March 6th, 2007
Hanna’s Tomato Patch

Zanthan Gardens Winter Vegetable Garden
2007-03-07. In a couple of weeks when the trees leaf out my sunny vegetable garden will mostly be in the shade.

After I bought my eggplant and two tomato plants, I faced the Gardener’s Dilemma. Where would I plant them? Not in the vegetable garden. I don’t think that a tomato has produced anything in the vegetable garden this millenium.

I put the vegetable garden on the south side of the house where the grass died because of a slope. When a friend of mine was building a house in Steiner Ranch, I carted several RX-7 car-loads of limestone blocks and built a small wall to form a terrace. Then I hauled in horse manure from another friend’s horse ranch near Hamilton Pool. AJM put in a timed drip irrigation system for me.

In the intervening years, trees have grown. A pecan and red oak have shot up on either side of the vegetable garden. In the summer, any spot gets only 3 hours of sunlight if I’m lucky. Not enough for summer veggies. This year I stopped fighting the obvious and renamed it the winter vegetable garden.

Walking around the yard with plants in hand, I noticed a spot where the grass has died. It’s been a problem spot for years because it gets full sun. All summer. The grass there always dies and only comes back if we have a rainy year (which we haven’t since 2003). Wait! Full sun. Just what I’m looking for. The factor that might give more design-oriented gardeners pause is that this spot is in the front lawn, directly in front of my front door. Gracious! In some communities, you are prohibited from growing vegetables in the front yard.

Zanthan Gardens tomato patch
2007-03-07. On paper, the front lawn doesn’t seem like the ideal spot for tomato plants. Maybe aesthetically, too. But practically, it’s the perfect spot. By the way, the funny wooden edges are the armrests of a futon couch which we dismantled 15 years ago. I’m all about recycling.

In his essay “The Simple Secret”, Henry Mitchell wrote:

…if the small city plot (which could be rather beautiful) is occupied by a fanatical gardener…the garden may be interesting–it may even be amazing–but it is not likely to be beautiful.

This may be the place to say that there are higher beauties than mere beauty. The gardener’s passion, clearly, is of a higher priority than the simple manufacture of a beautiful garden, which even any architect can make.

Of course some fanatical gardeners have beautiful gardens, of my acquaintance garden designer. Pam/Digging and Tom Spencer come to mind. But I am clearly of the breed for whom passion takes precedence. And this year, inspired greatly by Hanna’s Tomato Tastings 2006, my passion has turned again to tomatoes. I will have them! And if they won’t succeed in the vegetable garden, I’ll try them in the lawn.

Although I’m under no convenants against front yard tomatoes, I can’t help but think about Hanna’s problems in Cleveland. So in the spirit of defiance and solidarity, I planted my tomatoes in front of my front door and named the 3×7 foot patch “Hanna’s Tomato Patch”.

Zanthan Gardens tomato patch
2007-03-07. PS. If you are wondering why there is nothing planted in my planter it is because the roots of bushes planted by the previous owner broke through the masonry resulting in over $1000 of repairs. I haven’t decided what to do with it yet.

by M Sinclair Stevens

13 Responses to post “Hanna’s Tomato Patch”

  1. From Annie in Austin:

    “Walking around the garden with plants in hand”… so many hours of my life have been spent that way.

    Congratulations on the grass disappearing and may you have so many tomatoes that you don’t know what to do with them. I think Hanna should be flattered!


    I hope Hanna is flattered…I love her blog and her 2006 tomato reviews were more interesting than the taste trials in “Cooks Illustrated”. They really made me want to taste a fresh heirloom tomato again. — mss

  2. From Pam/Digging (Austin):

    I don’t know how fanatical I am (I have bursts of energy between long stretches of laziness), but thanks for the compliment.

    Your tomato garden location makes perfect sense to me. You’ll have to watch the mailman and delivery people though–they may get hungry walking to your front door.

    I meant fanatical in the same sense that Henry Mitchell used it–anyone to whom gardening is something more than mere yard work. I think that that includes anyone who blogs about gardening. — mss

  3. From Carol (Indiana):

    Do I recall that last fall you also planted some late tomatoes, hoping to get a 2nd harvest before frost. I admire you for planting where you have the sun, even if it is in the front. Though we have no covenants that say one can’t plant vegetables in the front yard, I’m sure if I did, some of my neighbors would be “tsk, tsk, tsking” and burning up the phone lines call each other and the home owners association board to discuss what to do.

    I live in a very, individualistic neighborhood. Only building a McMansion causes tsk, tsking.

    I did have a fall tomato and I got it through several freezes and was harvesting cherry tomatoes right into that last coldest day when temperatures got down to 25 a couple of weeks ago. I cut it back to about 8 inches (no leaves) and now new growth is sprouting. I’m going to leave it in and see what happens but I bet it will be in too much shade soon. It’s where my Brugmansia used to be and it never bloomed until late fall when the trees lost their leaves. — mss

  4. From M2 (Austin):

    It occurs to me … I don’t even know what growing zone I’m in any more. Weird. I can grow raspberries, though. Strawberries, perhaps. I have no idea about tomatoes.

