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Volunteers and the Darlings

Jennifer C.

This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills. Well, there’s no getting around it. With the solstice past last week, summer is in full swing, and there’s no better evidence than in and around my garden, where everything I’ve planted is leaping out of the ground with limbs stretched toward the sun, and lots of things I didn’t plant reaching to compete. I appreciated the week of cooler weather that gave me more hours to weed, but still didn’t get to everything. And I also appreciated some of the things I found while weeding, though not all that much. Some years back I was gifted with a few seeds of a small yellow cherry tomato called “Darling” after the Darling family, who gave some seeds to Mary Lou Price’s mother, Helen, with the promise they’d never fail her. And apparently, they didn’t because Mary Lou gave some seed to me and they have likewise prevailed.

There comes a time, though, in every summer, when I slip away from my positive attitude about the unending abundance of the garden. It’s about the same time I clear away enough weeds to realize that, although I’ve already planted more than a dozen tomatoes in varieties I really enjoy, once again, I’ve got too many darlings. There are volunteer Darlings everywhere, and not one of them has landed where it’s wanted. There are two in the middle of the peppers, a couple more in the potatoes and one attempting to scale the fence where there are already plenty of bean vines flourishing without any help.

One friend suggested I just leave that one alone, since it had already established itself and wouldn’t need tying up. But she doesn’t know the Darlings. Give that one another week and it’ll be atop the fence and rappelling down the other side, sending out enough side shoots to take the whole cattle panel. I have some tall tomato cages made from the rebar used to reinforce concrete, and those might help, but there are only two. And at last count there were six, no, seven Darlings.

And the thing is, they really are prolific and delicious too. But last year I gave away buckets full and still had about a thousand on the vine when it frosted. And I hadn’t planted any of those, either.

I mean, I appreciate all those volunteers, I really do. In fact, I find it hilarious that they’re called volunteers. It’s like in my mind I picture some little life form that suddenly pops its seed coat open, pokes up its two little first leaves and waves, and calls out to the universe. “I’ll be a tomato. I’ll be a melon.”

It’s sweet, really. And nowhere is it sweeter than in my compost bin, where there resides a watermelon plant already making melons and two stalks of white, tender shelled popcorn from a bag that went stale over the winter and I threw it out. But two of those kernels weren’t stale, by golly, and if I remember to help a little at pollination time, I’ll have me another batch of popcorn. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate such gifts springing forth unbidden.

But I’m going to have to work a little bit to deal with the Darlings. It’s true, not every tomato I planted those long weeks ago survived. There are spaces, and I can move most of the Darlings into them and we’ll probably do fine, so long as I remember to carry my clippers and nip off those little side shoots that go toward Kansas and Oklahoma, smothering the other tomatoes as they go. The winter squash in the other direction has too much a head start to be bothered. And when I think of it, it’s better to have too much of what you like than that other surprise that sometimes happens. Like last year, when I bought spaghetti squash seeds from a heretofore reliable supplier and ended up with little misshaped forms that might have been maybe butternut and part cushaw but were decidedly Not Spaghetti Squash. That felt more like betrayal than excessive exuberance.

So, I’ll move the Darlings to better quarters and try to keep them in line. It won’t work, but I have an answer for that straight from my Scottish grandmother, whose opinions were always straightforward and to the point, even though it was sometimes mystifying as to what that point was. For instance, when she was weary, one might hear her say, “This world and one more.” Satisfying thought. But then she’d mutter “And then the ironworks.” What?  And when I came downstairs in the morning all ready to face the day, and said, “Good Morning, Granny.!” She’d as likely to answer with “Hello yourself and see how you like it.!”  I’m still not sure what that was about. But the one I liked best came whenever someone was frustrated with a situation or a circumstance (or a tomato) they’d had enough of and they cried “Enough’s enough!” She was always there with the perfect rejoinder, and she’d say, “And too much is plenty.” This is Marideth Sisco, wishing you an abundant, even Darling, or not too darling summer in These Ozark Hills, whether you wind up with just enough, or plenty.