World Events Make Garden Trends. Follow The Tomato to Understand

GWA 020c

This essay is in response to a Garden Rant blog post by my friend Susan L. Morrison. Great post Susan…let the discussion continue….

World events make garden trends.  Follow the tomato to understand.

My dad’s dad grew tomatoes because his dad did so in the “Old Country.”

My dad planted them, as a child during the depression, because he had to.  As an adult, he grew them because they were symbolic of never going hungry.  It gave him comfort to know if all else failed; he would have a tomato to eat.

I (the last of the baby boomers) grew them because I wanted to be with my dad.  My dad was in the garden, so I was in the garden. My brothers, no; they were nowhere near my dad or dirt.

It was a new era.  We were rich (in that my dad had work, mom stayed at home to raise the family; we had no debt, owned our own home and we were loved.)  My youth was between wars; neither war precipitated the need to grow a tomato.

I never grew tomatoes…well; maybe I stuck one in the ground now and again.  But it wasn’t for any altruistic reason.  It was a tomato.  It had no meaning for me.  I was enjoying the peace and love stuff more than growing tomatoes.

I didn’t get the tomato thing.  I got that my dad never forgot the depression.   I wanted to grow pretty flowers.  I didn’t feel the pangs of hunger that motivated him.  That was his thing, give me ornamentals; give me peace and love.  Peace and love are priceless.  I can buy a tomato.

As my generation basked in the glory of the profits following the depression era, a new era was built on steady work and the power of compound interest, we didn’t want to GROW our own tomatoes…we wanted to BUY them, because we could.  We wanted to have pretty, manicured gardens around us.  Tomatoes were bought just like a new sofa was bought.  We wouldn’t think of making our own sofa, would we?

Now my kids look around and see flowers, pretty flowers, everywhere.  As they became informed, they noticed I had no tomatoes, they wonder and asked why.   I explained, that my generation (sorry, don’t mean to be speaking for everyone) didn’t want to grow food.  We wanted to grow beauty…our symbol of comfort.

Because of my kids,  I tore up a patch of the front lawn and planted a veggie garden  we now tend together.  We grow tomatoes.  As I harvest a fresh tomato, I think of my dad and his dad.  I am hopeful my kids will never “need” to grow a tomato, but if they had to, they could.

My kids find their version of peace and love in the earth as a functional entity.  Give to the earth and the earth will give back.  Yep, if they want some information, they bypass by shelves of books and stacks of magazines for Google or Bing or RedZ. I do too.

I find comfort in holding a book or a magazine.  But, I can’t and wouldn’t dictate that they hold the same value I do for the printed word.  But maybe they will because that is where mom is and they want to be with mom.

As writer I wonder how to better communicate.  I wonder how to best reach the new readers.  I earn my living writing for magazines, blogs and I’m beginning my first book.   I have to keep the future on my radar screen.  I’m not alone.   This wonder is being widely discussed.  The what ifs abound.   When I’m asked my opinion, I give my pat response for any query about the future and how I feel about it.  My answer is this –  I have no answer.  The issues of the future haven’t been invented yet.  In the meantime, I will evolve with the new generation and not hold onto my version of peace and love, but be ready to welcome theirs.

Vivre la différence

Helen Yoest is a garden writer and coach through her business Gardening With Confidence Follow Helen on Twitter @HelenYoest and her Facebook page, the Gardening With Confidence fan page. Helen also serves on the board of advisors for the JC Raulston Arboretum.



  1. Helen–that was beautiful! As beautiful an explanation for what you do and others do as I’ve read! Thanks for joining the debate!

  2. Carri said

    Very beautiful Helen. I love that your own children inspired you to garden differently. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder- and a gorgeous bright red tomato is just as pretty to me as any flower. As much as I love to grow fruits and vegetables, my three year old daughter told me to plant more flowers- so will the cycle begin again?! Thankfully she too appreciates the value of a beautiful homegrown tomato, and I appreciate that she reminds me to plant flowers occasionally.

  3. Yes, Carri, I believe the cycle began again. And that’s good. Let’s let our children inspire us. H.

  4. Thanks Katie. Your youth and post inspire me. H.

  5. Helen-I like pretty flowers out of my window, too, though! Sometimes I feel like a “boomer gardener” in a gen Y body! I’m letting the farmers locally grow my tomatoes next year! Thankfully we have a good farmer’s market. And thank you!

