’s known for astounding tomato varieties. Gardeners come from far and wide for a chance to purchase a Zeni tomato plant and put it in their backyard gardens.
Zeni hasn’t bought a tomato or a tomato plant in more than 20 years.
He doesn’t grow those hybrid tomatoes you find at a big-box hardware store, inconsistently watered by insolent clerks, plants that are leggy, suspect, with weak root systems.
Zeni grows tasty heirloom tomatoes, the kings of the tomato world, from seed, like his favorite, the delicious Green Zebras, as well as the Giant Oxheart, the classic Brandywine, Yellow Marble and on and on.
How many tomatoes have you grown this year?
“Oh, about 1,200,” Zeni said. “I’ve got 1,200 tomatoes, give or take. I started them in late January.”
Twelve hundred tomatoes?
“Not the same kind…