You Should Be Having a Big Earthy Summer

From tomato-scented candles to floral fragrances, Jason Diamond is celebrating the rich, organic, slightly gross pleasures of all things vegetal, floral, and hot.

a collage of a t shirt perfume candles roasted tomatoes and Birkenstocks on a background of illustrated vegetables

Photographs: Getty Images; Collage: Gabe Conte

A few months back, over a little impromptu dinner party at my place, my guests all commented on one thing. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the food, or the highballs made with whisky straight from theTokyo airport. It wasn’t the playlist I made or the new painting I’d hung on the wall that day. No, the star of the show was…a candle. One that smells like tomatoes, at that. Everybody commented on the candle, and within a week, every guest that night informed me that they’d bought one of their own.

I’m underselling it a little bit. It wasn’t just any candle. I’m a self-proclaimed candle guy; I do my research and spend too much of what little disposable income I have on stuff I can burn. This was a Roma Heirloom Tomato Candle from Flamingo Estate: you light it and in seconds you think you’re in southern Italy, with nonna in the kitchen working on dinner. But Flamingo Estate, a hippie-indebted purveyor of luxury produce and assorted other products, is very L.A. Everything they sell, from a box stuffed with organic mushrooms to body wash and wildflower honey, is very earthy. Not quite crunchy, and light on the woo-woo hippie vibes. It’s not exactly retro, but it does seem very familiar to those of us who grew up in an era when Whole Foods was an exotic choice for grocery shopping. My tomato candle is a prime example of what I’m calling Big Earthy Summer, which finds us celebrating the rich, organic, slightly gross pleasures of all things vegetal, floral, and hot.

Tellingly, Big Earthy Summer is often rooted in scent. People aren’t looking to smell like an old leather couch these days. Instead, they’re turning to fragrances like Louis Vuitton’s “Imagination” (citron, bergamot), D.S. & Durga’s “Rose Atlantic” (you smell a little lemon and then you smell a little ocean water), and “Fico di Amalfi” from Acqua di Parma. Big Earthy Summer is about trying to regain a sense of wonderment from the little things—getting back to the land without having to leave the city.

This has been some time in the making. I remember cracking jokes a few years back because I didn’t understand why the teens were talking up Cottagecore or Gardencore or whatever they were calling it. But then I started stocking up on Tevas and Birkenstocks, turning my living room into a little jungle, carrying my Nalgene around during in the day and getting really into drinking wines described as “funky” at night. And then spring 2020 hit, we had to mask up everywhere we went and it robbed us of the chance to delight in one of our senses. Now we’re looking to get back in touch with the natural any way we can. It’s the stuff we eat, and the candles and fragrances we use, but it’s also what we wear. My favorite celebrity summer fit is the whole Chris Pine putting on a weird hat that makes him like he’s going to help Ina Garten tend to her veggie garden, which lines up nicely with the obsession with the “Costal grandma” aesthetic. He might be onto something: flowers, too, are everywhere. On shirts, pants, hats, whatever. It’s all flowers, flowers, flowers, like every journey outside is a walk through the garden.

Especially as the climate crisis grows more and more present in our lives, the embrace of earthiness doesn’t feel like a trend or a fad so much as an embrace of things we might have taken for granted. Like the tomato, the inspiration behind the Flamingo Estate candle. People have always loved tomatoes (save for Tom Brady), but I’d say the way we talk about them now—about how tomato season is a thing we look forward to, about the quest of finding the ugliest heirloom at the farmers’ market or how places are using them—is a healthy obsession.

I started joking a few months back that I was anticipating a “sundried summer,” that, all of a sudden, the beloved add-on from “fancy” sandwich shops from the Clinton era were starting to show up on menus again. I started going to one place in particular, Otway Bakery in Brooklyn and asked another customer who ordered the same thing—a simple sandwich with sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella, and the earthiest of all spreads, pesto—what they liked about the tomatoes. She told me it reminded her of being a kid, but also mentioned that the tomato added a “meatiness” to the sandwich. Actual meat isn’t so popular these days, and the backlash against plant-based burgers is underway, so mushrooms, eggplants and especially tomatoes are getting their moment to shine.

Whether or not the earthy vibes stretch past the summer remains to be seen. For those of us that live in colder climates, the fall and winter offering of produce might not seem as lush as the bounty of the warmer months. But the connection to something real—or, like a tomato-scented candle, close to real— is undeniable. As I walked through my local farmers’ market on a recent Saturday morning, I couldn’t help but notice the casual cool of the other people checking out the offerings from local farms. Nothing flashy—a lot of old concert or faded “Bernie 2016” t-shirts, a lot of clogs and canvas sneakers, people at their most basic and natural. Things felt pretty…earthy. And set against the backdrop of all the fruits and veggies, the bushels of lavender, loaves of fresh-baked bread and, yes, all the tomatoes, everything and everybody looked perfect.

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