The history of this iconic gardener and his products

Mr. Tomato and Mom.

Dorothy Talks to Mr. Tomato, Brian, about his leadership in the garden product world. He tells how his gardening interests started back when he was only 11 years old, and his mother would have him mow the grass with an old rotary lawn mower. He was captivated by the smell of fresh grass, and he remembers distinctly the feeling it gave him.

His mother was also a very “intense” gardener, he says, and she grew the finest tomatoes — always in the same spot without consequence because Brian and his brother dug a four-foot-deep hole to prepare the ground, put a couple of feet of compost at the bottom of the hole, and then covered that with fresh garden soil. “She would save her eggshells and crush them into a fine powder in the blender to feed the planting hole,” he recalls. “The leaves on her tomatoes were like leather!” No spots or fungus on these gems.

As he entered university, Brian looked for a job and got one at the newly opened Kackenhoff Nursery out in St. Norbert. He learned a great deal, especially about trees and shrubs, from Ernie Kackenhoff, a fine grower from the Netherlands. Kackenhoff is still there and now run by the younger members of the family. They grow particularly fine peonies as well as trees.

After graduation, Brian pursued his career in journalism, travelling the world and writing for all sorts of journals and newspapers, including the Globe and Mail. Finally, he decided to settle down and bought a house in West Kildonan, and this is where he began to garden in earnest. From that interest and his mother’s love of growing tomatoes, he invented the product Kozy Coats so that gardeners could get a head start on growing this favourite fruit.

A voracious reader and a person who loves to explore and discover new things, Brian read about the way seaweed enhances plant growth, so he created a second product, Sea Magic, which became a huge hit with all sorts of gardeners and remains so to this day.

He had a second interest throughout all of this and that was horse racing so after a couple of decades he sold the company, Mr. Tomato, retaining the right to use his brand personally, and became Ivan Bigg at Assiniboia Downs.

As we go through the story, we learn lots of growing tips and the whys behind some of the things that are often recommended for gardening success.

To accompany this romantic story of success, Dorothy has chosen three lovely songs: Suddenly there’s a Valley sung by Gogi Grant; Some Enchanted Evening by Jerry Vale and The impossible Dream with Josh Groban.