Saturday, June 25, 2016

The $64 Tomato by William Alexander

Gardening with Gusto (Stuttering Summer)

I'm continuing with repeats of book reviews this summer that involve gardening or traveling.  If you missed the others so far, check out French Dirt by Richard Goodman or The Plant Hunters: Two Hundred Years of Adventure and Discovery Around the World by Toby Musgrave, Chris Gardner, and Will Musgrave (which is way more exciting than it sounds).

Along with the reviews, my guides, Jonathan and Drew Scott, will show you glimpses of my own garden flowers.  But first, the book....

The $64 Tomato by William Alexander is a humorous account of a gardener battling to start and maintain a whopping, ├╝ber-sized 2,000 square foot kitchen garden!  For a professional man and his physician wife to even strive for such a large garden in their spare time is either insane or they have to have a good sense of humor.  Well, he definitely had a good sense of humor—this book was funny.  About being insane, I’m not qualified to comment. 

In this book William Alexander calls gardening a “blood sport” for a good reason. He battled everything from clay soil, to garden designers, landscapers, weeds, numerous bug infestations, squirrels, and even groundhogs, or more specifically “Superchuck.”  One of the most amusing episodes was his battle with Superchuck.  Superchuck was woodchuck, aka groundhog, who somehow bypassed the electric fence to sneak into the kitchen garden and took bites out of prized Brandywine tomatoes. And in his super arrogance, he didn’t just take a couple tomatoes and devour them. No, he took one bite out of a whole handful of tomatoes each time he magically worked his way through the 10,000-volt deterrence.  What followed was battle of wits.  You’ll have to read it to see who officially won. 

I know all about thieves who steal the fruits and vegetables you so lovingly pamper.  It doesn’t feel good to be duped like that. For three years I had coddled my French prune plum tree.  I had bought it from a nursery and couldn’t wait to taste those juicy flavorful plums.  The first year, obviously there would be none.  That was understood.  The second spring I saw three or four hopeful flower buds, but nothing came of them.  The third spring I spotted a whole load of buds and to my great elation, five of them eventually budded into real-live plums.  At first they looked like little 
capers, then they became olive sized.  Each day I would wander out to look at my bounty in great anticipation.  I was looking forward to making my grandmother's plum jam or this wonderful plum tort.  I know that wasn’t going to happen with five plums but it was an exciting start.  It was the whole reason I bought that plum tree.  My grandma’s jam is the best thing this side of heaven. I have made it with store-bought plums and my mom and stepdad have even fought over their portion of it.  It’s that good!  

I knew the time was getting closer and closer to picking the plums, and I was getting more and more excited. So the day I went out to harvest my crop was the day I lost a little faith in humanity.  My five plums were gone! Gone, baby, gone!  Not one of them was left. One of those nasty pests of the two-legged variety had stolen my plums. Footprints proved it. I was devastated.  My husband wasn’t happy either.  But being logical, he said, “Well, that’s bound to happen since the tree is planted in the alley, not our yard.”  

That’s right.  I confess, I had made a nice little planter behind my fence. My sister laughs at me and my alley planter.  She calls it the back-forty.  I call it a gift of nature.  A gift to me and my neighbors. When we moved from our large house on six acres to a small lot in town, I had lost a lot of gardening space.  In the new house, I was very limited. Planting in the alley seemed like a good solution.  It was a win/win situation.  The apartment building behind us got a nice little garden to look at, and we gained more space and privacy.  The trees helped block the prying eyes of those apartment dwellers.  But I can’t help wondering if it was one of those dwellers who spotted, coveted, and then stole my plums.
As luck, or bad luck would have it, the previous spring our beautiful Golden Chain tree on the inside of our garden was blown over in a windstorm. There was no saving it.  After the grand theft of my plums, I had my husband and son move the ornamental Thundercloud flowering plum tree with nice deep burgundy leaves from the herb garden to the alley. Don’t let the name fool you. A flowering plum produces no plums. Then they transplanted my beloved fruit-producing tree inside the yard to take the spot of the Golden Chain tree.  That was a couple years ago, and I' m happy to report my plum tree inside the yard is quite content and producing beautiful plums. 

My Alley.


And here are the stars of the show, Drew and Jonathan.

Drew and Jonathan stopping to smell the peony. 
Drew and Jonathan jump up high to see the day lilies and delphiniums.
Posing with an Asiatic lily.

Happy Gardening, Happy Reading!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Plant Hunters: Two Hundred Years of Adventure and Discovery Around the World by Toby Musgrave, Chris Gardner, and Will Musgrave

Extreme Gardening (Stuttering Summer)

I'm continuing with repeats of book reviews this summer that involve gardening or traveling.  Check out French Dirt by Richard Goodman, if you missed it.  

Along with the reviews, my guides, Jonathan and Drew Scott, will show you glimpses of my own garden. 

Mommy, where do monkey puzzle trees come from? Or how about the Douglas fir or Clematis Montana var. rubens?  Have you ever considered where all our plants came from (other than a catalog)?  The Plant Hunters: Two Hundred Years of Adventure and Discovery Around the World by Toby Musgrave, Chris Gardner, and Will Musgrave explores the lives of brave men who scoured the world over to bring back those lovely plants that thrive in your garden. Their quests to find plant specimens often put them in perilous situations.  In this fascinating book you’ll find out how Ernest “Chinese” Wilson, the prolific plant hunter, got his “lily limp.”  You’d never guess this mild-mannered looking man was actually a daring Indiana-Jones type who faced treacherous rapids on the Yangtze River and narrow mountainous trails with dangerous landslides.  And speaking of Indiana Jones, Frank Kingdon-Ward was also terrified of snakes, but that didn’t stop him from conducting almost two dozen expeditions to exotic locales such as Burma and Tibet. This was one hardy man.  He endured falling off a cliff, armies of leeches, malaria, being impaled by a bamboo spike, and even survived an earthquake.  And you thought you had a rough day at work. Discover which plant collector was trampled to death when he fell into a pit that was already inhabited by a bull.   Follow the lives of both renowned Joes:  Sir Joseph Banks and Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker.  In all, the lives of ten fearless explorers are featured. 

Although their action-packed lives seem movie-worthy, their accounts are conveyed in a purely biographical format. It’s a “just-the-facts, ma’am” style of writing with no flourishing descriptions, no glimpses into their thoughts or emotions, no conversations to follow.  Nevertheless, I found this book an eye-opening adventure that made me look at the flowers in my garden in a whole new light.

As a special treat, I wanted to share a view of my friend Jill's beautiful garden.  I was so excited to be able to tour this awesome place.  Here she has a pergola with colorful lupines and masses of dame's rocket underneath.  Notice the wine corks on the arbor posts.  What a fun idea!

Drew and Jonathan posing next to some Columbine in my garden.
Here's Drew hard at work trying to close another deal.  Didn't anyone tell him this house is not for sale?

Here's Jonathan guarding my pink dianthus.
Jonathan hiding in the geraniums in a window box on my granddaughter's playhouse.  Tune in later this summer for a tour of her playhouse. 

Happy reading, happy gardening!


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