The Joys and Tribulations of Home Gardening

An excerpt from William Alexander's book about the joys and tribulations of home gardening.

| September/October 2006

  • The $64 Tomato
    William Alexander's book The $64 Tomato shares the author's tips on gardening.

  • The $64 Tomato

Excerpt from William Alexander's book on home gardening. 

"I want death to find me planting my cabbages."
— Michael Eyquem de Montaigne (1533-1592).

I am sitting here, in late September, at my kitchen table, cradling a ripe, heart-size Brandywine tomato in the palm of my hand. A scarce few minutes ago, it was on the vine, a living, growing organism. Now it has brought the warmth of the September noon sun into my chilly kitchen, warming my hand, almost pulsing with life. In a few moments it will be lunch, but I am in no rush to slice into this lovely fruit, the last tomato of the season.

I will miss the fresh tomatoes, the crickety sounds of summer, the lobster rolls eaten on the porch. But I am also relieved that summer is over. Gardening is often thought to be a genteel, relaxing hobby, an activity for the women of the garden club as they dally about in their straw hats, fitting lotioned hands into goatskin gloves, sipping tea under the shade of a magnolia. For me, gardening more often resembles blood sport, a never-ending battle with the weather, insects, deer, groundhogs, weeds, edgy gardeners, incompetent contractors, and the limitations of my own middle-aged body. And it turns out to be a very expensive sport.

So why do I persist with home gardening? I can offer a few reasons.

First and foremost, I do it for the food. Some years ago, for better or worse, I crossed the line from gardener to family farmer, but truthfully, as long as I’ve gardened I’ve been motivated by the food. There really is nothing like a fresh August tomato. The leeks I grow taste more or less like the leeks from the supermarket; ditto the peppers and rhubarb. But a homegrown, vine-ripened tomato is probably more different from the store version than any other crop you can grow. I start salivating in June for a bacon, lettuce and tomato.

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