The Bright Side

Gardeners complain about the weather. There’s just no pleasing us. On a sunny, blue-sky day we’ll say, We need rain. When it rains we’ll say, The ground is too wet to work. This past winter gave us plenty to kvetch about, and much was valid. My hydrangeas died back to the ground (thankfully, though, shoots are coming up so I haven’t lost the plants.) The harsh winter caused a late spring. Trees are only now leafing out, well after they usually do. This has caused dire warnings for people affected by seasonal allergies. Usually, tree pollen comes first, and then comes the pollen from blooms. This year, it will be a perfect storm of both occurring together. Stock up on tissues now.

But, to be Pollyannaish* about it, there’s always an upside. That late spring has been a boon to one group of plants. Every springtime, I peer into a corner of my woodland, fingers crossed, hoping that the pink lady’s-slippers will reappear. These plants are finicky. They are almost impossible to cultivate as they require specific conditions of acidity, light, moisture and a fungus (!) in the soil, that is impossible to replicate in a greenhouse. (Please don’t purchase them at a garden center, as they were likely to have been dug up from the wild.) Although individual plants can live for upwards of twenty years, sometimes they don’t show themselves at all. Sometimes, they seemingly pick up their roots and traipse to some other corner of the forest.

This year all of the conditions were perfect, and because the trees have leafed out late, there’s a bright dappling of sunshine in the lady’s-slippers corner that seems to make them thrive. Instead of a half-dozen flowers, this year we counted over 25.

many slippers


It’s such a good year for pink lady’s-slippers that this one decided to move away from the crowd.



They’re pretty from a distance, and so interesting up close.



The flowers lure in bees for pollination, but there’s nothing there for them to eat. As they exit, they pick up pollen, which they bring to yet another lady’s-slipper, as the scent and form is impossible for a bee to resist.

close up


The lady’s-slippers in my front woodland will be gone by the end of the week. I’ll have to wait until next year to see them again.That is, if I’m lucky and the weather is just right.

Today, I have nothing to complain about. It rained overnight. My garden soil is just right. The sun is out. There’s a breeze to keep the mosquitos at bay. Yesterday, I stopped in at a local organic vegetable farm to purchase tomato plants. They’re going into my raised beds this morning. I have one of each of these varieties: Big Beef, Celebrity, Rutgers, Black Velvet, Plum Regal, Pineapple and Red Grape. Every one of these is new to me this year. Do you have experience with these tomatoes? Have a favorite that I missed? Every year I vow not to plant too many tomatoes, but I’ve room for one more. Which should it be? Let me know in the comments.



*For those of you unfamiliar with the term Pollyanna, she was a hero of children’s stories written in the late 1800s. Her optimistic worldview was, even back then, easy to parody. Being a Pollyanna means that you always (as the song from Spamalot goes) look on the bright side of life.


  1. Brandywine!!! They have the best flavor! Because of the screwy weather, I splurged and paid a $1 per plant for 18″ tall plants. Can-not-wait for tomato season!

    • Robin, that’s a bargain, up here you would pay $3.00, ok, $2.99!

      • $4 here for organic. I’ve grown Brandywine and for some reason, mine have no flavor. My Better Boys taste better!

        • I agree; we weren’t impressed with Brandywine, either. Here, we go for tomatoes developed in Canada and at Oregon State University for cold nights and short seasons.

          • Wouldn’t you love to know what the difference is that makes food flavorful for some but not others?

            My plant is Lemon Balm. Everyone I know that grows it, swears by it. And it tastes wonderful. This will be my third attempt at growing it. The first year there was no lemon flavor. NONE. Last year was so-so. Third time’s a charm, right? :)

  2. 21 years at my place and this is the first time my hydrangeas died back to the ground.

    • Some stalks are deadwood and some have a bit of life left. I started pruning, but I’ll wait one more week just in case a miracle happens.

      • I’ve had Hydrangeas look like they were all deadwood – only to spring back to life stronger than ever – Hi-yo, Silver! Away!

          • There’s always hope :) Yes, I was sure they had died so had pruned them to the ground meaning to dig out the roots. It may be the variety, or the fact the ground never freezes here (NZ north) but after that I’ve always waited until after spring to give them one more chance.

  3. Sounds like you have a very nice assortment…I have good luck with the Big Beef…I always try and grow at least one type of heirloom tomato because I like the colors!

  4. I nominate Mr Stripey — yellow/orange/red. Gorgeous on a plate with green zebra and other colors. Absolutely yummy — mild acid. Big quirky shapes. The best tomato ever. Verrill has ’em. Not organic. Sigh…

  5. How wonderful!!!!!!!! An interesting bit about them is that during the era of acid rain and the devastation it caused in the Appalachian chain and all along the east coast, these cyps thrived! Their need for acidity in the soil, made the acidity of the rain a blessing!!!!!

  6. on the tomatoes – i remember the rutgers variety from the 1940(!) victory garden that my dad and i grew in a back yard in elgin, illinois.
    first year that lot had ever had a garden and i still remember how tough it was to work. ground was clay and quack-grass roots and forget good black dirt – it was a funny, iron-y kind of red, but we grew enough veggies for us and the neighbors, too.
    i don’t have all my space filled, yet, so i’ll go get another rutgers and try it in wisconsin. last year i had about the best tomatoes i’ve ever found – they grew 4 to one stalk, about 1.5 – 2.0 dia. and were delicious. the variety? i never asked. got them at the farmers market from i don’t know who.
    oh well.

    • I’ve been told that it’s not just the tomato variety. Flavor has a lot to do with quantity of rain and watering, so, who knows why that tomato was so delicious?

