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Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden

Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden

by Diane Ackerman

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In the mode of her bestseller A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman celebrates the sensory pleasures of her garden through the seasons. Whether she is deadheading flowers or glorying in the profusion of roses, offering sugar water to a hummingbird or studying the slug, she welcomes the unexpected drama and extravagance as well as the sanctuary her


In the mode of her bestseller A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman celebrates the sensory pleasures of her garden through the seasons. Whether she is deadheading flowers or glorying in the profusion of roses, offering sugar water to a hummingbird or studying the slug, she welcomes the unexpected drama and extravagance as well as the sanctuary her garden offers.

Written in sensuous, lyrical prose, Cultivating Delight is a hymn to nature and to the pleasure we take in it.

Editorial Reviews

"Lyrical, knowledgeable and imaginative."
“Ackerman’s rich prose is a bridge to a world of discovery.”
“A fascinating tour of plant mythology and fact …[Ackerman] plays both sleuth and poet.”
Los Angeles Times
“Diane Ackerman takes us down the garden path with a renewed sense of awe …[and] enlightened eyes.”
People Magazine
"A fascinating tour of plant mythology and fact …[Ackerman] plays both sleuth and poet."
Los Angeles Daily News
Diane Ackerman takes us down the garden path with a renewed sense of awe ...[and] enlightened eyes.
Publishers Weekly
In a generous and jauntily haphazard excursion through the four seasons of her Ithaca, N.Y., backyard landscape and the innumerable interests of her fertile mind, poet and naturalist Ackerman (A Natural History of the Senses; A Natural History of Love) reprises her role as an enchanting intellectual sensualist. Her extensive flower (and even weed) beds provide both subject matter and metaphor. More interested in what a great garden does for a person's spirit and soul than in how to make it grow, Ackerman buzzes productively from idea to revelation to insight, lighting on topics as diverse as how roses are reminiscent of dolls' faces; why we see faces in nature; how plants, animals and humans are alike; whether plants have motives and instincts; how flowers protect themselves from both heat, aridity and freezing cold; and why women are more prone to hypothermia than men in just five paragraphs. She celebrates the diversity of weeds, finds beauty in chaos and order, embraces trial and error as a way of learning and respects the inevitable cycle of birth, death and rebirth. (Oct.) Forecast: With the success of her earlier works preceding her, and an eight-city author tour and 15-city NPR campaign to come, Ackerman's breezy philosophical lyricism should flourish amoang both garden enthusiasts and fans of encyclopedic curiosity. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Poet, essayist, and author of the popular A Natural History of the Senses and A Natural History of Love, Ackerman turns her inquisitiveness to the subject of gardens. Although her latest book is presented as a gardening journal, with sections on the four seasons, her musings know no bounds and verge on stream-of-consciousness. One typical chapter ranges over topics that include landscape architecture, lawns, fences, autumn colors, childhood memories, the difference between labyrinths and mazes, the history and definition of gardens, and compost, all peppered with quotations from a dozen authors. Depending on one's literary tastes, Ackerman's distinctive lyrical style can be intriguing or annoying; she offers no citations for her quotations and factual assertions. Her book will charm many readers who pick it up to absorb a few pages of observations at a time, but it is not for reading at long stretches. Nor does it have much in the way of practical gardening suggestions. Recommended for larger public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/01.] Daniel Starr, Metropolitan Museum of Art Lib., New York Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A rapt and lovely seasonal pilgrimage, perfectly attuned, through Ackerman's (Deep Play, 1999, etc.) home garden to points beyond. Time pools as Ackerman takes readers through the gardens around her home in Ithaca, New York. She enjoys simply hanging out, is highly distractible, spontaneously journeys off to big thoughts-beauty, mortality, fear-as she deadheads the asters, and like a Romantic garden, she comes with lots of surprises. She is highly observant ("There's a cricket head lying on the flagstone, probably left by a toad") and seems to know the life story and cultural history behind every plant in her landscape, redbud to leucothoe to her legions of roses. The outdoors feeds her-"Wonder is a bulky emotion; when it fills the heart and mind there's little room for anything else. We need the intimate truths of daylight and deer"-and has very much filled her mind with wondrous imagery: hummingbird nests of lichen and spider silk, roses that break their necks in a blooming fury, "apple trees ripe as a gin mill." Ackerman likes to reveal nature's intricate machinery: How does a bird know which one has been fed in a nest full of gaping mouths? Why is that cardinal shivering in June? This she balances with all the mystery that remains in the garden, in particular the workings of fate, as when she is bitten hard by the disappearance of a wren family after their birdhouse took a fall. Each season brings its stamp, but spring has got Ackerman in her pocket-"the air tastes tinny and sweet"-and, good Northeasterner that she is, she measures its progress against the buffetings of winter as if holding on for dear life: "Spring travels north at about thirteen miles a day, which is 47.6 feet perminute. I start looking for subtle clues and signs." Like Pan, Ackerman is an unpredictable sensualist in the garden, and one with lots of facts. A more gladdening companion would be hard to imagine. First serial to Parade; author tour

