It was Father’s Day 2014, and in an odd twist of fate, I found myself spending the day with my father. To keep the whole family entertained, I organized a quick trip to the Chicago Botanical Garden to look at plants and such.
But this isn’t a story about my father; it’s about a tomato plant that spent a wild and turbulent summer with me on a rooftop in the city.
Much to my surprise, I didn’t just stare at plants from a reasonable distance at the botanical gardens. I actually got to bring one home with me! And for those of you who know me too well, NO, I did not secretly stash anything in my purse.
A couple of volunteers were handing out white cherry tomato plants in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden…FOR FREE!
Apparently, white cherry tomatoes are native to the western coast of South America and the Galapagos Islands. Whatever the heck they’re doing in the suburbs of Chicago is a mystery to me. Too bad I couldn’t have justified a quick trip to the Galapagos to reunite this poor, lost plant with its family.
It sucks to acquire a free tomato plant and have nowhere to put it. I once had access to the roof adjacent to my second floor apartment. But ever since my weird landlord showed up one day to change the locks and board up a door, my personal space is entirely, and sadly, confined to the indoors.
So I meandered up to the 6th floor rooftop of my boyfriend’s condo and found a quiet little corner to transform into a makeshift tomato garden. It became an official garden when I stuck a gnome-on-a-stick and a laminated talk bubble into the pot. I figured this tomato plant would have an awfully lot to say to random passersby.
I named her Piddilywinks and she began to grow tall, strong, and beautiful. Based on the little handout sheet I received with her, she promised to produce tomatoes by my birthday. Good timing, Piddilywinks!
I tried to take good care of her, being my first real garden plant at all. I even trekked to Home Depot to invest in some stakes and twisty ties to hold up her branches. Piddilywinks began to enjoy a wonderful existence up on that rooftop…until I was reminded of one of the main reasons I don’t have a real garden.
I like to travel. And plants don’t like owners who travel.
On July 27th, I set out on a three-week adventure along the West Coast. Sadly, Piddilywinks wouldn’t exactly fit in my carry-on bag.
When I returned from spelunking, hiking, and gnoming, I expected to find a dreadfully dead Piddilywinks waiting for me. But when I climbed the stairs to the 6th floor roof I found something entirely different…
MY PLANT WAS MISSING.
Totally gone. Without a trace. Pot, gnome, talk bubble, and all.
To me, this was worse than being dead. Where was my closure?!
Being the investigative sleuth he is, my boyfriend sent an email to his condo mailing list to get to the bottom of this. As it turns out, Piddilywinks was kidnapped.
I must admit, however, that she was kidnapped with good intentions. One dude in the building was concerned for her health and welfare and gave her to another dude in the building to take care. Why neither of these dudes bothered to respond to Piddilywinks talk bubble, I’ll never know.
After a semi-dramatic email exchange, Piddilywinks was eventually returned to her original position on the rooftop – and in great shape!
Dude #2 had clearly nursed her back to health, so I can’t really hold the kidnapping against him.
Piddilywinks had sprouted green tomatoes by mid-August. I was so anxious for them to turn white and taste like cherries. I was promised a white cherry tomato plant after all.
Much to my surprise, there was nothing white or cherry about Piddilywinks at all! Her tomatoes came in yellow!
As to provide further evidence of my neglectful plant parenting, I abandoned Piddilywinks once again in mid-August to join a spontaneous concert road trip to New York City.
But this time, I left her in the care of my boyfriend, who snapped this photo of the first yellow tomatoes.
Who needs a watering can when you have a large supply of brewery growlers on hand?
Piddilywinks continued to survive and thrive throughout September and even October. In the end, she supplied me with around 50 “white” (yellow) “cherry” tomatoes. Yes, I ate almost all of them myself. And they were delicious!
There is one crucial thing that I didn’t know until I sat down to write this blog. You’re not supposed to ‘fridge ’em! Apparently, cherry tomatoes lose their flavor and texture deteriorates under 54 degrees. So THAT’S why they always tasted better right after I plucked (i.e. harvested) and washed them!
But as some wise gardener probably said at one point, the lives of all good plants must eventually come to an end.
Piddilywinks final days were spent on the rooftop in early November, when the temperatures began dipping into the 30s. She showed strength and resilience until her final day, when I carried her down to the dumpster in semi-ceremonial fashion. Even when her leaves rotted and withered away, she still hung on to her last remaining unripe tomatoes – hoping the would feed me one day.
Someday I won’t travel as much. Someday I’ll have a full-fledged garden. Someday I’ll read about the plants I intend to grow. And someday I’ll head to my backyard stead of the market for my produce.
But this year, I had a rooftop tomato plant. Her name was Piddilywinks and I miss her already.
R.I.P. Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant: June 17, 2014 – November 15, 2014.