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Second Nature: A Gardener's Education

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In his articles and in best-selling books such as The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan has established himself as one of our most important and beloved writers on modern man's place in the natural world. A new literary classic, Second Nature has become a manifesto not just for gardeners but for environmentalists everywhere. "As delicious a meditation on one man's relations In his articles and in best-selling books such as The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan has established himself as one of our most important and beloved writers on


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In his articles and in best-selling books such as The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan has established himself as one of our most important and beloved writers on modern man's place in the natural world. A new literary classic, Second Nature has become a manifesto not just for gardeners but for environmentalists everywhere. "As delicious a meditation on one man's relations In his articles and in best-selling books such as The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan has established himself as one of our most important and beloved writers on modern man's place in the natural world. A new literary classic, Second Nature has become a manifesto not just for gardeners but for environmentalists everywhere. "As delicious a meditation on one man's relationships with the Earth as any you are likely to come upon" (The New York Times Book Review), Second Nature captures the rhythms of our everyday engagement with the outdoors in all its glory and exasperation. With chapters ranging from a reconsideration of the Great American Lawn, a dispatch from one man's war with a woodchuck, to an essay about the sexual politics of roses, Pollan has created a passionate and eloquent argument for reconceiving our relationship with nature.

17 review for Second Nature: A Gardener's Education

  1. 4 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    "It may be in the margins of our gardens that we can discover fresh ways to bring our aesthetics and our ethics about the land into some meaningful alignment."-- Michael Pollan, Second Nature I'm pretty sure I'm now a Michael Pollan completist. This was Pollan's first, and as I typically read the first last, my usual brush with Pollan completism for now. This book sent me back to days working in my grandmother's garden, my mother's garden, my wife and my first garden on our apartment balcony. It "It may be in the margins of our gardens that we can discover fresh ways to bring our aesthetics and our ethics about the land into some meaningful alignment."-- Michael Pollan, Second Nature I'm pretty sure I'm now a Michael Pollan completist. This was Pollan's first, and as I typically read the first last, my usual brush with Pollan completism for now. This book sent me back to days working in my grandmother's garden, my mother's garden, my wife and my first garden on our apartment balcony. It reminded me of wandering through Jefferson's garden at Monticello, Versailles, and the lilac gardens of Maui. Pollan was definitly influenced in his writing by Thoreau and Wendell Berry, but Pollan's philosophy in this book seems driven more by the pragmatism of William James. His basic premise is that the garden is the better metaphor for dealing with the current environmental issues confronting us; and the zero-sum-game debates surrounding development vs wilderness. I generally agree with a lot of what he says about gardens, trees, wilderness, and our need to find new metaphors for our relationship with nature that weaves together nature and man and man's culture together. He does tend to wax poetic. Pollan is basically a long-form magazine writter who, like John McPhee and others, figured out that narrative nonfiction can work in chapters made from magazine articles and confederate them together into a book. Not the best Pollan, but for Pollan fans, nature lovers, or gardeners, there is definitely enough grown in this book to feed all types.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    I am an unabashed fan of Michael Pollan. Yes, it may sound strange, but in my esteem, he is tantamount to a rock star or a Hollywood A-lister. "But Rachel!" you may be thinking, "he's just a regular guy! In fact, he's just a bald and bespectacled ol' college professor!"Despite these potentially legitimate arguments, I classify Michael Pollan among the ranks of the elite. So, when I learned that Michael Pollan published a book about gardening in the early 1990's, I seized the opportunity to get a I am an unabashed fan of Michael Pollan. Yes, it may sound strange, but in my esteem, he is tantamount to a rock star or a Hollywood A-lister. "But Rachel!" you may be thinking, "he's just a regular guy! In fact, he's just a bald and bespectacled ol' college professor!"Despite these potentially legitimate arguments, I classify Michael Pollan among the ranks of the elite. So, when I learned that Michael Pollan published a book about gardening in the early 1990's, I seized the opportunity to get a glimpse of my fave author's early years. And, as the book jacket promises, Second Nature is likely to be the most intensive - and perhaps the only - modern foray into the mind of a gardner that has been successfully reduced to print. In typical fashion, Pollan begins this "education" with his own experience as a gardner, going as far back as the watermelon in his youth to illustrate his nearly gravitational and wholly instictual pull to the act of gardening. Pollan's love affair with his soil and compost is tainted only by a rash of complex feelings that accompany the domination of nature. Should he build a fence to keep wildlife out of his garden? Should he pull the weeds, or let nature take its course? I won't spoil the outcome for you. But, suffice it to say, Pollan wrestles his demons to the ground and conquers them, all the while with a bushel of lovely organic vegetables under his arm. Despite my general adoration of the man, I have to admit that the starstruck spell under which I was formerly operating has worn just a tad. While Second Nature does not defy Pollan's inate strengths - humor, artful prose, knowledge - it is also replete with Pollan's weaknesses - primarily, the redundancy and excessive philosophizing. It's sad, but I couldn't even bring myself to read the last 10 pages - partly because I had no clue what he was getting at, and partly because I was afraid I'd fall asleep trying to figure it out. I just closed the book and decided to call it good.So, in the end, I would say this is not one of Pollan's finer works. It is good, I'm not dissing it. I'm just suggesting that readers stick to his more recent works, which have much broader appeal and much more immediate significance.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ken-ichi