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Harper Perennial
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Product dimensions:
7.92(w) x 10.92(h) x 0.67(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I plan my garden as I wish I could plan my life, with islands of surprise, color, and scent. A seductive aspect of gardening is how many rituals it requires. Uncovering the garden in the spring, for example. Replacing a broken-down metal gate with a burly wooden one. Transplanting rhododendrons to a sunnier spot. Moving the holly bushes to the side of the garage, to hide them from the deer, who nonetheless find and eat them, prickles and all. (It may be like our affection for strong peppermints, hot mustards, spicy peppers — maybe the prickles add a certain frisson to the deer's leafy diet.) By definition, the garden's errands can never be finished, and its time-keeping reminds us of an order older and one more complete than our own. For the worldwide regiment of gardeners, reveille sounds in spring, and from then on it's full parade march, pomp and circumstance, and ritualized tending until winter. But even then there's much to admire and learn about in the garden — the hieroglyphics of animal tracks in the snow, for instance, or the graceful arc of rose canes — and there are many strategies to plan.

Surely there is a new way to outwit the marauding deer and Japanese beetles? Gardeners understand the word pestilence as only medieval burghers did. Gardeners can be cultured and refined. They can be earthy, big-hearted folk who love to get their hands dirty as they dig in the sunshine. They may obsess about tidy worlds of miniature, perfectly blooming trees. They may develop a passion for jungle gardens reminiscent of Amazonia. They may specialize in making desertsbloom. They may adore the weedy mayhem of huge banks of wildflowers. They may create interflowing worlds of color and greenery, in which small meadows give way to a trellised rosebed; a moon garden with blossoms all silver or white; a water garden complete with small bridge and waterfall; a butterfly garden also visited by hummingbirds; a "flamboyant" garden filled only with red, yellow, and orange flowers; a hedge of pampas grasses whose tall plumes sway like metronomes.

Gardeners have unique preferences, which tend to reflect dramas in their personal lives but they all share a love of natural beauty and a passion to create order, however briefly, from chaos. The garden becomes a frame for their vision of life. Whether organic or high-tech, they share a dark secret, as well. Despite their sensitivity to beauty and respect for nature, they all resort to murder and mayhem with steel-willed cunning.

Nurturing, decisive, interfering, cajoling, gardeners are eternal optimists who trust the ways of nature and believe passionately in the idea of improvement. As the gnarled, twisted branches of apple trees have taught them, beauty can spring in the most unlikely places. Patience, hard work, and a clever plan usually lead to success: private worlds of color, scent, and astonishing beauty. Small wonder a gardener plans her garden as she wishes she could plan her life.

Cultivating Delight. Copyright © by Diane Ackerman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Poet, essayist, and naturalist, Diane Ackerman is the author of many highly acclaimed works of nonfiction, including A Natural History of the Senses — a book beloved by readers all over the worldand the volumes Deep Play, A Slender Thread, The Rarest of the Rare, A Natural History of Love, The Moon by Whale Light, and a memoir on flying, On Extended Wings.

Her poetry has been collected into six volumes, among them Jaguar of Sweet Laughter: New and Selected Poems and, most recently, Praise My Destroyer.

Ms. Ackerman has received many prizes and awards, including the John Burroughs Nature Award and the Lavan Poetry Prize. A Visiting Professor at the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University, she was the National Endowment for the Humanities Distinguished Professor at the University of Richmond. Ms. Ackerman also has the unusual distinction of having had a molecule named after her — dianeackerone. She lives in upstate New York.

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