My friendship with Carolyn male began with a Seed Savers Exchange request for the tomato Anna Russian. With the seed request was a long, lovely hand written letter which began “I would love to take a walk through your garden when the tomatoes start to ripen”. Carolyn was a New York gardener just dipping her toes into the SSE herself at that time.
When Carolyn’s brother, David, contacted me on Friday, June 14 with the news of Carolyn’s passing, it brought an end to a frequently close, sometimes stormy and ultimately fragile friendship that spanned 29 years and countless sharing of seeds of all sorts. Starting in 1991, by 2009 Carolyn sent me 130 different packets of tomato seeds. Some real favorites were in those transactions - Soldacki, Opalka, Eva Purple Ball, Jaune Flamme, Cuostralee, Sandul Moldovan, Druzba, Zogola, Orange Strawberry, Indian Stripe and Neves Azorean Red among them.
Carolyn and I co-published the heirloom tomato publication Off The Vine. We always felt like we were running behind, had no idea really what we were doing (except sharing our parallel passions with heirloom tomatoes), but it was a fun three years doing so.
We were both contributors to various on line gardening forums, mainly Garden Web and Tomatoville. Carolyn had far more patience than I with regard to answering pretty much every tomato question that was posed. She held strong opinions for sure. We butted heads more than once. That’s what friends do.
Carolyn was the first of the two of us with a book - in 1999, Smith and Hawken: 100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American Garden was released. It documented the remarkable world of heirloom tomatoes in print for the very first time. It was such a pleasure to have contributed seeds to many of the varieties that she featured in the book.
When it became difficult for Carolyn to start her seeds but she still wished to grow her many recent heirloom tomato acquisitions, some of her garden friends started plants and shipped them to her to grow. In 2011, Sue and I were to travel to Massachusetts for our niece’s college graduation. One possible route could take us by Carolyn’s house, allowing an in-person plant delivery and my first chance to meet her in person. We jumped at the chance.
Most recently, Carolyn, with growing physical challenges, maintained her presence on the internet sharing her knowledge and opinions (which she never ran short of!) and grew what she could, helped by local friends. We drifted apart in these later years - inevitable, but sad, nonetheless.
Carolyn joins a stellar group of the SSE tomato people - Ben Quisenberry, Thane Earle, Faxon Stinnett, Edmund Brown, Gary Staley, Calvin Wait, and more recently, Glenn Drowns, Bill Minkey, Neil Lockhart, Jeff Fleming and me. She provided lots of history and detailed tomato descriptions in her hundreds of seed listings. I suspect that receiving seed requests, packaging up and sending seed samples was one of the true joys of her life. The garden world suffered a significant loss with Carolyn’s passing.