    All Pollan's books explore the ways people relate to the world around them, from plants to food in general to space itself. This one's about gardens and gardening, and is probably the book in which he most explicitly addresses man's relationship to nature.The oft-repeated thesis of this book is that all American concepts of the physical world and our place in it stress a division between nature and culture, and that while this notion has been useful in its various forms (Puritan establishment to All Pollan's books explore the ways people relate to the world around them, from plants to food in general to space itself. This one's about gardens and gardening, and is probably the book in which he most explicitly addresses man's relationship to nature.The oft-repeated thesis of this book is that all American concepts of the physical world and our place in it stress a division between nature and culture, and that while this notion has been useful in its various forms (Puritan establishment to the Wilderness Act), the present demands a more holistic metaphor to guide us. Pollan proposes the garden as this metaphor, a place where humanity must both acknowledge impotence in the face of white flies and early frosts, while at the same time assert its own history, culture, and opinion in order to harvest tomatoes, appreciate a dahlia, or feel fully at peace. He explores this idea by examining various aspects of the conceptual garden and his own real, cultivated corner of Connecticut, dealing variously with vegetables, lawns, seed catalogs, weeds, etc.My reactions to Pollan's work are remarkably consistent: fascination; admiration for the quantity and diversity of historical, literary, and scientific references he can apply in his analysis of almost anything; simultaneous frustration with his dogged refusal to cite these references in a regular fashion; and dissatisfaction with his failure to distinguish the personal shortcomings of scientists from the legitimacy of science itself (i.e. science as a good, if not the best, way of learning about the world). This book was Pollan's first, published almost 20 years ago, and it pretty much hits all these points.That said, I also almost always come away from his books feeling enlightened, and more importantly, convinced. Honestly, he didn't really have to twist my arm to persuade me that romantic and/or radically preservationist environmentalism isn't a particularly useful philosophy if we want to survive the next 1000 years with both our world and our culture relatively intact, but I hadn't thought very much about gardening as a way toward a better mindset. Sentences like, "What we need is to confound our metaphors, and the rose can help us do this better than the swamp can" (p. 97) intrigued me, because I'm definitely more of a swamp kind of guy.My main critique of this book is really more of a question: if the garden is the metaphor that best embodies our relationship with nature, what does it tell us about right and wrong? The garden teaches us to engage the world instead of dominating or kowtowing to it, but it doesn't seem to tell us why we should engage, and to what end. For instance, in his discussion of a local stand of old-growth pine that was blown down in a storm, Pollan describes the conflicting views of the Nature Conservancy land owners (leave it alone, let nature take its course), utilitarians (harvest and sell the wood), and romantics (restore the grove), and then offers some of his own motives for various plans of action (restore the grove to perpetuate the locals' relationship with the land, restore to our best guess at what the pre-Colonial state might have been so people can feel connected to the pre-Colonial experience). Pollan's garden ethic might encourage us to consider a more diverse array of options beyond entrenched commercial interest or the equally inflexible (and somewhat irrational) position of the Nature Conservancy, but it doesn't actually help us choose one path. There is no one true reason to garden, so garden ethics are not particularly helpful in decision-making. I guess Pollan might argue that his garden ethic isn't meant to be proscriptive so much as informative: the absolutism of our country's childhood and adolescence needs to give way to a harder, more self-conscious way of life, one that acknowledges that the most important decisions often must declare a new righteousness rather than adhere to an existing code. Some Words Maginot Line: France's fortified border with Germany in WW2, the implication here being that it was ineffectual. (p. 53)antinomian (adj): Christian (Protestant) belief that faith alone is sufficient to achieve salvation. (p. 60)secateurs (n): pruning shears. (p. 138)

