It is a story as old as America itself. When we dream, we dream big. Big houses, big cars and, in the case of The $64 Tomato, big gardens. In this book, author William Alexander details his love/hate relationship with his garden. I knew I was going to love this book within the first chapter, when I found myself laughing out loud time and time again. Alexander perfectly captures the idealism and absurdity that usually accompany any home improvement project.
I must say that, after my childhood of helping my Grandmother and my Father in the garden and even, reluctantly, maintaining my own small garden plot as a child, I found it a bit ludicrous that anyone would actually set out to “design” a vegetable garden. In my experience, you usually just mark out an area, have the neighbor plow it up and disc it down, lay out some string lines and plant. Aesthetics were rarely, if ever, an issue. Now you bring in experts, test the soil, try exotic new varieties of plants and, so it seems, endure many failures.
While the book is funny, it is also a trifle sad. There is an underlying current of hubris which seems to thrive in the heart of every American. We like to think we can conquer and control anything, even nature itself, when, in reality, we can only hold back nature for short periods of time and even then, only in relatively small areas. It is also a story of having eyes too large for our stomachs. Rows and rows of zucchini that must be given away, if not forced on the neighbors. Yes, we love having fresh food from our very own gardens, but it seems we have no self-control. If “some” is good than “more” must certainly be better.
The $64 Tomato is entertaining and enlightening because it is so true. Anyone with any aspirations to gardening will recognize themselves in its pages. Gardening, like life itself, is about struggle and this book details many struggles with bugs, grass, weeds and neighbors. Even then, I can guess that these were only a small portion of the troubles that occurred in the real garden. Television writers, like my wife, constantly deal with this issue. Just because something happened in real life, often times the viewers will never believe it. I would guess there are more stories that this gardening author has yet to tell.
The saddest part, but one that rings true, is the author’s struggle in finding balance between gardening as a task and gardening as a joy. I know that I experience this every day in my own garden and I am sure you do, too. It is a rare gardener who can find joy in pulling weeds time and time again That said, don’t let the dandelions get you down. Pour a nice, cool lemonade (preferably made from your own lemons), sit back in your favorite chair and enjoy, if just for a moment, the garden you have created. While I certainly hope you don’t spend $64 for each tomato you harvest, this book can make you laugh and give you solace in the knowledge that most gardener’s are happily suffering right along with you.
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