Growing up in New Jersey, the self-proclaimed Garden State, it was hard to find anyone who did not have a garden. From Newark to Atlantic City, gardens of all sizes and shapes graced the landscape. Big gardens, small gardens, container gardens and even a roof top garden could be found without much of a search. My Dad had a larger sized one, growing zucchini, beans, Swiss chard, raspberries, corn and the pies de resistance, “Jersey” tomatoes. It actually is an unwritten rule in New Jersey; your garden must contain “Jersey” tomatoes. I’m not sure what happens if you don’t plant them. Perhaps a visit from one of the real life “Sopranos”. No one dares test it. We all just put them in, dutifully, as though the State’s legendary garden status depends on it. We water and weed, and by mid to late July, are knee deep in fresh produce.
We hit the jackpot when we moved into our house a few years ago and found out that our neighbors and now dear friends were not only animal lovers and fellow chicken enthusiasts, but gardeners extraordinaire. She maintains a magnificent flower garden, one that was part of the local “Garden Tour” a number of years back. He is the vegetable guy, the Joe Carcione of the neighborhood. Way back in February and March he begins his seed planting, sowing flats and flats of vegetables, herbs, flowers and yes, tomatoes. I am envious of his green thumb. Laying in wait in the backyard greenhouse, the little sprouts put in their time and respond to his loving care growing into the healthiest of starts, ready to hit the soil.
And then, you know what happens? My gardener neighbor does what all gardeners do, what they are bred to do in their gardener genes, he shares. Without even the slightest amount of begging on my part, he sets six packs of starts on the fence, sharing the hard work he has done over the months so that we can have a bountiful garden as well, tomato plants, peppers of every size and color, zinnias, marigolds and sunflowers for the taking. As the season wanes on, basketfuls of fresh zucchini, tomatoes or chard find their way on to summer meals on the deck, shared over a glass of wine and some great conversation. Fresh food, right from the source.