Overview

This collection of essays covers an enormous range of gardening subjects and it will charm and instruct gardeners everywhere.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden

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Overview

This collection of essays covers an enormous range of gardening subjects and it will charm and instruct gardeners everywhere.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
First published by Eleanor Perényi in 1981, this masterpiece has now been updated with an introduction by Allen Lacy, as part of the Modern Library Gardening Series. Perényi's lively and engaging essays address topics of infinite interest to gardeners (azaleas, onions, mulch, and pests among them) and offer a timeless glimpse of the exhilarating, opinionated world of gardening, filled as it is of both tribulations and triumphs. Series editor Michael Pollan , author of The Botany of Desire, calls Green Thoughts "tart, smart, and beautifully written."
Library Journal
Modern Library expands its scope into gardening with these two titles. Published in 1981, Perenyi's text offers a collection of essays on topics from annuals to wild flowers and everything in between. The practical information is laced with anecdotes and historical tidbits about gardens and gardeners. Reaching back to 1871, Warner's volume also offers helpful advice along with much humor and even drama as he uses plant life to draw lessons for daily living. A nice break from the straightforward how-to books. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
“You do not have to be a good gardener to fall in love with Green Thoughts. It reads with the intrepid assurance of a classic.” —Mary McCarthy, The New York Review of Books

“Unlike any other gardening book I know, with its Old World charm, its down-to-earth practicality, its whimsy and sophistication.” —Brooke Astor, The New York Times Book Review

“One of those dangerous reference works that you reach for at a moment of horticultural crisis or indecision only to find yourself an hour later browsing far beyond the page where you began.” —The New Yorker

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307769664
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/3/2010
  • Series: Modern Library Gardening
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 900,246
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Eleanor Perényi was for many years the managing editor of Mademoiselle, an editor at Harper’s Bazaar, and a contributor to The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, and Esquire magazines. She is the author of a biography of Franz Liszt, which was nominated for a National Book Award, and More Was Lost, a memoir of her marriage to a Hungarian baron. She lives on the Connecticut coast.

Michael Pollan is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Botany of Desire and Second Nature, named one of the best gardening books of the twentieth century by the American Horticultural Society. He is a contributing editor to Harper’s magazine and a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine. Pollan chose the books for the Modern Library Gardening series because, as he writes, “these writers are some of the great talkers in the rich, provocative, and frequently uproarious conversation that, metaphorically at least, has been taking place over the back fence of our gardens at least since the time of Pliny.”

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Read an Excerpt

Introduction, by Allen Lacy

I first read Eleanor Perényi’s Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden shortly before its publication in 1981, when I was given an advance copy to review for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Its appearance was a great and wonderful surprise. I had some slight knowledge of Ms. Perényi as a former managing editor of Mademoiselle and the author of a highly acclaimed book on Franz Liszt; nothing in her professional history, however, suggested that a book on gardening should be expected from her. But in her foreword, Perényi set her readers straight: she is a writer, she gardens, and “a writer who gardens is sooner or later going to write a book about the subject-I take that as inevitable.” (Perhaps so. After all, among Germaine Greer’s books there’s a very humorous one called The Revolting Garden, written under the pseudonym Rose Blight.)

The sequel to Green Thoughts that many people hoped for has never come. But we can be grateful for what we’ve got. Eleanor Perényi takes her place among a number of other writers who wrote one terrific book on gardening that may be read over and over with unfailing pleasure. Green Thoughts thus takes its place alongside such works as Charles Dudley Warner’s My Summer in a Garden (1870), Celia Thaxter’s An Island Garden (1894), and Karel Capek’s The Gardener’s Year (1929).

