My friend, Darrell Merrell, “The Tomato Man,” passed away yesterday at about 4:30 p.m. I know he had suffered for a long time with cancer and it was his time to go, but it still is such a sad thing.
I feel such a debt to him. I loved and dabbled in gardening before I met him, but he really awakened my eyes to the beauty of it and the value of saving seeds of the old heirloom varieties. I got to even help a little bit with his operation (which shortly after I got to know him became a partnership with his daughter Lisa) on a few weekends, helping to sell plants mostly, but also getting to do other stuff sometimes.
And strangely enough too, Darrell (a confirmed atheist, and he had good reasons to be one. A very thoughtful and intelligent man) frankly helped me to be closer to God. I’m sure Darrell won’t appreciate me saying this*, but Darrell’s love for all of the complexity of different heirloom varieties of tomatoes and peppers made me all the more amazed at the incredibleness of creation itself, and the beauty of how evolution works; whether it is natural selection, or artificial selection— what human beings do when they choose to save seeds from one plant instead of another plant. And really how that right kind of gardening was a bit like cooperating with God in the on-going work of creation itself.
There’s so much I want to say more, but the words aren’t there to express them. Mostly that Darrell died a man loved by many, that his family and friends are in my prayers, and that I hope his legacy continues on in the gardens of many. — in fact that’s one thing I want to help on. I still have some Yellow 1884 Pinkheart seeds (a variety that Darell discovered… a cross between an unknown yellow and the 1884 tomato) that I’m going to grow either this fall or next spring, which I’ll then save the seeds from. If all goes well, I’ll then start giving new seeds to folks who promise to grow the plants and share the seeds with someone else.
Lastly, it’s not too late to get some of Darrell’s plants. Check out the Tomatoman’s Daughter (newly redesigned by Bibi, Lisa’s partner) website to see the plant list for this year and directions out to the farm.
* well, actually he might not… I suspect he’s already out there tending his new big garden in the hereafter, so he’s likely made his peace with God and all.