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The $64 Tomato

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This is the curse of the serious gardener: Our gardens never live up to our exalted visions. Few of us achieve the meditative state of Wendell Berry's mad farmer: "Let me wake in the night / and hear it raining / and go back to sleep."

In "The $64 Tomato," William Alexander transcends the inevitable failures with bushel baskets of self-deprecating wit. As a bonus, bits of practical information are scattered as freely as seeds among the hilarious anecdotes.

With a three-acre tract in the fertile Hudson River Valley, Alexander sites his garden on an "elongated, sloping piece of land in a hollow between our kitchen and the neighbor's driveway." It is "oddly below grade" and "(holds) water like a sponge."

Not an auspicious beginning.

He finds the landscape designer's dirty fingernails mildly erotic and lets her talk him into a formal design even though it's too "Cartesian" for his tastes. After 2,000 square feet of raised beds are finally installed, he realizes an irrigation system is a must.

And so "exactly one week after George had laid in the sod paths, the sprinkler contractor came in and tore up the sod paths." Anyone who has ever undertaken a similar project can relate to the way it spirals out of control....

There are also those perfect moments when his "garden (is) the Garden of Eden before the fall, when everything (is) pure and blissful, and I (am) blissful in my ignorance."

And that's a Wendell Berry moment indeed.