When I first read it, Green Thoughts astonished me. Here, all of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere, came this wonderful collection of seventy-two essays of varying lengths, addressing almost every imaginable topic pertaining to gardening. Here were pieces dealing with the day-to-day, entirely practical, aspects of the horticultural enterprise, including essays on mulches and compost (Perényi favored them), and pesticides and poisons (they appalled her). Here were tributes to earthworms and expressions of horror that there should be such creatures as snakes, even “the smallest garter snake.” Green Thoughts was also a treasury of praise for those flowering plants that even nongardeners find easy to love, for New England asters, for dahlias and peonies and lilies. When she had reservations-and she often did-Ms. Perényi expressed her doubts forthrightly. She had very little to say in favor of chrysanthemums, and was decidedly lukewarm about most modern daylilies. Considering that named varieties of daylilies totaled 15,000 (the number is now at least twice that), she asserted that “the breeders have surely gone too far.” She unburdened herself of additional criticism of trends in the world of hemerocallis. “Ninety-nine percent of the new varieties I wouldn’t have at any price. Daylilies colored orchid, cream, peach, make me slightly sick, and the names are awful too: I would blush to admit that I was growing Precious One, Disneyland, or Bitsy.” Modern rose breeders, who have given us overblown, disease-prone hybrid teas with names like Chrysler Imperial, also get knocked down a peg or two. Perényi leans toward older varieties, toward shrub roses rather than hybrid teas (although some of these have their faults as well, tending to be large and ungainly plants difficult to place within the confines of gardens of modest size). She also put in her word about herbs and the people who raise them: she respected “gardeners who raise herbs for their botanical interest, without quaintness or sentimentality,” but she dreaded anyone for whom herbs were the subjects of a cult-“the person who can’t look at a rue without murmuring that it is herb of grace o’Sundays, or a hyssop without dragging in the Biblical references.”

Any reader who picks up Green Thoughts and begins to browse at random, running across what it has to say about most modern daylilies and many modern roses, will perhaps entertain the thought that Eleanor Perényi is highly opinionated, even prejudiced. And of course she is. Gardening is a passionate enterprise, and passion is always opinionated and strongly so. As for prejudice, show me a person who is without prejudice of any kind on any subject and I’ll show you someone who may be admirably virtuous but is surely no gardener. Prejudice against people is reprehensible, but a healthy set of prejudices against plants is a gardener’s best friend, for gardening is richly complicated, and prejudice simplifies it greatly. Plants fall fairly neatly into three major categories. There are those that any reasonable person can only hate-crabgrass, poison ivy, and stinging nettle, for instance. There are those that only the perverse can dislike-say, columbines and bleeding heart and hardy cyclamens with flowers like tiny pink or white butterflies. In between these two categories there are plants about which reasonable and decent people may reasonably disagree. I may be mad for elephant ears and caladiums, and you may find them ostentatiously vulgar. Our differences do not matter, for I may grow what I like in my garden and you may do the same in yours. Furthermore, the same person may at some point in his or her life undergo a kind of conversion experience. A dislike of hydrangeas may suddenly vanish, to be replaced by a desire to grow as many as can be crammed into one’s little plot of earth. (Thus it happened with me not long ago.)

The best garden writing is always highly opinionated. It simply goes with the territory. My Summer in a Garden, An Island Garden, and The Gardener’s Year are all firm in their expressions of likes and dislikes. The same may be said for the other two influential titles which I place alongside Green Thoughts. Katharine S. White’s Onward and Upward in the Garden appeared posthumously in 1979, edited by her husband, E. B. White, but
as a series of fourteen essays published in The New Yorker over a period of twelve years starting in 1958, it had already made its mark, vastly enlarging the sense of the great breadth and scope in writing about gardens (mostly about nursery catalogs as a distinct literary genre). Henry Mitchell’s The Essential Earthman was published the same year as Green Thoughts, at a time when much American garden writing was as dull as a committee report. Mitchell was often funny, and always passionate. He was especially enamored of bearded irises, roses, and dragonflies, and his advice was endlessly quotable, as when he warned readers that “marigolds should be used as sparingly as ultimatums.”

Green Thoughts, Onward and Upward in the Garden, and The Essential Earthman have much in common. For all three, what we need to know about gardens is best said in words, not pictured in the glossy, impossible never-never land of colored photographs where there is never a weed in sight nor a damaged leaf. They are books, as I have said already, to be read over and over. In each, there is a deeply personal voice to be heard (and each voice is highly distinctive).