  6. That’s a good point Katie, I wanted to also address, but failed to. I love going to the farmer’s market and taking the kids. I want them to know where food comes from. So even though I wasn’t doing it at home, I did see the value of them meeting with the farmers and not thinking produce just came from the store. Sorta like money, they think I can swipe a credit card indiffently.


    P.S. I always thought you were wise beyond your years, Katie!

  7. Helen, what a great post. It’s interesting to see the range of opinions and emotions this whole Gen Y Gardening discussion is driving. My interest in the GWA talk and some of the follow up discussion has been primarily about my business. I make my living in the green industry and want to stay relevant, but it’s obvious this has been a more personal experience for others as your lovely story illustrates.

    Katie, I laughed when I read your comment. In the GardenRant comments section, Plantanista said she felt like a GenYer in a Boomer’s body!

  8. Carole said

    Helen: thank you so much for sharing such wonderful memories. I garden to create habitats for wildlife and get my produce from my local CSA. But I love tomatoes. There is simply no greater joy than standing in my garden and eating tomatoes right off the vine. So among my native wildflowers for pollinators and butterflies, native sunflowers for goldfinches, and berrying shrubs for migrating birds, I plant tomatoes. There’s yellow tomatoes, and slicing tomatoes, orange tomatoes and sauce tomatoes. And the woodpeckers like to drink from the tomatoes, so I guess I’ll share…..

  9. Thank you Carole, as you know from the many tweets we share on Twitter, I too garden for wildlife. I didn’t give myself enough credit in the post…but that wasn’t the point. By an untrained eye, it would be missed that my garden was built for no other purpose than to benefit the wildlife – a safe haven for the wildlife and my children…it just happens to be pretty too.

    I am glad we share tweets on Twitter. I look forward to many more. H.

    P.S. Next year, I shall branch out in my tomato varieties. Any particular varieties you recommend?

  10. Helen my friend–we think similarly yet say it differently. Thanks for your eloquence.

  11. Plantanista (Maureen D) said

    LOL, Katie, do you want to switch-up sometime? How I long to be able to do what I could do in my garden thirty years ago, but I suppose I enjoy knowing that all these sunspots and wrinkles are hard-earned!

    Helen, this is a lovely post.

  12. Carole said

    Helen, I agree about pretty! I never can understand why so many people believe that native plants and wildlife gardens must be ugly by definition. We’ll just have to keep posting pictures of gorgeous gardens that were designed for wildlife. I’d love to see more of yours!

  13. So true – my depression-era grandparents always had a garden; my parents did too when I was a small child and they were just starting their careers but stopped as they moved into the yuppiedom of the 80s. But that childhood garden got me hooked. I bought my house primarily for the vegetable garden space! Favorite tomatoes this year: Japanese Black Trifele, Sun Gold, & Pineapple.

  14. Kelly Senser said

    Wonderful read, Helen. Left me smiling–and thoughtful. Thanks, my friend.

  15. Beautiful post – I love a story with history. I think history is what makes a garden so special – whether it’s a new garden planted w/meaningful plants from one’s past or from old, established gardens. My own garden is deeply meaningful, and is mostly planted for my benefit only. Not strictly for wildlife, not strictly native, not strictly vegetables, but a crazy mixture of everything for my own pleasure. Sometimes the feeling that overtakes me when I see a certain leaf or flower or combination is nothing short of elation, and that’s why I garden. All gardens are wonderful – and no one should ever condemn one over another. Just like all people are different, so are their gardens. Thanks for sharing yours.

  16. Susan M and Miss R great posts to you both…glad I jumped in. I regretted to miss the Gen Y presentation at GWA…I had to head over to the JC Raulston Arboretum to help before the tour and dinner. I heard he was awesome and glad to see him on Twitter. By all accounts, he is a bit young for that SM.


  17. I totally agree Rebecca! Thanks you. H.

  18. Thank you Kelly, glad you stopped by. H.

  19. Thanks Elizabeth…I am adding your tomato choices to my EVER growing list. H.

  20. Kerry said

    Helen – What an amazingly wonderful post. It is sweet and smart – a great combination. I love your line, “Peace and love are priceless. I can buy a tomato.” I have been cracking up about that all day. You have made me think hard and that is a wonderful gift. Thanks.

  21. kk said

    Hi Helen,
    I like to grow vegetables for the body, and flowers for the soul. kk

  22. amy said

    That was a beatuifully painted picture. Thank you for shedding a positive light on Generations and Gardening.

  23. I like your philosophy kk. H.

  24. Thank you Amy!

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