Sylvia Shaw is 101 years-old and is enjoying growing this “Better Bush” tomato plant, a gift from her daughter, Dee Seiffer.

Gardening Green with Doug - 101-Year-Old Navigates Pandemic with the Help of a Tomato Plant

by Doug Oster


July 7, 2020

Dee Seiffer was only nine years old when she lost interest in the family swing set and asked her father if she could plant a garden in the former play area of their Canonsburg, Pa., yard. Now 62, Seiffer reflects on her love of gardening and how it’s helping to bring joy to her 101-year-old mother during the pandemic.

“There was this bare patch of dirt from where we had trampled the grass,” she says with a laugh. “I tried to dig it up and plant a garden; it didn’t go well.” But her father encouraged the effort, taking her to the hardware store to buy packets of seeds. “I don’t even know what the bug was,” she says of being driven to create a vegetable garden. “I think it was just an innate thing, I didn’t care about growing flowers.”

As the six kids grew up and moved away, her twin sister and brother embraced their own gardens as they matured and her parents also fell under the spell of spending time with plants. Jim and Sylvia Shaw grew lots of vegetables, roses, and other many other plants in their landscape over the decades.

These days, Silvia lives in her own apartment in a senior independent community. “She’s 101 years old and is a force of nature,” Seiffer says happily of her mother. “She’s completely mentally intact.”

Her mother’s love of gardening has never waned, growing flowers every season on a little patio outside her apartment. “This year she said, ‘I don’t think I’m going to bother,’” Seiffer shares. But when Seiffer asked her mother if she wanted to grow a tomato, Silvia jumped at the prospect.

Seiffer planted a self-watering container from Gardener’s Supply with a "Better Bush” tomato variety from Brenckle’s Greenhouse. With this type of pot, there’s a reservoir for water at the bottom, and as long as it’s full, the soil will never dry out. It’s a great choice for growing plants like tomatoes that thrive in evenly moist soil, and gave Sylvia some leeway if she didn’t get out to water every day.

“It’s so easy for her to keep it watered,” she says and adds that she also got her mother some Neptune’s Harvest liquid organic fertilizer to keep the plant thriving. Even though it’s a bush variety, Seiffer needed to support it with a cage as it’s nearly three feet tall.

“I talk to her almost every day,” Seiffer says. “She has to tell me how big her tomato plant is,” she adds with a laugh. “She just loves having this tomato to take care of.”

Seiffer worries about her mom during the pandemic, as Sylvia loves people. “Every human is social,” says Seiffer, “but she is very social.” It’s been hard on her without being able to play bridge with friends or time eating meals together either. “It’s a relief to me that she has something positive to focus on,” says Seiffer.

After raising six kids and living a full life, Sylvia’s fast growing tomato plant is just one thing that brings her joy. “Her mission in life is nurturing growing things,” Seiffer says fondly. “It was her children, it’s whoever comes into her path, and it’s always been plants and gardens.”


Doug Oster writes a weekly column for The Green Voice Weekly Newsletter. 

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