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jamie Smith

    This book starts with a discussion of American lawns, and made me think of them in ways I never had before. When I was a kid my family moved to one of the sprawling new suburban subdivisions with thousands of homes in your choice of one of four styles and three paint colors, each on its quarter acre plot. Whatever trees or other natural features had once been there were all gone, the area for miles around bulldozed flat as a billiard table. And throughout that subdivision all the front yards wer This book starts with a discussion of American lawns, and made me think of them in ways I never had before. When I was a kid my family moved to one of the sprawling new suburban subdivisions with thousands of homes in your choice of one of four styles and three paint colors, each on its quarter acre plot. Whatever trees or other natural features had once been there were all gone, the area for miles around bulldozed flat as a billiard table. And throughout that subdivision all the front yards were open and connected; fences and hedges appeared only in the back. A kid could walk for miles and never touch the street, which was just as well since there were no sidewalks. The yards were assiduously maintained, with fertilizers for the grass and deadly herbicides for the weeds. But, as Michael Pollen points out, these yards were just for show, symbols that the owners were respectable members of the middle class. The only thing I ever remember actually doing in the front yard was mowing the grass; any actual living, like cookouts or playing catch or sitting with the dog, all happened in the back yard. None of this ever seemed odd to me – it just was, and I never thought about it until I read this book. Now it all seems like a weird and implausible bit of middle class conformity, but even today you almost never see people doing anything in their front yards other than maintaining them.This book is full of insightful comments that change the way the reader views things. Pollen has a way of connecting the grand philosophy of earth and sky with the actual hard work of maintaining a successful garden. One of the chapters is titled Nature Abhors a Garden, and he makes a strong case for that being true. The rich and fertile soil welcomes every weed and grass that can put a seed into it to take root, and the fruits and vegetables we have bred for our enjoyment are exactly the kind of rich sources of nutrients that every bird, insect, and critter in the area will be immediately drawn to. In addition to that, our plant breeding criteria have stressed taste or appearance, with hardiness a distant consideration, so most of our prized plants are weaklings which have no chance against the hardy wild plants unless the gardener is vigilant in his upkeep. As he points out, nature plays the long game, and always wins in the end; every garden plot eventually surrenders to the wild.There are so many things that can go wrong between planting and harvest that a successful season comes as something of a surprise. Education and experience help, but even the best gardeners are subject to the whims of nature, and must accept their failures.“The gardener learns nothing when his carrots thrive, unless that success is won against a background of prior disappointment. Outright success is dumb, disaster frequently eloquent. At least to the gardener who learns how to listen.” (p. 121)Even the humble compost heap takes center stage for a couple of pages of reflection on the transience of life, the old trope of “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Pollan takes the perspective that gardening is a worthwhile metaphor for life: hopeful beginnings, sad endings, occasional joys and frequent disappointments, hard work, and the satisfaction that comes from living and learning.For the garden is never done – the weeds you pull today will return tomorrow, a new generation of aphids will stop forward to avenge the ones you’ve slain, and everything you plant – everything – sooner or later will die. Among the many, many things the green thumb knows is the consolation of the compost pile, where nature, ever obliging, redeems this season’s deaths and disasters in the fresh promise of spring. (p. 132) The books hangs on Pollan’s ability to connect hands-on gardening to the larger perspectives of life and nature, and it drags a bit when he leaves the garden behind and offers advice on developing new metaphors for man’s place in nature. He also provides an interesting interlude when he discusses how his town dealt with storm damage to a historic stand of trees. He considers the alternatives from a number of perspectives, although in the end, of course, the solution that was chosen was arrived at behind closed doors without input from the townspeople, and served only the interests of the corporate sponsors and one of the town politicians himself. No surprise there.I haven’t read any of Pollan’s other books, though I have several on my to-read list. He has an engaging writing style and a fine ability to narrate his experiences in the garden, turning spade and hoe into physical therapy for the soul.

