Sports Analogies and Growing Tobacco

I know that it has become passé to use sports analogies but I must argue that if you have spent most of your life playing sports then do what comes naturally. In the vein of saying that it is now passé to think that sports analogies are passé, I am going to use one.

Maybe you have heard this one before. When Vince Lombardi first took over the struggling football team in Green Bay, he had a hard time getting the team to play together. He tried all sorts of plays and formations but nothing really seemed to click with the crew. Then, one day after a really horrible practice, he pulled the team into the locker room and said, ok, let’s get back to basics. Then he held up the football in his hand and said, “first, this is a football.”

tobacco gorwing by rodney eason

Why in the world am I telling this story? Well, I am feeling nostalgic and wanting to get back to the basics. In a couple of weeks, our family will be on the road to North Carolina for Thanksgiving to share with family and reminisce about the place I lived for the first 30 years of my life. Growing up in North Carolina was where I learned that I loved working outside and I loved plants. My first job was working in tobacco when I was at an age that I am not sure if it was entirely legal. Let’s just say that I was younger than 16. And I drove a truck around on back roads without a license. But it was rural North Carolina.

I was glancing through various seed catalogs today when I came across a vendor offering tobacco seeds. These were not the short, flowering tobaccos used in gardens today as annuals but the real tobaccos used for drying and smoking. These tobaccos can grow over 5′ in height by the end of the summer. For us here in Maine, canna lilies often look like daylilies for most of the season because of our cool June. Elephant ears do not really get growing until late August when the temperatures stay warm into the night. Bananas really hit their stride in mid-September after all of the tourists have gone back home. So we really need bold foliaged plants that will take off earlier in the season. I have hopes that some of these tobaccos will give us the bold foliage we need in the gardens. Then, as they age, their leaves will turn yellowish-brown. I don’t smoke but maybe we could find some other uses for the leaves. With names like “Connecticut Shade Leaf” and “Paris Wrapper,” I am looking forward to seeing which one grows best.

tobacco fiels by rodney eason

If anything, it will provide me with a trip down memory lane to the plants that first got me interested in horticulture and later, in gardening. Have you ever tried growing old-fashioned tobacco in your garden? How about any other agricultural crops in a garden bed?


Photos: Kentucky Black Gold Cigars, Toby Musgrave

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rodney eason

Rodney Eason - Director of Horticulture and Plant Curator at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, father of 4, husband to a Renaissance woman. I spent the first part of my life in North Carolina, the middle in Pennsylvania, and now I am determined to become a Mainer  while keeping my southern drawl. I consider the rhetorical question, "you're not from around here, are you?" a compliment. I love great gardens, beautiful plants, and inspiring architecture. Because of this, I am on a lifelong quest to find a garden that artistically combines beautiful plants while being centered around an evocative building. For me, this would be Beatrix Farrand's Dumbarton Oaks, with the plants of Lotusland and Chanticleer, around Fay Jones' Thorncrown Chapel. My wife and I are now making our new home and garden in a 130 year old New England house with a farmer's porch near the Damariscotta River in coastal Maine. When our kids get into college, we want to hike the Appalachian Trail as a family over a summer break. My likes (in random order): the smell of fresh basil and rosemary, bold foliage, India Pale Ale, good running shoes, Top Gear, the smell of New England in the fall (it reminds me a bit of English Leather, which my grandfather wore), and the sound of our family laughing together around the dinner table. I dream of one day owning an old Toyota 4X4 pick-up and seeing the Avett Brothers in concert.
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