Garden bloggers’ book club, part two: The cost of the garden

I’ve never gone back and added up what it cost us to put in and maintain the garden this year. It’s not like I’m going to do anything with that information, really, because I’m not someone who spends a whole lot of time budgeting. Why sit down and make a budget when there are other fun things to do like scrub the toilet or chase the silverfish around in the basement?

But in The $64 Tomato, William Alexander does try to tally up his costs, which is how he figures out that each of his Brandywines cost that outrageous amount. In The Essential Earthman, Henry Mitchell also takes account of his garden costs, but comes up with a number, for the whole thing, of something like $46.

How does he come in for an entire garden season with a lower total cost than William Alexander comes up with for a single tomato? Well, there are a couple of things at work. First, inflation. Mitchell was writing well before Alexander. Second, space. Alexander writes about planting on a huge property, complete with fruit trees and multiple beds and all kinds of nonsense that Mitchell probably couldn’t fit in his suburban Washington garden.

But really, the true explanation is that Mitchell cheated. He talks about writing down what he spent on catalog orders, but not the dribs and drabs of what he spent as he stopped in to various garden centers around the area while doing research for his column.

“These incidentals are not reckoned in the garden account book, because they are really incidental rather than ‘garden purchases,’” Mitchell says. “I think of them as a beer, and surely nobody would expect me to charge the garden if I stopped in for a beer while checking out garden centers.”

Remember what I said on Tuesday about feeling, for the most part, like I was at a party filled with people speaking another language? Well, suffice it to say that, by putting it in the context of beer, Mitchell began speaking in my tongue. It all became clear: Henry Mitchell and I? We have the exact same sense of how to budget, particularly when it comes to gardening.

This post is part of the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

8 Responses to “Garden bloggers’ book club, part two: The cost of the garden”

  1. 1 Lydia November 16, 2006 at 6:50 am

    If, to your budget, you add the cost of beer, do you then subtract the value of the joy of gardening? Seems to me that would more than balance the budget!

  2. 2 inadvertentgardener November 16, 2006 at 7:46 am

    Lydia, I like the way you do your math! Sounds like sound arithmetic to me…

  3. 3 carol November 16, 2006 at 6:06 pm

    Garden budget? I’m not much for a budget either, especially when it comes to what I spend on gardening!

    I love your two posts about the book, and will include them in the “round up” post at the end of the month. Thanks for being a part of the club!

  4. 4 Kim November 16, 2006 at 9:36 pm

    “Why sit down and make a budget when there are other fun things to do like scrub the toilet or chase the silverfish around in the basement?” LOL! I so love reading your posts, IAG.

    Hmm… wait a minute… does he mean that the garden centers sold beer back then? Or that he was lucky enough to have one right next to a bar? (I’m not to that part yet!)

  5. 5 inadvertentgardener November 17, 2006 at 12:47 am

    Carol, thanks so much for your kind comments, and for including me. I’m really enjoying your project!

    Kim, thanks for your laughter! And if you find a garden center that sells beer, please tell me. I’d be all over that…

  6. 6 Kathy November 17, 2006 at 6:58 pm

    This has to be my favorite essay of the whole book, because unlike the rest of you (apparently) I spent my first years as a gardener wondering whether I had to allocate my discretionary fund (what I thought of as my allowance) to a certain garden purchase, or if I could in good conscience deduct it from the household account. I remember my first year gardening at our first house (after a decade of apartment and trailer living) my husband gave me $100 to spend on my garden. At the time I thought I’d have money left over, but, of course, before the season was over I’d regret there wasn’t more. I remember the first time I subscribed to a gardening magazine it was an agonizing decision, though I now have no trouble renewing for 3 years at a whack (after I’m sure they’re giving me their best price, of course).

  7. 7 Annie in Austin November 17, 2006 at 11:33 pm

    There have been many years where the garden budget didn’t have much wiggle room, even using the Henry Mitchell accounting system. If anyone gave me Christmas or birthday money it went for gardening. I think my mother-in-law was shocked when I used her gift to buy rocks. [She might have wished I’d get a professional haircut instead.]
    Henry would have understood what the gardener’s priorities must be!


  8. 8 inadvertentgardener November 18, 2006 at 3:46 pm

    Kathy, it’s amazing how quickly the money slips away during gardening. I really am a little afraid to add it all up…

    Annie, I love that — I agree…Henry would have completely understood!

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