THE $64 TOMATO by William Alexander


How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden
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Perfectionist, aiming to subdue nature with constant gardening, reaps object lessons by the bushel.

When Alexander employed a professional designer to install a terraced garden plot on his newly purchased hilltop home in New York’s Hudson Valley, his motivations included the production of vegetables and fruit for the family table, everything strictly organic, pesticide-free, grown using top-of-the-line heirloom seeds, etc. Abetted and occasionally thwarted by wife Anne, a physician who immediately staked out a portion of the garden for flowers (and reserved the bulk of her own precious spare time for them), Alexander embarked on an epic struggle. His book records all the run-ins with variously eccentric and even hostile suppliers and contractors, plus his many misconceptions and foibles. For example, the depredations of deer and a determined groundhog prompted the installation of an electric fence. Aghast, the author watched as the groundhog, dubbed Superchuck, simply absorbed the shocks to wriggle through to his prize crops; when Alexander juiced up the system with a more powerful capacitor, Superchuck learned to time the intervals between pulses. It gradually dawned on the author that he was dealing with a complex and delicate ecosystem, a fact brought stunningly home when the planting of a mere four rosebushes brought in a Japanese beetle horde to ravage the property, and when turf webworms unwittingly imported along with a new lawn eventually brought down the corn in the field. After tallying the expenses for one bad season, the 19 Brandywine tomatoes picked proved to have cost $64 apiece.

An amusing compilation of do’s and don’ts for aspiring gardeners afflicted with hubris.

Pub Date: April 14th, 2006
ISBN: 1-56512-503-7
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Algonquin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2006


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