Home & Garden

A festival for a fruit or vegetable

Jessica Nicholson, left, president of Friends of The Arboretum, helped Tyler Stratton, 9, and his sister Erin, 6, make Mr. Tomato Heads during the Tomato Festival. The Strattons, of Lexington, decided to spare their creations by not eating them.
Jessica Nicholson, left, president of Friends of The Arboretum, helped Tyler Stratton, 9, and his sister Erin, 6, make Mr. Tomato Heads during the Tomato Festival. The Strattons, of Lexington, decided to spare their creations by not eating them. Mark Ashley

Master gardener Jim Wheeler offered his take on the great layman's debate: Is a tomato a vegetable or fruit?

In short, it can be both.

"In culture, basically whatever you call a vegetable is a vegetable, but botanically it's a fruit because its got seeds," Wheeler said Sunday as guests wandered through The Arboretum's vegetable garden to speak to Wheeler and other master gardeners from the Fayette County Cooperative Extension Service.

More than 300 people braved the heat Sunday to taste and learn about the versatile fruit — or vegetable — at the fourth annual Tomato Festival at The Arboretum.

The event was open to all, and guests ranged from experienced gardeners, eagerly jotting down tips on maintaining healthy tomato plants, to parents and kids looking for cheap family fun.

For $1 — if you opted to pay the voluntary admission charge — visitors could enjoy a variety of items, including tomato dishes from restaurants Tulip and Azur, fresh salsa by Garrard County spice masters at Herb'n Renewal and a bevy of tomatoes from local gardens.

Kids were invited to create edible tomato sculptures by attaching fresh vegetables and pasta to tomatoes with toothpicks. The young artists carried around their Mr. Tomato Head masterpieces which had green bean smiles, macaroni ears, and — in the case of 6-year-old Erin Stratton's creation — a punk-rock mohawk made out of olives.

There was face painting and repainting. Jerry Tubbs, 6, proudly displayed a blue UK logo on his cheek.

"His first painting was a spider, but it melted off," said his grandfather Jim Hughes.

After getting their fill of tomato dishes, visitors left the air-conditioned haven of the Dorotha Smith Oatts Visitor Center and ventured outside for demonstrations on heirloom tomatoes, tomato culture and seed saving.

Lexington's Roger Postley of Tomatoes, Etc. talked passionately about heirlooms and seed saving. He urged people to step out of the grocery when looking for tomatoes and visit local farms to find varieties unique to Appalachia.

"Central Kentucky is a hotbed of heirloom tomato and vegetable raising," he said. "But if you don't know about heirlooms, you won't hear about them."

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