23 Aug 2014
71° Mostly Cloudy

Green Thumbs Flock to Wellesley's First 'Tomatomania'

Wellesley bustled yesterday, both downtown and at Elm Bank.

There were actually two parades in Wellesley yesterday: A parade of war veterans downtown – the more well known of the two – and a parade of plant enthusiasts at .

The hosted Tomatomiana, a national tomato expo, alongside the Society Row Plant Sale, which featured a multitude of unusual plants.

Scores of people walked away from the park with arms so filled with new plants their faces were covered by tall green stalks. Joan Parker of Medford walked to the parking area with a radio flyer wagonload. She was especially happy about the lemon balm plant, which, to the unwitting nose, smells exactly like a lemon.

“Isn’t that nice?” she said offering a whiff.

At the vendor booths, Ann Oulton, of the Hobby Greenhouse and Indoor Gardeners of Massachusetts, stood at a table of mostly tomato plants, some rhubarb, and a bulbous, unfamiliar specialty called the pregnant onion (Editor’s note: This is the answer to column question).

It’s an “unusual plant nobody ever heard of,” Oulton said.

The pregnant onion, which is inedible and not actually related to the onion in any way, is named for the way it reproduces. The plant grows “babies” on one of its sides – small buds that, if planted, grow into adult plants. When the pregnant onion’s bulb reaches a certain size, the vibrant, green outer layer turns brown and papery and eventually peels off yielding a new batch of babies.

“It’s strictly a different thing altogether,” Oulton said.

A short walk from the Society Row sale was Tomatomania, a touring tomato festival carrying over 75 varieties of tomato plants.

Tomatomania’s creator, Scott Daigre, who owns Powerplant Garden Design based in Ojai, California, was on hand imparting green-thumbed wisdom to about 30 tomato enthusiasts under a small tent.

He urged that putting water on a yellowing tomato plant isn’t always the answer. 

“What’s the first thing you do? Grab the hose,” he said, which drew laughs from the crowd. “It’s true, it’s human nature we want to fix it, fix it, fix it…But that’s what’s happens. You’ve got to let it go.”

He went on to say it’s more about the fruit, not the plant.

“If you hold back on the water, all the sugars and the acids in that tomato will be balanced to the point that it’s really, really appetizing. That’s what we want,” he said. “That’s your goal, don’t screw it up!”

Lorraine Calder, president of White Flower Farm of Litchfield, Conn., has brought Tomatomania to her farm for six years. Calder and Katherine Macdonald, executive director of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, partnered up this year to bring Tomatomania to Massachusetts for the first time while coordinating it with the 27th annual Society Row Plant Sale.

Macdonald said despite the cloudy, cool weather, the event was well attended.

“It’s been steady all day long,” she said. “It’s been great.”

Though it wasn’t the easiest to get to yesterday – Washington Street was closed for most of the afternoon to make way for the Veterans’ Parade – plant people found the grounds, and made off with enough materials to add to their gardens.

Joan Parker, admiring her wagon filled with bleeding hearts, other shade plants, and her lone lemon balm, said she returns to Society Row every year, even despite inclement weather and occasional detours.

“It’s worth the trip,” she said. 

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