Not a moniker you would normally associate with tomatoes I’m sure, and when, aged 12, a retired sailor-turned-gardener described his much fussed-over tomato plants as bastards, I was both shocked and a little bit thrilled by the use of the word. I had no idea what he was talking about of course and wasn’t that interested in his plants: it was the use of the B word that so wrested my attention. A long time ago, the only B words you were likely to hear were Bum, often used by granny if she got in a tiz or children aged around 8-10; or Bloody, used by any male about any thing, and rarely the hard-core profanity, Bastard, which was used only when the situation demanded, by ex-sailors and old gardeners. (And may be wronged-wives as she cut the arms off her soon-to-be ex-husband’s shirts. But that I feel is another blog.) The chap in question who had so rudely abused his plants was an uncle, the Tomato Incident occurring two weeks after he’d been laid-up with a dodgy stomach bug. On returning to his allotment he found that his Solanum lycopersicum hadn’t so much made a bid for freedom, but had staged an out-right coup of every square centimetre of land around them, smothering and destroying everything in their path. As Uncle Tom (as we shall call him and you have to admit, is pretty appropriate) began hoiking the plants back up their canes, chopping and pruning and tying them tightly, he muttered and cursed, wondering why he bothered, look at the damage they’d done and vexatiously complaining that generally, tomatoes were bastards.
“Turns your fingers green for weeks,” he moaned. “Look!” he said, waving his large sausage-like fingers in front of my face. That image has stayed with me all these years. Whenever I see tinned tomatoes I can’t help but murmur Serves You Right.
Tomatoes Are Bastards
Thick green stem
lays across the ground,
pushing out bubonic lumps
of root protrusions
that greedily seek water.
Hidden between the lush green leaves
are the tiny yellow flowers
that will form fleshy plump tomatoes:
Eden’s alternative fruit.
Rambling outward, unstopped,
this brute of a plant keeps going
untamed and feral,
smothering all in its path,
until cut down by storm or frost,
and when tinged by nature turns black and rots.
But washed by rain, concealed
and protected in the soil
are the indestructible seeds
of next year’s bastard tomato plants
making the loam their home.