But only Green Thoughts was conceived as a book in the first instance. Onward and Upward and The Essential Earthman were collections of pieces, originally of magazine articles in the first instance, and newspaper columns in the second. Of the three books, Green Thoughts ranges most widely outside the world of horticulture, with discussions of or allusions to Pliny and Petrarch, Virgil and Chaucer, George Sand and Chekhov, Henry James and Lewis Carroll. It also explores some extraordinarily important territory in “Woman’s Place,” a perceptive inquiry into gender and the history of horticulture.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Table of Contents

Introduction to the Modern Library Gardening Series vii
Introduction xi
Foreword xix
A Note on References xxi
Annuals 3
Artichokes 8
Ashes 9
Asparagus 10
Asters 12
Autumn 14
Azaleas and Rhododendrons 18
Beans 21
Belgian Fence 24
Biennials 25
Birds 28
Blues 31
Compost 39
Dahlias 46
Daylilies 54
Earthworms 55
Endive 57
Evergreens 59
Failures 63
Fennel 66
Frost 67
Fruit 68
Garlic 70
Gooseberries and Currants 72
Hedges 74
Help 79
Herbs 83
Hybrids 101
Invitations 104
Ivy 105
James vs. Benson 107
Lawns 108
Lilies 116
Longevity 121
Magic 123
Making Notes 126
Mazes 130
Mulches 130
Naturalizing 135
Night 141
Onions 143
Origins 146
Partly Cloudy 148
Paths 153
Peonies 156
Perennials 161
Pests and Diseases 166
Poison 175
Poppies 177
Potatoes 179
Pruning 181
Reward 187
Rock Gardens 188
Roses 193
Seeds 202
Seed Tapes 207
Seeing Eye 208
Standards 209
Strawberries 213
Sweet Peas 214
Toads 216
Tomato 217
Tools 221
Tree Houses 225
Trees 227
Tulips 228
Two Gardeners 235
Vegetables 242
Vines 250
Weeds 253
Wild Flowers 256
Woman's Place 259
Catalogues 271
Index 281
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First Chapter

Introduction, by Allen Lacy

I first read Eleanor Perényi's Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden shortly before its publication in 1981, when I was given an advance copy to review for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Its appearance was a great and wonderful surprise. I had some slight knowledge of Ms. Perényi as a former managing editor of Mademoiselle and the author of a highly acclaimed book on Franz Liszt; nothing in her professional history, however, suggested that a book on gardening should be expected from her. But in her foreword, Perényi set her readers straight: she is a writer, she gardens, and "a writer who gardens is sooner or later going to write a book about the subject-I take that as inevitable." (Perhaps so. After all, among Germaine Greer's books there's a very humorous one called The Revolting Garden, written under the pseudonym Rose Blight.)

The sequel to Green Thoughts that many people hoped for has never come. But we can be grateful for what we've got. Eleanor Perényi takes her place among a number of other writers who wrote one terrific book on gardening that may be read over and over with unfailing pleasure. Green Thoughts thus takes its place alongside such works as Charles Dudley Warner's My Summer in a Garden (1870), Celia Thaxter's An Island Garden (1894), and Karel Capek's The Gardener's Year (1929).