  7. We have tomatoes, peppers, squash & green beans planted and coming on. The asparagus is going crazy now…it started and then we got a bit of a cold snap and it slowed way down. I’ll have to start cutting it every day now, the cooler weather has extended it’s season a bit I think.
    Love me some fresh garden goodies!!

    • My asparagus patch had a hard winter and not much harvest, so I’ve let it grow out and hope for more next year.

  8. For tomatoes, my mother and I really only like to grow cherry tomatoes, and that mostly for sauces.

  9. My chickens love Sun Golds but one of my favorite tomatoes is Pink Berkeley Tie-dye – It has wonderful flavor and is a color riot. I couldn’t find starter plants for it this year so am growing a Brandywine, three Celebrities, a Stupice (another cool summer fav), a red grape, and several plum tomatoes for canning. I’ve found that the best tasting tomatoes are dry farmed because it concentrates the flavor. The downside is that you get less tomatoes but the ones you get sure taste good. :-)

  10. I gave up on trying to grow tomatoes on my deck. North Carolina squirrels just adore them and can judge ripeness to the day before you plan to pick them. Then they’d sample them but didn’t usually try to make off with them. I kept the containers wrapped in bird netting but I’d only manage to harvest a couple. Most of my yard is shaded and the deck was the only option.
    But back in the day when I could garden, I often grew Big Mama for sauce which I put up in great quantity. We ate a lot of pizza and a half pint jar of sauce was the perfect amount for one pie.

  11. Sun Gold – the alpha and the omega of cherry tomatoes!

  12. Pineapple tomatoes are wonderful! Low acid, almost fruity taste! You will love them!

  13. Nice looking plants. I hope they give you a big harvest. The favorite here at our house is all tomatoes. Hubby loves them and eats them about everyday. The most versatile, and my favorite, is a bunch of cherry tomatoes. We eat them in salad, roasted in the oven, grilled with peppers and onions in a foil pan on the charcoal grill to top off steak, baked with basil, olive oil and mozzarella on bruschettia, and sometimes just walking by, wipe clean and pop in the mouth. The possibilities are endless. They make it in my omelets….etc. We have a rock garden and it is always one of the vegetables put in there. Such a pretty burst of red. We usually set them out in several locations on our property. My plants are just about ready to go in the ground. I start from seed, basil, cherry tomatoes and cayenne peppers every year. The new one this year is spearmint. I’m shooting for a mint julep. :O) Have a good one Little Pond.

    • Careful with where you put the spearmint. It will take over. I have mine outside the fence of the veg garden in the rock wall, and I let the goats keep it in check with grazing. Love goats with minty breath!

    • Jen do you like to use the cherry tomatoes to make a very nice sweet spagetti sauce too ?

      • Hi Kit. No, I use my canned tomatoes to make spaghetti sauce. We mainly use Better Boy tomatoes with a few Romas to can. I make two different spaghetti sauces. One is a traditional Italian sauce and one is what I call a country spaghetti sauce. The cherry tomatoes cook up really fast and are so little, I wouldn’t have the patience to can them for sauce.
        Thanks Terry for telling me about spearmint. I will find a new location to put it besides my flower gardens.

        • After reading the posts here, Doc and I are on the lookout for Pineapple tomatoes. We have never heard of them or seen a plant. I will look in our seed catalogues also. Thanks for the tips everyone.

  14. I do the same and always purchase too many as there are so many varieties to chose from. My fave is Amanda orange. Bright organe but has close to same acidity as the red tomatoes. I also like brandy wind and the pinneapple. Happy gardening!

    • Yes I agree, Sweet 100s are very nice – and prolific, I must have had over 300 from 1 plant! They say they are very hardy, but mine did suffer a bit from fungal attack. Marigolds are a good companion for them.

  15. I always buy two Pineapples, they are amazing and can grow to very large sizes. Another beauty (and tasty too) is an Anais Noire. Green, yellow, and red on the inside.

  16. I’m still afraid to plant my summer veggies! The ground temp remains cool next week, maybe? I miss my zone 6b PA garden! Love the lady slippers, so delicate & fleeting!

    • I planted my tomatoes on an optimistically warm day. I have raised beds, so they’re warmer than the ground, but it was still a risk.

  17. Get ‘Cherokee’ or ‘Cherokee Purple’. It has a beautiful color, big size, easy to grow, and tastes AWESOME! They are also an heirloom so you can save a few seeds for next year planting (like I do).

  18. Terry I’d love to know which farm you got the plants from. I’m local and was wondering if there was a place for organic starts. Thanks!

    • Hutchins Farm in Concord. They have a good selection. Verrill Farm also has some interesting varieties, but they’re not organic.

  19. Terry, I’m going to hold you responsible!! I would so like to have a few tomatoes out on my deck. A couple of days after reading this blog I was a BJ’s and they had 3-packs of large Burpee seedlings. As other customers had done, I swapped a few pots around and got a Big (maybe Better?) Girl and Big Mama tomato plants and a rosemary. I pulled out an old Earth Box planter, cleaned it out, bought new potting soil, fertilizer, etc. and reassembled it. Needing some more rosemary for its big pot (it had succumbed a couple years ago during a severe drought year) I headed off to Southern States (like Agway). No rosemary that day but I found some chives. And another trip to Southern States yielded lots of rosemary, thyme- English and French, and oregano.. So now I’ve got all kinds of things growing out on my deck. Today I searched out old bamboo trellises, took them apart and found enough sound pieces to fashion something for the tomatoes. When the temp hits 90 later this week, I will probably regret all of this, but for the time being I’m feeling quite energized.
    Loved the pictures of the Lady Slippers. We had them at the Wolf Rock Road house. Do you ever get white ones? Very occasionally I had them.

    • I am SO happy that you have pots of good growing things! I’ve never seen a white, nor a yellow, Lady’s-slipper. I keep looking!