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by William Alexander
Book reviewed by Maxine Cass, Master Gardener 2015
What if you’ve always wanted a garden, craved fresh produce produced organically, and were prepared to obsess over every detail?
Everyone’s been through the wringer with sulky contractors, garden disasters, and off-the-wall obsession. William Alexander, who must be truly competent in his “real life” technology job, makes himself out to be wildly enthusiastic but not very good at thinking through the garden projects on his rural New York acreage. He’s already restored the huge, unlivable and locally infamous Big Brown House in the “Town That Time Forgot” when he and his wife get around to planning the garden.
Long-suffering spouse Anne, a surgeon who tends their flower and herb garden to relax, jokingly offers to take on new patients to pay for pricey fix-its and handles every one of her husband’s garden brainstorms with saintly calm. Their two constantly embarrassed and exasperated school-age kids lob one liners to keep dad in line.
Alexander’s mastered telling stories on himself. The cute – to him – landscape designer with the irresistible crinkly green eyes intrigues Anne only with her flawless teeth. Deer, squirrels and other garden eaters are the enemy, though Superchuck, the world’s smartest groundhog, nearly triumphs. In a hurry to turn into a garden center, he causes a multi-car pile-up. The kids are given their own garden beds to plant and barely tend the strawberries they choose as the only thing worth planting. And, no one wants to go out in a February blizzard when William asks someone to pick Anne’s thyme for his potato-apple-thyme gratin.
After years of it, his back calls a pause. He tallies up how much he’s spent in his quest for the perfect Brandywine tomato. Yes, he tells Anne, those few beauties cost $64. Each.
The $64 Tomato is a very funny book and is perfect to read out loud, chapter-by-chapter. Or, take a break from looking at seed and garden catalogues on a cold night and let Alexander’s adventures in the garden and orchard leave you ready to try where he has gone before.