25 March 2014

You Say Tomato, I say

Spring is a time of heady anticipation for many gardeners and I'm no exception. Being as I am now on the east coast where everyone is longing for warmer temperatures, spring bulbs to bloom, and the grass and trees to shake off the dreary dun of winter in favor of lush green mantles, there is still one event, more than any other, that I look forward to as the real herald of spring: Tomatomania!
"What's that?" is what most people ask and I have to pause. How does one describe 'the world's largest (and most fun) heirloom tomato seedling sale'? 'A traveling tomato seedling circus' is one way. The New York Times called it 'the tomato freaks' Woodstock'. A friend of mine said it was like being an alcoholic let loose in a liquor store, only this addiction is good for you. All correct. It's the only traveling plant sale I know of that specializes in one type of plant but within that one genus offers over 300 new, heirloom, and hard-to-find varieties. Many people come looking for one or two and leave with a full tray. With sizes ranging from tiny pea-sized currant tomatoes to huge 4-pound giants, tastes from sweet to salty, a whole rainbow of colors, and names from Azoychka to Zapotek, it can be somewhat overwhelming. But it's also a whole lot of fun!
Professional, amateur, or shy yet eager first time grower, it matters not. Tomatomania! not only attracts a unique class of growers, it's staffed by a passionate and knowledgeable team who come together every spring to share this passion with you. While their day jobs range from professional landscape designer or horticulturist to graphic artist and interior designer, we all have one thing in common: we love growing tomatoes and we want you to love it, too!
Some of the 300+ varieties to choose from at Tomatomania's Encino sale

What started as a weekend event in a trendsetting Pasadena nursery called Hortus (people still mourn its loss over 10 years later), has become one of the most anticipated rites of spring up and down the state of California. It's even crossed the Mississippi and now appears at nurseries and garden centers on the east coast. Owner/producer Scott Daigre and his team oversee the entire production from selecting and buying seed, growing it, to organizing, designing the coveted annual t-shirt, and generally ensuring that your tomato season is the bountiful success it should be. The array of colorful tomato cages, t-shirts, signs, and umbrellas gives the event a decided party atmosphere and as if one party wasn't enough (well, actually, over a dozen parties now), there's a tasting held at the end of summer so you can share your success, try new varieties, and start planning what to grow next year!

I've been a proud part of this wonderful tomato circus for 12 years now and when a customer asked why on earth I would take vacation time from my job to work at a plant sale the answer was easy and immediate: it's a labor of love (that and I'm running away from the east coast winter). For me it's not just about selling plants, it's about the people. There are few places in this world where you will meet a more generous and enthusiastic bunch of experts who give such good hugs and who care so much about every customer's gardening success. I've seen it time and again: a fellow Tomatomaniac (for that is what we proudly call ourselves) patiently walking around the entire sales floor with a gardener, explaining the personality of every variety inquired about, recommending alternatives or new ones to try, explaining the virtues of good compost and organic fertilizer, admonishing gently not to water the things so darn much or the flavor will be lost, and for the sake of all that is good and holy in the garden put away the MiracleGro! The level of service you get at Tomatomania! is unmatched, in my opinion.

Veteran Tomatomaniac, Steve Gerischer, helps a customer with her selection.
Just in case you wanted all that good advice wrapped up in one place ready to put in your pocket, Tomatomania! offers classes and workshops so you know just what to plant and how to plant it. There's also a book and an iPhone app so you really can take the mania with you wherever you go!

The three-day flagship event at Tapia Bros. farm stand in Encino is exciting and exhausting but I'm already looking forward to next year. If you missed it, don't fret; there are several more events left this season. Just go to Tomatomania's website for information on the next one and head on over to see what the mania is all about. Trust me, you'll be glad you did!

Scott Daigre and his team of dedicated 'Maniacs at the Encino event

I am Fitz, and I approve this Mania.


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