"I can take people into my back yard, to a spot down by the pool, where I have what looks like a field of creeping thyme. If you were to dig under it you would find there's actually a patio there. I can see the book as clear as day, even though it must be ten years ago, where we saw this wonderful patio with creeping thyme in the cracks. What I didn't realize -- what they didn't tell you in the book -- was that they must have had a gardener coming in every single week cutting that thyme back, because it grows like a weed. In no time at all, I lost the slate I had put in, and the patio was completely overwhelmed.
"So, we didn't realize what we were getting ourselves into. And we were very romantic about it.
"Yet, even with my bad neck now and with tendonitis in both elbows, there is something about being in touch with the earth and being part of that harvest tradition.
"I was doing an AARP interview the other day. They have no sense of humor over there. But they asked me 'What advice would you have for aging gardeners?' No, they don't use the word 'aging,' they said 'mature' gardeners. Anyway, I said, 'Don't plant anything that's growing tall faster than you're growing shorter.' They refused to print it!"
"Are you going to be canning peaches again this year?"
"That's a good question. We didn't last year. I've been more attentive to thinning out, trying to keep the number of peaches down. We had said we would never can again. But to show you what a sucker I still am, I was just reading in Cook's Illustrated that there's a new serrated peach peeler out.
"The hardest part of canning is peeling the damn peaches. You dip them in boiling water, but then you've got that steam -- it's messy, and gloppy. But, I said to my wife, 'Wow, if there's a new peach peeler that can make peeling easier, maybe we will can peaches after all.' She just kind of shrugged, and said 'Sure.'"
"Can you walk me through the process you use?"
"First, you have all these wicker baskets full of peaches.
"You have to sterilize the jars. We have a new dishwasher which claims to have a sterile cycle on it; we've just been trusting that it really is. That makes things a little easier. You still have to do the tops and the rings and so on.
"I dip the peaches in the boiling water for a bit and then draw two full circles, from north pole to south pole, around the peach with a sharp paring knife, and peel off the skin. Then, you have to slice them. Our peaches are not freestone, so you have to kind of fiddle with the stone in the middle.
"Then, you jam the peaches into the jars and fill them with the syrup just to the top, but not quite to the top, and wipe the rim clean. I find it nerve-wracking because I'm always convinced that I'm going to poison us. I never have that sense that I'm really doing it right because no one has ever shown me how. I just learned from books."
"Do you have one of those old blue and white speckled canners to process them in?"
"We sure do. We don't have one of the newer steam ones, we have the old enamel kind."
"How do you avoid mushy canned peaches? About every three years I get it right and the other two years they're mealy or mushy when I'm finished canning them."
"Well, it seems that the slightly underripe ones, or just barely ripe, can the best. But the flip side of that, maybe this is where the peeler will come in, is that they are impossible to peel."
"Between now and the big harvest, you're going on vacation?"
"We're leaving the house for a week and, to be honest, the garden is the reason why we're leaving for such a short time.
"One year we went to Spain, and actually went in June, figuring that was safe. When we came back, my positive and negative electric wires had twisted in a windstorm and had shorted out, and the garden was bare. The deer had eaten everything to the ground.
"Now we feel like anything beyond a week away isn't safe. This is admittedly insane. I'll be the first person to say that. I'm kind of living in this prison like one of the groundhogs that I've trapped."
"If you could go back to the beginning, ten years ago, I know there are many things you would do differently, but what would you make sure you did exactly the same?"
"Grow the foods that you love and can't get fresh. Heirloom tomatoes, obviously, are number one on that list for me. Not only is any back-yard tomato better than any supermarket tomato, but an heirloom is better than most things you're going to get at a farm stand, unless you're very lucky.
"A couple of years ago I grew Red Sun shallots for the first time. I figured these kinds of root vegetables were probably going to be pretty much like what you get in the store, but I was just amazed when I cooked with them for the first time. They've actually changed the way that I cook. We do a lot of bistro cooking now. We'll just sauté meat, fish, or chicken and then cook those shallots for 20 seconds in a little butter, deglaze the pan, grab what herbs are in the garden, and we have a meal."
"Were you a cook before you were a gardener?"
"I got married fairly late, so I was a bachelor living on my own for a long time. I did learn to cook. But I think I've become a better cook and a more adventurous cook since I've had the garden. I do sometimes wonder, though, if I have a garden because I cook or if I cook because I have a garden. And I'm not always sure of the answer to that."
"Do you think your kids will plant gardens when they're adults?"
"I'd say my son, not a chance. Katy? Maybe. Katy is really into food. She's very much her father's daughter. It's so hard to predict, because if someone had asked my dad 30 years ago, he would have said there's no way that kid is ever even going to own a house, let alone raise a garden."