Some Plants Just Grow On You

THE REAL DIRT

October 16, 1994|By MIKE KLINGAMAN

Gardening is a hobby that can drive you nuts. Some plant you can love to death. Others thrive on inattention: Neglect seems to spur their growth.

When ignored, certain plants just go bonkers. For instance, an Owings Mills woman reports being overwhelmed by the tomato vines growing beside her front door. And a Jacksonville gardener says she's been driven batty by the pole beans running amok in her back yard.

Neither woman expected trouble when she started her garden last spring.

Gloria Brennan recalls the day she planted three shy cherry tomato seedlings in a small patch of soil beside the entrance to her Owings Mills townhouse. She hasn't seen her sidewalk since. The tomato vines flourished, overwhelming a nearby bed of flowers and herbs. The tomatoes then sped across the cement, sprawling over the 5-foot-wide sidewalk and denying Ms. Brennan entry to her own home.

She hacked a trail to the door, leaving a 1-foot-wide path for pedestrians and pets. Her three cats have learned to approach this tangle of lush foliage with caution.

"The cats crawl through there as if waiting for something to jump out at them. It's like a jungle," says Ms. Brennan, a native of Colombia. "I never expected the tomatoes to become Amazon plants; I feel like I'm in a rain forest in South America.

"I'm just glad I didn't fertilize them, or I'd be trapped inside."

In mid-September, the plants made their final charge.

"They were pushing like crazy toward the house, like they were trying to get in the front door," she says. "I guess it was the tomatoes' last hurrah before fall."

Though she sounds harassed, Ms. Brennan is taking the plants' invasion in stride.

"I kind of enjoy the wildness of it," she says. (Ms. Brennan admits harvesting tomatoes while wearing a tiger print suit and safari hat.)

"The tomatoes are so sweet, I must have eaten a ton of them," she says. Neighbors have also had their fill. Recently, Ms. Brennan presented a sack of tomatoes to the beleaguered serviceman who fought his way inside to tune her piano.

"I'm going to be sad when the plants are gone," she says. "But at least I'll be able to see my walkway."

Cold weather can't come too soon for Linda Field. The Jacksonville gardener and her family have been picking beans from their back yard in northern Baltimore County for months. The freezer is full. Still, the harvest continues from a single sowing of pole beans that the family planted around a bamboo teepee "for fun" in June.

"For every bean you pick, four more grow back," says Mrs. Field.

She says she never saw the fine print on the bean seed packet: If you plant them, they will come.

That the family left home for a month didn't slow bean production at all.

Harvesting the beans was a kick "for about a day," says Mrs. Field, mother of five. "The children went into the teepee to pick a bucket of beans and to play with their Matchbox cars."

The novelty wore off quickly. By September, the only ones using the teepee were Mrs. Field and the family cat, who hid there during rainstorms.

The beans outgrew the teepee and raced across the garden. Then they climbed a split-rail fence, producing more pods at every turn.

The plants' virility has amazed the Fieldses, who fertilize their garden solely with the droppings of their pet rabbits.

Though fed up with picking beans, Mrs. Field says she cannot stop.

"You can't let them rot," she says. "Once they start to grow, they're like your children.

"I'll be outside hanging laundry and I'll see one bean from a distance. I go over to pick that bean, and they all start looking at you. Beans are sneaky that way.

"You feel bad if you don't pick them all, even if they sit in a pail in the refrigerator until your mother-in-law comes to visit."

Recently, Mrs. Field has begun seeing "faces" in the beans she picks.

"They're growing in crescent shapes, like smiles," she says. "I think they're laughing at me. They're saying, 'Ha, ha, you put our seeds in the ground and now we've got you.' "

Perhaps it's time to end this harvest.

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