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One Week Away: The Great Tomato Celebration at White Flower Farm

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One Week Away: The Great Tomato Celebration at White Flower Farm

May 13, 2016

The countdown is on. In seven days, White Flower Farm in Morris, Connecticut, will be hosting its 11th annual Great Tomato Celebration—from Friday, May 20 through Sunday, May 22, when the revered nursery empties its greenhouses of edible plants and offers them for sale, en masse, on the lawn next to the store. If you’re passionate about edible plants—tomatoes especially—this is the event for you.

We spoke with Margret Delves Broughton, events manager at White Flower Farm, who emphasized the significance of the event on the ardent-gardener circuit. “People take days off of work to get here on the first day of the event,” she said. “They drive from New York, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and even Tennessee just to be here.” Why, you ask? They want varieties of tomatoes they can only get through White Flower Farm, and they rely on the nursery’s expertise to deliver healthy plants and the right advice to make them thrive.

White Flower Farm sells around 12,000 plants throughout the weekend. Read on for a list of the tomatoes on offer plus tips for navigating the event—including advice for beginners. The Great Tomato Celebration will be from 9 am to 5 pm each day at White Flower Farm, 167 Litchfield Road in Morris, Connecticut.

Photography by Sara Barrett for Gardenista, except where noted.

Edibles at White Flower Farm | Gardenista

Above: A mixed edible/ornamental bed in the White Flower Farm trial garden includes several varieties of tomatoes.

What kinds of tomatoes can I find at the sale? 

So many tomatoes, in fact, that they’re organized alphabetically. White Flower is selling more than 100 varieties of tomatoes, ranging from blood-red heirlooms to sweet cherry hybrids and everything in between. Says Margret, “We have an incredible variety of tomato plants, from tiny plants that will only grow 12 inches high to plants that will grow to be 8 feet or taller.”

White Flower published a List of Tomato Varieties it expects to offer at the sale—127 varieties, in all—but notes that it cannot guarantee availability of all varieties throughout the weekend.

Tomatoes at White Flower Farm | Gardenista

Above: Tomato ‘Sugar Gloss’ in the trial garden impressed nursery staff with its prolific production of cherry tomatoes. It’s new to the nursery this year, and is $5.95 online for a 1-pint plant at White Flower Farm.

What if I’ve never grown tomatoes before? 

Margret wants to emphasize that although die-hard tomato growers attend the event, beginners are encouraged to come, too. “Every year we have lots of people who are new to growing their own vegetables. They see so many people who know what they’re doing that they find a staff member and almost whisper: ‘I’ve never done this before.’”

Says Margret, “Beginners have a million questions, but so do the people who have been growing tomatoes for years. They’re just different questions.” And White Flower experts are on hand to answer them. Staff members grow the plants themselves, so “there’s a good chance we can find someone on staff who can talk about any variety.”

Tomatoes at White Flower Farm | Gardenista

Above: ‘Sugar Gloss’ ripening on the vine.

Is there a no-fail tomato you can point me to? 

By far, says Margret, the nursery’s best seller is ‘Sungold’—an incredibly vigorous hybrid that produces golden orange cherry tomatoes. They’re sweet enough that even picky kids like them, she says. “If someone asks us—’I only have room for one tomato, and I’ll be heartbroken if my tomato doesn’t produce’—we steer them toward ‘Sungold’.” Tomato ‘Sungold’ is $5.95 online for a 1-pint plant at White Flower Farm.

White Flower Farm's Great Tomato Celebration | Gardenista

Above: Visitors browsing the tomato plants at last year’s event. Photograph courtesy of White Flower Farm.

There’s a particular tomato I want. How can I make sure to get it? 

An insider tip: If you have a specific plant in mind, come on Friday—some varieties will sell out on the first day. “Inevitably, Friday is the worst-weather day,” says Margret. “But no matter the weather, you won’t be alone.”

The weather, by the way, is unpredictable—some years it’s 80 degrees and sunny, others 50 and rainy.

White Flower Farm's Great Tomato Celebration | Gardenista

Above: Shoppers loading their carts at the start of last year’s sale. Photograph courtesy of White Flower Farm.

Any insider’s tips for navigating the celebration?

There’s plenty of parking on-site and people on-hand to help you cart your finds to your car. Says Margret, “Make things easy on yourself and clear out the trunk of your car in advance. Our plants are sturdy, but if they’re smashed by junk in the back of your car, they won’t bounce back from that.”

Zucchini at White Flower Farm | Gardenista

Above: Zucchini ‘Bush Baby’ produces 4- to 6-inch fruits a mere 35 days after planting, and is ideal for small-space and container gardens; $7.25 online for a 1-pint plant at White Flower Farm.

Will there be other edibles for sale?

White Flower Farm’s full seasonal selection of edible and ornamental plants will be on offer. After you choose tomatoes, head for the nursery’s second-largest category of edibles, peppers; more than 30 varieties will be for sale. Next, fill out your kitchen garden with lettuce, squash, cucumbers, herbs, berries, and more.

Squash at White Flower Farm | Gardenista

Above: A Cucamelon Mexican Sour Gherkin in the test garden. It’s a prolific specialty cucumber with fruit that resembles 1-inch watermelons; $7.25 online for a 1-pint plant at White Flower Farm.

 White Flower Farm | Gardenista

Above: On a tour of the White Flower Farm Display Gardens, you’ll take in a cottage dating from 1756 and a border designed by the head gardener of Great Dixter.

What else Is there to do? 

For the first time at the event, there will be food from a local chef who’s also slated to give cooking demonstrations throughout the weekend. “The menu will be decided by the weather,” says Margret. “It might be lemonade and sandwiches or hot tea and chili.”

White Flower Farm experts also will give gardening lectures throughout the weekend, on topics such as how to choose edibles and make them thrive, as well as container and small-space gardening. The schedule will be posted shortly.

Save time for exploring the White Flower Farm grounds; a Walking Map is available on site.

White Flower Farm | Gardenista

Above: White Flower Farm is located at 167 Litchfield Road in Morris, Connecticut.

What if I can’t make it to the celebration? 

If you’re not within driving distance but want to grow tomatoes this year, visit White Flower Farm online. Nursery staff is available to answer your questions by phone, email, or online chat, and can help you choose from the more than 60 varieties for sale online—with intriguing names like ‘Amish Paste‘, ‘Bloody Butcher’, and ‘Principe Borghese‘. You can also request a White Flower Farm printed Catalog, sign up for Email Updates from the nursery, and follow the seasons with White Flower Farm on Instagram and Facebook.

Finally, get more ideas on how to successfully plant, grow, and care for tomatoes with our Tomatoes: A Field Guide.

Interested in other edible plants for your garden? Get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various edible plants (including flowers, herbs and vegetables) with our Edible Plants: A Field Guide.

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