Secret Garden Remains No Mystery

One of the nicest things about gardening is watching your neighbor grow one.

So why grow vegetables when you can live off other people’s produce? Case in point.

Who doesn’t like a good tomato?
Who doesn’t like a good tomato?

The other day following a workout at the gym, a complete stranger next to me says, “Hey, Bud! Want some tomatoes?”

Some of the best and unsuspecting conversations with people occur inside a locker room while getting changed. I’ll have to admit. Most always, the talk centers around sports and politics or whatever it is that’s being aired from the TV above. But veggies? Tomatoes?

Was this guy putting me on?

“Do you have them with you?” I asked, thinking I might be confronting a shady dealer.

“I have them in a basket on the front desk for anyone willing to help themselves,” he replied. “Take all you want. And enjoy.”

Tell me, reader, is there anything better than fresh garden tomatoes and cukes in a salad with a little oil and oregano drizzled on top? Or a BLT with a swipe of mayo?

Even better when it comes from someone else’s garden and you don’t pay. Hey, I don’t mind helping out my local farmers—and I do. So what if it costs a little more than your chaotic super market. It’s one of those seasonal pleasures you deserve.

I wait all year for summer tomatoes and cukes. Winter tomatoes simply don’t hack it. I also enjoy native corn on the cob. My local farm stand invites you to husk the corn right there so he can feed the cows which supply our milk, cheese and beef.

I cannot plant a garden, even if I wanted to. It’s against condo rules. I did have a small vegetable garden back at my other home but nothing came up. All I got out of it was exercise and aggravation.

But somewhere along the line, I had “growing acquaintances.” People used to leave baskets of fruit and veggies by my door like some tooth fairy answering the call. I used to get more than I could handle and wound up passing the excess along to others.



They thought I was the one growing them when I was actually a benefactor of good growth. So I got to thinking. The best way to get real enjoyment out of a garden is to put on a brown straw hat, dress in overalls with shoulder straps, grab a trowel in one hand and a cold brewski in the other, and watch your neighbor dig.

Neighbors at my condo investigated other alternatives to growing their tomatoes. Although the ground was off limits, nothing prevents them from buying buckets of plants and placing them on their deck.

The guy next door does this. His deck is so overrun by plants, it looks like a rain forest. Good thing he’s got a flag by his grill or he’d never be able to find it.

What started out as a green tomato turned blood red over time. Plum tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes. Our intrepid bucketeer left no tomato behind. He’d share them with all the inhabitants in our friendly courtyard.

I’ve enjoyed my tomatoes in other ways, with grilled cheese, stewed, tucked between kebabs of beef and chicken, with tuna and egg salad or eaten whole with a pinch of salt.

A good, thick tomato soup is just what the palate ordered on a chilly day. Sprinkle some croutons on top for good measure.

My cousin, bless his soul, made his own tomato juice from gardens he grew. You’d go to his home and get a glass of fresh tomato juice with a lemon wedge.

My Bloody Mary drink cannot tolerate a substitute. It’s tomato juice with a pinch of hot sauce and nothing else.

Customers used to bring my dad tomatoes during his luncheonette days. Those garden tomatoes he received made the best sandwiches. Well, one day, I saw him whipping up a plate of scrambled eggs and tomatoes. Would you ever dream of such a concoction? I’ve tried it and like it.

I cannot appreciate the work that’s involved in maintaining a garden because it’s left to others. They’ve expounded upon the evils of predators and unsuitable weather conditions. They’ve moaned over marauders and lumbago. They’ve wailed about their medical issues with rheumatism and all.

A garden may be a thing of beauty, folks, but a job forever. And one gardener I know tends to his crops because his wife orders him. She’s a canner and uses her produce for spaghetti sauce.

All said and done, if you do not grow your own vegetables, it helps to praise the crop in your neighbor’s garden. Then be prepared for the giveaways.

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
Tom Vartabedian

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