Sunday 19 November 2017

Celebrating the humble tomato

Michael and John Connolly
Michael and John Connolly

A GARDEN Centre in Rolestown is encouraging people to take a fresh look at the humble tomato and avoid the mass-produced supermarket version in favour of one of dozens of varieties you can grow yourself on an allotment or even your balcony.

In what we think is the only example in Ireland, The Rolestown Garden Centre is running a whole festival devoted to the juicy tomato for the second year in a row and showing its enthusiasm for the plant by calling it the Totally Terrific Tomato Festival.

John Connolly from the garden centre, spoke to the Fingal Independent about the initiative which he said was the brainchild of noted local organic food grower Nicky Kyle from the Naul.

John explained: 'Nicky Kyle was kind of the founder of it. She is an organic grower from the Naul and she's grown about 50 to 60 varieties of tomato and wanted to run a festival to spread the word about the diversity of tomato plants available.

'She came to us to see if we would hold it and we were delighted to say yes. September was a great time for us to have something to attract people into the garden centre.'

The first running of the festival was wildly successful and had more than 300 visitors pouring into the garden centre to learn more about the fruit that everyone thinks is a vegetable.

Last year, the star attraction was the rare 'black tomato' but this year, the garden centre has introduced a competitive element to the festival to encourage allotment holders and amateur growers of all kinds to have a go at producing a tomato themselves.

John said: 'One of our main focuses for this year is for the guys who grow some tomatoes along with the importance of preserving the valuable genetic heritage of all the old varieties.

'We would like to build on the tomato competitions with lots of different tomato categories from the largest tomato to the ugliest tomato. This year has been a much better year for growing tomatoes so we can't wait to see all the entries.

'These will be judged on the day by our friendly expert tomato lovers and we will have lots of prizes for each category. All entries welcome.'

The festival takes place on September 1 at the Rolestown Garden Centre from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and given that is not exactly peak season for tomato growing, anyone interested in buying a variety to try growing it themselves, can place an order and get their plant next year in time for the spring growing season.

As well as the wide range tomato varieties on display, there will be experts on hand to tell you everything you need to know about growing and enjoying the fruit.

John said: 'Nicky's philosophy is really organic. She hates the supermarket tomato.

'She wants to encourage people to look at other varieties and try growing them themselves.'

The Rolestown Garden Centre has been growing under the guidance of Michael Connolly for some 22 years ago. According to his son, John, Michael grew 'a hobby into a business' when he started growing and selling plants in the back garden of the family home.

Today the business employs four full-time staff and several more part-timers and with the recent good weather, business has been good, according to John.

The garden centre has developed an impressive reputation and is known far beyond the environs of rural Fingal where it sits. The quirky tomato festival has helped grow the centre's name and its reputation and looks like being a big red, juicy fix-date on the centre's calendar for many years to come.

Fingal Independent

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