Bob Scorzafave proudly sits on his front porch, leaning back as he overlooks huge tomato plants surrounded by a hedge. He greets neighbors as they walk their dogs through the Mt. Washington neighborhood. Mr. Scorzafave, 57, is a city gardener and he wouldn’t have it any other way. “You don’t need a giant space, he says, if you have a passion for gardening you can do it in pots, in small places on patios.” He’s filled every corner of his quaint 127 by 32 city foot lot with plants.
His pride and joy are the tomatoes, they link him to his heritage and to his grandmother he called Nana. He’s growing 25 tomato plants, some in 10 gallon pots in the front “yard.” The ‘Beafsteak’ and ‘San Marzano’ both came from Italy. He’s also growing ‘Jersey Boys,’ ‘Sweet 100’s,’ ‘Large Red Cherry,’ ‘Yellow Cherry’ and an unknown yellow tomato.
Mr. Scorzafave starts all his plants from seeds, many saved season to season from his own garden.
They thrive by the light of an east facing window up in the attic. Like all seed starters, he always ends up with more plants than needed and shares them with friends and neighbors. He plants in the garden around the middle of May.
His love of gardening started as a boy. “I grew up by the side of my grandmother, as soon as I was old enough to wield a pitchfork my mother had me out there,” he said with a smile. At 11 years old he was working the garden with Nana and it stuck.
Much of what he does in the garden goes back to the advice of Nana. While working in the garden one day, sprinkling coffee grounds around the plants, a friend asked him why. Mr. Scorzafave paused for a second, realizing it was his grandmother who taught him the technique in the 1960’s. “Coffee grounds, egg shells and potato peals were here favorites,” he remembers. She turned them over at the base of the plants. Following her template, he adds compost, mushroom manure and cow manure to the planting areas, although she preferred sheep manure.
She also taught him how to save his tomato seeds. “I do what Nana showed me,” he said. First step is to cut a piece of an old cotton T-shirt and lay it out on a cookie sheet. Halve the tomato, squeeze the pulp and seeds on the shirt, let it sit there for a day while it dries. “I roll it up and store them in a mason jar,” he said. The next spring he just unfolds the fabric and pries the seeds into the starting mix.
In the back yard he grows chives, basil, parsley, two types of Swiss chard, thyme, rosemary, oregano, tarragon and both black and white figs. All bursting out of every corner of the space. Most of what he grows is shared with people he knows.
As more neighbors walk by with their greetings, Mr. Scorzafave looks over his garden and reflecting on his overabundance of vegetables and says, “We eat well and it actually saves money, it costs a little in potting soil in the spring, but for you’re not buying produce come July and August.”