    Must buy books.

    Or use Stuart Robinson’s Garden Blog Directory to Find a Garden Blog Near You. I see that Molly of Life on Tiger Mountain gardens and blogs in Seattle. And she lists three other garden bloggers nearby. By the way, could you come back…I need to borrow your pick-up. — mss

  5. From KAT (California):

    This is an Armenian neighborhood, which means the old folks walk in the middle of the street rather than the sidewalk (haven’t figured out why–maybe because there are always spiderwebs hanging into the sidewalks?)–but more important, the front yards are all about vegetable gardens and citrus trees. Many cucumber plants and lots and lots of tomatoes. You’d fit right in on our block!

    Sounds more sensible than spending valuable water resources on a lawn. (Not that my bare and weedy patch of grass can really be considered a lawn.) If we are at war and energy sources are endangered, where is the call for Victory Gardens? — mss

  6. From mtp:

    Hello! I’m coming from the UK to visit Austin this week for SXSW. I’m an avid vegetable gardener and wondered if you have any good ideas for places for me to visit while I’m in Austin – great shops, parks, gardens etc?

    Any ideas welcome.

    Welcome to Austin! My husband is British and we visit some lovely English gardens every other summer when we go see his family. Austin doesn’t have anything like that–our Botanical Gardens in Zilker Park (near downtown) are in sad disrepair due to bureacratic politics. However, the Hartman Prehistoric Garden at Zilker Park is worth a visit. I’m sure you will enjoy walking around Town Lake on the hike and bike trail in our beautiful March weather (sunny and about 22C).

    As for garden shops, probably the most spectacular one near downtown is The Great Outdoors. It’s on South Congress about three miles from downtown near St. Edward’s University. It has magnificent old live oaks, interesting water features, and a restaurant/coffee shop to enjoy it in.

    If you have a car, you should drive to southwest Austin and visit The Natural Gardener. They have lovely show gardens with native plants which will give you a real feel for gardening in Austin. Also southwest of town is the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

    Enjoy your visit! — mss

  7. From Annie in Austin:

    M, hope you don’t mind me adding another possibility for My Tiny Plot. Maybe a vegetable gardener would like to see Boggy Creek Farm, the well-known organic garden? They’re only open on to the public on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, though.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    The more suggestions the merrier. I forgot to add the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and the Elizabet Ney Museum — mss

  8. From Kathy (New York):

    I realize space is at a premium around those tomatoes, but if you could plant a flower that is good for them (short marigolds, perhaps?) it would make them a bit more decorative. Rosalind Creasy has written at least one book, and probably more, on making edible gardens look decorative enough for the front yard.

    Oh, yes! My thoughts exactly. I might try a little edge of lettuce–I still have lots of seeds leftover–although it might soon be too warm for lettuce. And I’m still trying to find homes for all my California poppy seedlings. — mss

  9. From r sorrell (Austin):

    I think I’m going to try tomatoes in pots this year. I put asparagus roots in the old veggie bed, and I don’t plan on messing with that particular spot for a while. I figure that tomatoes will get watered more often if I put them on my front patio, where I see them every day. I’m sure the neigbors will appreciate that ALMOST as much as my overgrown lawn and barking dogs.

    One of the joys of this spot is that I can see it as I sit at my writing desk (as opposed to this computer desk) and look out the front window. I have always wanted to plant an allee along the walk and this little plot is the first step in preparing the soil and getting an idea of how the strip will look without lawn. — mss

  10. From Amy T.:

    Finding just the right spot can be tricky. At my old house, it was too shady for bell peppers and they got fungus easily. In my current house, they get full sun all day long, and end up with sun scald.

    May your tomatoes be a blessing to many!

    Thanks. — mss

  11. From Angelina (Oregon):

    It’s so weird, I could have sworn that I left a comment for this post. I must have written it and then not posted it.

    Anyway, I love all kinds of gardens but my favorite to see on walks in neighborhoods is a front yard vegetable garden. I guess in a way it’s like discovering an instant kinship with the person who planted it, even though I’ve never met them. There’s something so earthy and normal about growing food wherever it fits in your landscape and enjoying that aesthetic.

    Hmmm. I wonder what went wrong…I got your other comments on some previous posts. Thanks for trying again, though. — mss

  12. From mtp:

    Wow! Thanks for the suggestions guys. I’m loving it in Austin. I’ve already been to Magnolia for breakfast and had a good rummage around ‘Uncommon Objects’ – which is now my favourite shop!

    I’m planning to make a trip to The Great Outdoors and also if I have time some of the gardens you mentioned.

    I also want to experience ‘Whole Foods’ as that’s something we don’t have (yet) in the UK. Thanks again for all the suggestions and happy gardening!

  13. From Hanna:

    Well. I am just touched. I missed this post, but that is so nice of you. *hugs*.

    Your tomato reviews are an inspiration. And your YouTube gardening posts fantastic. — mss