Every spring, Angelenos enter into that sweet madness known as tomato mania: They want tomatoes, they need tomatoes — the fruit, the plant, the seeds, in as many varieties as possible. The savviest of those who have survived the frenzy and lived to tell about it rely on a woman named Laurel Garza to see them through. Garza runs Laurel's Heirloom Tomato Plants. It's primarily a shipping business. People call in with orders in September, she starts seedlings in December, then begins shipping by end of March. But Southern California locals can pick up their plants in person at Garza's nursery in Torrance. Better yet, they can attend her Sunday plant sales in the months of April and May and behold the tomato wonderland firsthand. From Japanese Black Trifeles to Striped Germans, Bloody Butchers, Chocolate Amazons and Azoychkas, Garza's got tomatoes for every application (sauces, capreses, sandwiches) and location (humble balcony containers to plantation plots the size of Tara). For 2011, Garza is offering 92 varieties. Though other years, depending on her mood, that number can rocket to 150. Always included are her favorites, the Paul Robeson — a black tomato with a sweet, smoky earthiness named for the famous opera singer and civil rights activist — and the old-fashioned Clint Eastwood's Rowdy Red. Says Garza, “They have an unruly, rich flavor that's just mind-blowing.” 1725 257th St., Lomita. (310) 534-8611, heirloomtomatoplants.com. —Gendy Alimurung
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