Conspicuous Consumption


I was raised as a careful Yankee — my father’s people were from small town and rural New England.  I turn off the lights as I leave a room; take 3 minute, economical showers; and start my garden plants from seed.

Yet I inherited very different impulses from my mother’s side of the family.  In particular, I spent a lot of my boyhood relishing the flamboyance of my maternal grandfather, a Western mining engineer who drove a sparkly gold Cadillac the size of a spaceship, loved any excuse for giving presents, and settled backyard disputes with the wildlife with a single, precisely placed bullet.

This dichotomy is why I so love this time of year.   By now, my garden is full of the vegetable crops I started from seed in my basement in the Spring.  I’ve got rows and rows of beans and beets, leeks, sprawls of squashes, lavender and nasturtiums, herbs, and side-by-side patches of basil and tomatoes.  Except for the tomatoes, which I ordered as grafted seedlings because they perform better in my verticillium infested soil, I started all of these plantings from seeds that I shook out of paper packets.

It rejoices the Yankee side of my soul when my wife Suzanne tells me, as she did this weekend, that she just picked a bushel of beans.  I know that all of that nutrition sprang from a single, four-dollar-and-ten-cent packet. A return on investment that would gratify any Yankee.  And when Suzanne wasn’t picking beans yesterday she was piling up acorn squashes, cucumbers, and zucchinis.  Several of the latter had been hiding under the leaves until they achieved the dimensions of green-striped zeppelins.  We pick most of our zucchinis when they are fashionably slender and small, but I must confess to a weakness for the big, curvaceous ones, the ones with a figure the guys on the corner would describe approvingly as “thick”.

In particular, I’ve found that the heirloom Italian zucchini cultivar, ‘Costata Romanesco,’ has a flesh that keeps its texture and flavor even into obesity.  I split these monsters with a chef’s knife, scoop out the seeds, stuff them with sausage meat we get from a farmer down the road, douse them with tomato sauce, and bake until tender.

In short, I love the glut of this time of year.  I love it not only because it fills our chest freezer, but also because it provides lots of material for giveaways.  I think of my grandfather when I fill the back seat of my car with produce and drive down to the local food pantry to share.  Last year I delivered 4 Napa cabbages that together weighed in at 16 lbs. Of course I could deliver even more if I drove a monster Cadillac.  But that’s not my style.

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Thomas Christopher

My father was a compulsive tree planter, but it was my mother who taught me the finer points of gardening.

Her homeschooling was followed by two years in the New York Botanical Garden’s School of Professional Horticulture, and then ten years as horticulturist at an Olmsted Brothers designed estate on the Hudson River Palisades.

I’ve worked as a horticultural journalist for 35 years, contributing to publications ranging from Martha Stewart Living to the Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society and The New York Times.  My most recent book is Nature Into Art: The Gardens of Wave Hill, which is a tour of the lessons to be learned from that great public garden.  I’m currently focusing on my new podcast (at which features weekly interviews with leaders of environmentally-informed gardening.

My special enthusiasms include sustainable gardening, especially sustainable lawns;  heirloom chicken breeds; and recreating vintage New England hard ciders.


Contact Tom by email


  1. Hey, Tom! I’d love to see photos of your veg garden here on the Rant. Our “Feed me” category of post needs you~! Susan

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