Tomato Plants Offer Cheap Therapy

Those of us in the northeastern reaches of North America are something like just past the halfway mark to spring. The days are getting longer, and even though I am thoroughly discouraged by endless applications of boots and layers of heavy clothing, there is some hope. Spring is within a reasonably foreseeable future. There are times when it feels like I can almost touch it and smell it, and yesterday afternoon I realized that I can! It’s growing just behind my desk.

On Twitter, I mentioned the tomato plant I am growing in my office. I don’t know which variety it is as it came up as a volunteer in one of the houseplant pots that I must have put out on the roof last summer. It’s got to be one of the determinate varieties that I grew, but who’s to know? It’s a mystery. When it was sturdy enough, I carefully pulled the little seedling out of the soil it was sharing with an epiphytic cactus, no less, and gave it a new pot with more appropriate soil.

As of now, in the dead of winter, the variety isn’t important or worth speculating about. What matters is the smell, that beautiful, invigorating, strong tomato smell. It is probably the smell I miss most through the winter months.

I try to spend a few minutes with my plants each day, not just for their sake, but for my own. I keep many of the most aromatic and softly textured plants in my office where I have easy access to touching and smelling them. They keep me going.

I’ve always considered tomato a productive, workhorse plant that is grown with the expressed intention of producing an edible crop. But yesterday I realized that their usefulness goes above and beyond the food we put into our mouths.

When I mentioned my plant on Twitter, a few people chimed in immediately about the smell and how much they missed it. It’s still a bit early to start tomatoes in my area, and yet I’ve been enjoying mine for over a month already. It got me thinking that there is no reason why we can’t or shouldn’t grow a tomato plant indoors, in the off-season, for no other reason than our own pleasure. Even if we can’t provide it with a strong enough light that can take it all the way through to spring and a life outdoors where it will produce tomatoes… so what. Isn’t it worth growing for the smell alone?

That’s cheap therapy.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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23 thoughts on “Tomato Plants Offer Cheap Therapy

  1. Did you write this before your morning coffee? ;-) It’s quite wonderful. Thank you, reading it was a great way to begin my day.

    And what a brilliant idea! As soon as I set up a grow light system (never done this before so any tips greatly appreciated) I will sow some tomato seeds.

  2. Love this post! Still need photos of the ginger though ;)

    ‘Red Robin’ is a nice tomato to grow during the winter, it’s such a tiny plant and can easily reach maturity and produce fruit in a 6″ pot. It also doesn’t require as much light as others and I’ve had it flower and mature fruit under florescent grow lights. Not as tasty as sun-ripened, but fun for winter growing.

    … is it spring yet??

  3. Definitely worth growing for the smell alone! If I had had my act together I would have started seeds a few months back just to have that lovely smell to accompany me in my office. With my seed starting season pretty much underway now, I’m definitely looking forward to the smell I’ll have in a few weeks time.

  4. Now I wish I had a pretty plant to accent my completely light-less office! I love stroking the soft “down” of a baby tomato. It definitely qualifies as therapy.

  5. The one benefit of living in the Southern US is the longer growing season. Peas can go in the ground in February and people already have things under the grow lights.

    My cats eat everything in sight, so I cannot have houseplants. I’ve tried giving them their own plants to munch on, but they still destroy everything else.

    Maybe I should take up collecting cacti.

  6. Indeed. The time I spent with my tomato plants last summer, exploring every bloom and smelling the leaves made me feel like a bit of a weirdo–but happy! Thanks for this post, so I know I’m not alone. Now, off to plant some tomatoes!

  7. I had the same thing happen: A tomato plant randomly sprouted in a plant we had in the kitchen. A seed must have fallen in when I was cooking. I raised the plant for a while and the smell made me so happy.

  8. Oh! Great idea! I live in Cali, and tried to see if any of my summer plants would continue into the winter, but nay. I will be starting some tomatoes indoors in February, and I’m eager to smell that tomato-plant smell again soon. I just love spring, and am excited to start gardening again. :)

  9. What a lovely suggestion. My Meyer lemon has been blooming its head off indoors throughout the winter, but the scent is so small and sad compared to how brilliant it was outdoors during the summer, with heat and light to stoke its fragrance… But the rosemary on my desk never disappoints when I crush a leaf. So maybe more good-smelling green things inside next winter…

  10. I gave my “volunteer” to my mother to keep in a sunny window, a slew self seeded in the Indian summer only to be zapped by the frost, this was the only survivor, heady fragrance for the winter

  11. Seeing the headline “Tomato Plants Offer Cheap Therapy” I was convinced you had somehow read my diary.

    As a girl with too many hats on (juggling graduate school, work, racial justice organizations and human rights) in a Southwest desert I have long joked with my friends that I need a full time therapist…or I need to grow another tomato plant.

    Last summer as the border exploded with hate filled rhetoric and protests I had no less than 40 tomato plants (not to mention some very happy sunflowers, peppers, eggplant, beans, and enough zucchini for a small country) growing in conditions that seem impossible for anything to thrive. There’s nothing like gardening in the morning, and by 10am it is already 108 degrees outside.

    In a place with so much racism and hatred – nothing makes me happier than spending a few hours in my garden. Which, as an apartment dweller…my garden is actually 1/3 of a friend’s backyard that he willing donates land and water…and a band of our friends or neighbors take time to join us in a haphazard community.

    I am excited for this new tomato season…right now 15 varieties of tomatoes are setting their 3rd and 4th sets of true leaves in my apartment nursery (tomato planting season in the desert could start as early as 2/15 and it looks like it will be a warm spring). Last year I bought many of my tomato transplants from a local organic grower, and was devastated when I lost many tomatoes to the heat. I did some research, I was growing heirloom tomatoes from Siberia. (doh!) So this year we’re taking a different approach, and I’m hoping to see an even better crop with heirlooms from Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon and Mexico.

  12. I love your tomato plant story. It’s the little things in life, right? I brought a large pot of rosemary in from last season’s garden and have managed to keep it alive and thriving all winter. I use it constantly in cooking of course, but every time I bush against it and smell that wonderful rosemary fragrance I’m reminded of my garden. Can’t wait for spring in the mid-Atlantic!

  13. At Gardener’s Supply, we have a lab downstairs in a windowless office where our light gardens are tested. Under the lights, there is usually a crop of sturdy tomato seedlings. And on bitterly cold days, I go down there and rustle the foliage. Ah.

  14. Melissa: Beautiful story. Gardening’s therapeutic value is never-ending.

    And yes about where the variety comes from! I grow lots of Russian varieties so I can get early and late harvests in my climate. I grow Mexican too but am sure to start them early. ‘Zapotec Pink Pleated’ is a perennial favourite.

  15. The small things make us so happy. That’s is exactly why I planted seeds yesterday. I need some freshness in this place!

  16. I love this! I thought I was the only one who noticed the amazing smell of tomato plant leaves! What a great reason to start tomato seeds, even if too early…

  17. I agree completely! I just started my first indoor garden at the end of December and the plants have really helped me through the winter blues! =-)

  18. I am new to your blog, but what a great introduction. I’ve been thinking of starting a few plants as part of an indoor garden – we have long winters in Colorado too – and this post just gave me the push I need to make it a reality. Thanks for a great post, I look forward to reading more!!

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