Tomatoes, nasturtiums, herbs and Alzheimer’s

25 08 2008

Hey, I finally found a use for all those plates I’ve collected throughout the years. Photo props!

This is my meager—but no less lovely—edible harvest from this morning. And yes, the Nasturtium flowers are edible, too. These rapidly growing annuals are easy to grow from seed, like full sun to partial shade, come in an array of colors (yellow, orange, pink, red, butter yellow, cream, and mahogany), and have a peppery taste. There are climbing and trailing types available. Nasturtiums are also called Scottish flamethrower or Indian cress. Both the lotus-leaf-like leaves and flowers are edible.

Read this funny and informative post titled, “Nasturtium: The Flower Growing Under False Pretenses,” on Hanna’s This Garden is Illegal blog.

You’ll find growing tips and recipes for Nasturtiums here and here. I cheated this year and bought my tiny seedlings from DeBaggio’s Herb Farm and Nursery in Chantilly, VA. Yes, sometimes I am not a patient gardener! My also-gardening-crazy friend, Karen, introduced me to this family-owned nursery several years ago. We buy most of our herbs and heirloom tomato plants there. (They sell 100 varieties of tomatoes!)

Time for the serious stuff…
In 1975 Tom and Joyce DeBaggio started their family business selling home-propagated herb and vegetables from their backyard in Arlington. Author of several herb books (all of which I own—duh, no big surprise), Tom was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 1999 at the age of 57. NPR interviewed DeBaggio on their All Things Considered program in May 2005 here and April 2007 here. The Alzheimer’s Research Forum wrote about the NPR Audio Interviews in May 2007.

I read his first book, Losing My Mind, published in 2003 by The Free Press/Simon & Schuster, Inc., after my father shared his observations about conversations with one of my uncles, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. My father said most of my uncle’s waking hours were spent in the past…in his early years…as a teenager….as a young man…repeating the same story over and over. My uncle passed away a few years ago.

DeBaggio’s follow-up book, When It Gets Dark: An Enlightened Reflection on Life with Alzheimer’s, was also published in 2003. Both of these books, as well as his excellent herb books, are available online here. His son, Francesco, now runs the family business.

A review of Losing My Mind from Publishers Weekly:
“I have a clear sense of history, I just don’t know whether it is mine,” writes DeBaggio in this moving and unusual memoir. The author, who has previously written about his gardening business (Growing Herbs from Seed, Cutting and Root), documents his mental deterioration from Alzheimer’s. Diagnosed with the disease in 1999 at the age of 57, DeBaggio undertook this project in order to increase awareness of this devastating illness from a patient’s point of view. He describes how his gradual loss of memory has impacted his life. For example, after he became confused about how to get to his niece’s house, he realized he had to give up driving a car. The increased loss of language has been extremely difficult for a man who once worked as a journalist and a freelance writer. Interspersed throughout the narrative are DeBaggio’s recollections of his childhood events that may soon be lost to him. He also describes the disease’s negative effect on his wife and grown son. Although DeBaggio provides information on the medical advances that are being made to treat this disease, it is clear that a breakthrough will come too late for him. With this rare first-person account, DeBaggio has made a significant contribution to literature on an illness that currently affects four million Americans.

Photo © Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

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4 responses

26 08 2008
Laura

Lovely photos, thank you so much for sharing them!

I am very sorry for the loss of your uncle.

I heard most of the interviews with Tom and his family. The last one made me cry in the car, unable to get out of the parking garage and go into work. I am pretty sure there was a series of interviews over a few years. They were all so heartbreaking. I would love to read the books, but I fear I do not have enough tissues. How did you react to them?

27 08 2008
cindydyer

Hi Laura,

In his first book, Losing My Mind, DeBaggio warns that the text may skip around from different periods in his life. He wrote this in a “stream of consciousness” style (which can’t be helped if you have Alzheimer’s!) I know there are authors out there who write that way without Alzheimer’s. The book really gives you a good perspective on his declining memory.

I think you can get through it without too many tissues!

23 10 2008
Sue Fagalde Lick

I love the photos. They’re just beautiful.

I read both DiBaggio books. In the second one, you could see the disease taking its toll. The last NPR interview made me cry, too, more for his wife than for Tom. You see, my husband has Alzheimer’s, too.

23 05 2010
Paul

Fortunately there is research going on (like stem cells) that may one day serve to cure this disease.

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