When I first read it, Green Thoughts astonished me. Here, all of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere, came this wonderful collection of seventy-two essays of varying lengths, addressing almost every imaginable topic pertaining to gardening. Here were piecesdealing with the day-to-day, entirely practical, aspects of the horticultural enterprise, including essays on mulches and compost (Perényi favored them), and pesticides and poisons (they appalled her). Here were tributes to earthworms and expressions of horror that there should be such creatures as snakes, even "the smallest garter snake." Green Thoughts was also a treasury of praise for those flowering plants that even nongardeners find easy to love, for New England asters, for dahlias and peonies and lilies. When she had reservations-and she often did-Ms. Perényi expressed her doubts forthrightly. She had very little to say in favor of chrysanthemums, and was decidedly lukewarm about most modern daylilies. Considering that named varieties of daylilies totaled 15,000 (the number is now at least twice that), she asserted that "the breeders have surely gone too far." She unburdened herself of additional criticism of trends in the world of hemerocallis. "Ninety-nine percent of the new varieties I wouldn't have at any price. Daylilies colored orchid, cream, peach, make me slightly sick, and the names are awful too: I would blush to admit that I was growing Precious One, Disneyland, or Bitsy." Modern rose breeders, who have given us overblown, disease-prone hybrid teas with names like Chrysler Imperial, also get knocked down a peg or two. Perényi leans toward older varieties, toward shrub roses rather than hybrid teas (although some of these have their faults as well, tending to be large and ungainly plants difficult to place within the confines of gardens of modest size). She also put in her word about herbs and the people who raise them: she respected "gardeners who raise herbs for their botanical interest, without quaintness or sentimentality," but she dreaded anyone for whom herbs were the subjects of a cult-"the person who can't look at a rue without murmuring that it is herb of grace o'Sundays, or a hyssop without dragging in the Biblical references."

Any reader who picks up Green Thoughts and begins to browse at random, running across what it has to say about most modern daylilies and many modern roses, will perhaps entertain the thought that Eleanor Perényi is highly opinionated, even prejudiced. And of course she is. Gardening is a passionate enterprise, and passion is always opinionated and strongly so. As for prejudice, show me a person who is without prejudice of any kind on any subject and I'll show you someone who may be admirably virtuous but is surely no gardener. Prejudice against people is reprehensible, but a healthy set of prejudices against plants is a gardener's best friend, for gardening is richly complicated, and prejudice simplifies it greatly. Plants fall fairly neatly into three major categories. There are those that any reasonable person can only hate-crabgrass, poison ivy, and stinging nettle, for instance. There are those that only the perverse can dislike-say, columbines and bleeding heart and hardy cyclamens with flowers like tiny pink or white butterflies. In between these two categories there are plants about which reasonable and decent people may reasonably disagree. I may be mad for elephant ears and caladiums, and you may find them ostentatiously vulgar. Our differences do not matter, for I may grow what I like in my garden and you may do the same in yours. Furthermore, the same person may at some point in his or her life undergo a kind of conversion experience. A dislike of hydrangeas may suddenly vanish, to be replaced by a desire to grow as many as can be crammed into one's little plot of earth. (Thus it happened with me not long ago.)

The best garden writing is always highly opinionated. It simply goes with the territory. My Summer in a Garden, An Island Garden, and The Gardener's Year are all firm in their expressions of likes and dislikes. The same may be said for the other two influential titles which I place alongside Green Thoughts. Katharine S. White's Onward and Upward in the Garden appeared posthumously in 1979, edited by her husband, E. B. White, but
as a series of fourteen essays published in The New Yorker over a period of twelve years starting in 1958, it had already made its mark, vastly enlarging the sense of the great breadth and scope in writing about gardens (mostly about nursery catalogs as a distinct literary genre). Henry Mitchell's The Essential Earthman was published the same year as Green Thoughts, at a time when much American garden writing was as dull as a committee report. Mitchell was often funny, and always passionate. He was especially enamored of bearded irises, roses, and dragonflies, and his advice was endlessly quotable, as when he warned readers that "marigolds should be used as sparingly as ultimatums."

Green Thoughts, Onward and Upward in the Garden, and The Essential Earthman have much in common. For all three, what we need to know about gardens is best said in words, not pictured in the glossy, impossible never-never land of colored photographs where there is never a weed in sight nor a damaged leaf. They are books, as I have said already, to be read over and over. In each, there is a deeply personal voice to be heard (and each voice is highly distinctive).

But only Green Thoughts was conceived as a book in the first instance. Onward and Upward and The Essential Earthman were collections of pieces, originally of magazine articles in the first instance, and newspaper columns in the second. Of the three books, Green Thoughts ranges most widely outside the world of horticulture, with discussions of or allusions to Pliny and Petrarch, Virgil and Chaucer, George Sand and Chekhov, Henry James and Lewis Carroll. It also explores some extraordinarily important territory in "Woman's Place," a perceptive inquiry into gender and the history of horticulture.
Read More Show Less

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