Tuesday 20 August 2019

Country Matters: Window-box tomato treats


Joe Kennedy

There is a photograph somewhere of my elder daughter as a small child carefully examining a ripening tomato on a plant at the side of her grandmother's house which looked down on rocks at a seaside place.

This was her special garden space and, guided by her grandmother, the child watered the plant each day from a lilliputian can complete with spraying nozzle. I was the photographer. This was many years ago and much later my daughter became a photographer and worked for newspapers but I cannot say if she ever photographed tomatoes!

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A Vogue photographer named Lee Miller, famous in the high-fashion world of the 1930s (morphing into a brilliant war-zone recorder in WWII), was once involved in a famous incident with Pablo Picasso's tomatoes growing in a pot. She had been waiting in his Paris studio, soon after the Liberation in 1944, to photograph him and, becoming peckish (food was still scarce) her attention was arrested by a fruit-laden tomato plant among the studio's artistic pile. She plucked a scarlet globe for a delicious bite! Then she fancied another and was biting into a third when the artist appeared.

He was struck dumb, and his features went from ashen to match that of the tomatoes. He bunched his fists in fury - the fruit was a prop for work in progress - but being a cool American lady in war correspondent's uniform, Ms Miller charmed away unease and Picasso's anger faded. She got her picture.

Growing tomatoes in pots, in window boxes in kitchens and porches and on apartment balconies has long been popular, not necessarily for artistic inspiration but as delicious food which can be grown with little distraction wherever one might be living.

A man named John Seymour, a famous advocate of digging out house lawns and window-box gardening, promoted the use of every available space to grow herbs and vegetables as a writer and lecturer but especially is his The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency, first published in the 1970s as an essential for a generation of back-to-earthers.

Seymour began his Good Life in an old bus parked on an acre in Suffolk. He went on to Wales and a small farm and eventually arrived near New Ross in Co Wexford to grow food, tend to several animals, make his own beer and sing ballads of an evening after a lecture to a captive audience. He was an advertisement for a life of self-sufficiency, growing food, building ovens, talking and teaching and enjoying the fruits of his labour.

He was forthright about his philosophy: It was not going back to the past seeking some idealised lifestyle but rather going forward to a new life of fresh food, organically grown, for health of body and peace of mind with varied work in the open air.

He regarded decorative house lawns as a waste of space, urging that every inch should be productive, and extolled the pleasures of window-box gardening.

He lectured for a caring attitude towards land, mankind's only real and abiding asset, and landowners should "husband it wisely without huge applications of chemicals and fertilisers". Areas should remain also where wildlife could continue to flourish undisturbed: it was immoral to destroy forms of life except those directly of use to us. This would lead to our own destruction, he predicted - wisdom now being reiterated on an almost daily basis.

Sunday Independent

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