Doug’s 14th Annual Plant Swap and Giveaway 12 noon, Sunday June 5 at Soergel’s new location

Posted on: May 16, 2016 | Written By: Doug Oster | Comments

These are 'Limbaugh Legacy Potato Top' tomatoes.

These are ‘Limbaugh Legacy Potato Top’ tomatoes.

This will be the 14th year I’ve held a plant swap and giveaway. Although there’s some dispute with participants about how many years this has been going on. The first couple seasons I actually held the event at my house. It quickly grew and that’s why this year we have a new location, Soergel Orchards.

Soergel’s is located at 2573 Brandt School Road, Wexford, PA.

On Sunday June 5th, 2016 the Doug Oster Tribune Review Plant Swap and Giveaway will run from 12 noon until 2 p.m. Come at 12 noon, the event is usually over in about a half hour and I just wait for others to come so they get something.

Bring divisions from your garden to trade with other gardeners. Be sure plants are labelled and please don’t bring anything invasive.

Thousands of gardeners attend every year and it’s a wonderful opportunity to meet like minded people.

I met the late Fred Limbaugh in 2000 and I've been giving away his seeds and plants since then.

I met the late Fred Limbaugh in 2000 and I’ve been giving away his seeds and plants since then.

I’ll also be giving away ‘Limbaugh Legacy Potato Top’ tomato plants. The Pittsburgh heirloom tomato was introduced to me by the late Fred Limbaugh, who introduced me to the variety in 2000. It’s a big(1-2 pounds), meaty pink tomato with a wonderful old-fashioned taste.

Usually they are the last fruit picked in the garden, so grow other varieties too. There are a limited supply of plants, they will be given away on a first come, first serve basis, one to a family please.

The idea of the Potato Top project is to preserve the variety. You grow it out and save the seed, then send it back to me.

Hope to see you there!

Here’s the whole story about how Fred introduced me to his prized tomato.

We meet lots of people over the years. Some come and go, but others always hold a place in our hearts. Fred Limbaugh was one of those special people.

I first met Fred on a warm day in the spring of 2000. After reading about my love of heirloom tomatoes, he was compelled to call and tell me about the tomato his family had grown for generations, ‘Potato Top.’ He invited me over to pick up a couple of plants to try.

“They’re the best-tasting tomato you’ll ever eat,” he bragged.

I listened with interest as he talked about the plant he loved and had given away to friends and family for years. Once they grew ‘Potato Top,’ they were hooked, said Fred, who didn’t even like to eat tomatoes but grew them for everyone else.

Over the years, Fred and I became good friends. We would visit at his home in Robinson, and on hot days he would offer me a cold beer but never drank one himself. We talked about gardening, his love of the outdoors, his beloved German shepherds and how he was getting along in his 80s.

Together, the two of us would walk down a steep embankment in his back yard to his cold frames filled with deep green tomato plants; they had thick stems and sometimes were covered in bright yellow blossoms. As he got older, he couldn’t get down there anymore. It was even hard for me to navigate, and I was 40 years younger.

Years ago, I started giving away the seeds of ‘Potato Top’ with the condition that gardeners send me some seeds at the end of the season so I would have more the next year to keep the program going. I wanted everyone to taste it and hoped that by sharing the seed, we could guarantee the survival of this tomato with potato-like foliage for a long time. Every year the project grew, expanding from Western Pennsylvania to other states and eventually to many other countries. One summer, I got 140,000 seeds back from readers all over the world.

Fred was never one for the limelight. As ‘Potato Top’ became more and more popular, he would call me and say with a laugh, “I never thought one phone call would turn into this.”

One time his daughters brought him to North Park, where I was giving away the plants. Wanting to recognize Fred for starting the whole project, I tried to make an announcement. But Fred wouldn’t hear of it, and in an instant he was gone, slipping away so he wouldn’t be noticed.

His health took a turn for the worse several years ago. When I went to visit him at a nursing home, he was figuring out a way to grow tomatoes on a windowsill so he could still provide plants for everyone who asked.

That was the year I started growing plants for him, as many as I could in my little home greenhouse. They never looked as good as Fred’s; he just had a knack for getting nice stocky, healthy transplants. Eventually, I turned the job over to friends at Soergel Orchards, who were able to produce quality plants.
Several years ago, Fred passed away at 86. He was out for dinner the night before with his family and then was gone early the next morning.

I always felt we were kindred spirits whose love of gardening transcended the boundaries of age. I’ll never forget that first day we met when he gave me two large plants, their roots surrounded with newspaper.

In memory of Fred and with the blessing of his family, I’ve renamed the tomato ‘Limbaugh’s Legacy Potato Top.’ For decades to come, I hope gardeners will search the name of the tomato and rediscover its origins. They’ll learn about a wonderful man who wanted nothing but to share a big, meaty pink tomato with some friends. Little did he know that he would be sharing it with thousands of strangers, too. That always made him feel good, to know so many people were enjoying the tomato.

I miss that old guy and always will think of him as I sit at home filling seed envelopes and giving away plants. It feels good knowing that his name will always be linked to a family heirloom that will live on in gardens around our area and the world.

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