  5. 5 out of 5

    mark

    Written twenty-five years ago, much of what this book is about is as true today as it was then – because much of it is a history of the garden and gardening. It’s also, though, a contemporary study and self-analysis of the author’s one-year experience of putting in a garden(s) on his newly purchased (in 1984) five-acre, old farm, in Cornwall, Connecticut, with bits of social and cultural commentary sown in. Gardens are, he rightly point out, “a form of self-expression …” (p. 242) and Pollan exhi Written twenty-five years ago, much of what this book is about is as true today as it was then – because much of it is a history of the garden and gardening. It’s also, though, a contemporary study and self-analysis of the author’s one-year experience of putting in a garden(s) on his newly purchased (in 1984) five-acre, old farm, in Cornwall, Connecticut, with bits of social and cultural commentary sown in. Gardens are, he rightly point out, “a form of self-expression …” (p. 242) and Pollan exhibits this on nearly every page of this hundred thousand word “trope” of gardening. Trope/tropism is his favorite word and the metaphors are thick and heavy with much symbolism and lyricism. He also uses these words: perforce; concatenation; palimpsest; hermeneutical; and enjambed. So who is Michael Pollan? You probably know of him and his writing. He’s sixty years old now and has written several best-sellers: The Botany of Desire (2001) and The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006); among others, as well as many essays that have appeared in major magazines. He is also a professor of journalism at UC Berkeley. This was his first book. Look at his author photo and he’s exactly that guy — an NPRish, soft-spoken (sideways talking) yuppie — a late-stage wannabee hippie, i.e. a whispering, obsessive compulsive, neurotic – the kind of person who can drive me batty with his metaphors, language, and self-righteous know-it-all-ness. But that’s just me. I actually liked the book, the historical parts anyway. I could do without all his assumptions and judgments, his, this-is-the-way-it-should-be-done perfectionism. All the while said like that’s not what he’s saying. And for all his earth-toney, ‘I-am-a-whole-earth being’; he doesn’t mention his cat until page 302! There’s no smoking, drinking, talking, relaxing, f__king, sweating, cursing, or eating, in his garden –things that I loved about my gardens, when I had them. In my mind the real fun of having a garden. What he does is sort of tell you things about himself, but he really doesn’t go very deep. But, he does have the “desk up in the barn loft.” Of Course, from whence he oversees his gardens. Can he be even more clichéd? But that’s just me. You’ll probably like this book, and Mr. Pollan, and his style of writing – it’s very popular. Very “eloquent, witty, and spirited.”In short: Pollan’s prose and story is flowery – it lacks grit, true grit, the down and dirty stuff of real, but it’s pretty.Spring 2015

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mads P.

    A fascinating and informative read that goes way beyond gardening. Drawing from history, ecology, religion, literature, and philosophy, Pollan discusses how gardening addresses our relationship with nature.Excellent writing style. For example, he entertainingly describes "the loathsome slugs: naked bullets of flesh--evicted snails--that hide from the light of day, emerging at sunset to cruise the garden along their own avenues of slime."In addition to the lowly slug, Pollan addresses big topics A fascinating and informative read that goes way beyond gardening. Drawing from history, ecology, religion, literature, and philosophy, Pollan discusses how gardening addresses our relationship with nature.Excellent writing style. For example, he entertainingly describes "the loathsome slugs: naked bullets of flesh--evicted snails--that hide from the light of day, emerging at sunset to cruise the garden along their own avenues of slime."In addition to the lowly slug, Pollan addresses big topics here including land use, genetic engineering, and other environmental issues. He proposes a new ethic for environmental stewardship that views man's relationship to nature as that of gardener who is interconnected with the land, rather than the prevailing wilderness ethic. He posits that the absolutist viewpoints from which most view the land, with either a market aesthetic or a wilderness aesthetic, are not helpful to either cause. A must-read for environmentalists, gardeners, and anyone who contemplates the American landscape.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sandra

    I appreciated the Euro American and personal history but as an organic gardener, conservationist and former farm girl, I did not appreciate lumping the amazing diversity of styles, cultures and motivations into the homogenous idea of gardening in "our society". His definition felt very European-American focused. It left out much of our American diversity and history. I appreciated the Euro American and personal history but as an organic gardener, conservationist and former farm girl, I did not appreciate lumping the amazing diversity of styles, cultures and motivations into the homogenous idea of gardening in "our society". His definition felt very European-American focused. It left out much of our American diversity and history.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Buckley

    This garden essay was like most of my gardens: teeming with promise at the start, becomes overrun with weeds and in the end, you're happy it's finished. Couple fun chapters, there's a sense of humor here, that seems ready to unfurl like a spring tulip, but in the end, the cool weather keeps its glory at bay. This garden essay was like most of my gardens: teeming with promise at the start, becomes overrun with weeds and in the end, you're happy it's finished. Couple fun chapters, there's a sense of humor here, that seems ready to unfurl like a spring tulip, but in the end, the cool weather keeps its glory at bay.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Renee

    This was such a relaxing read. Maybe I am alone in thinking reading about gardening while enjoying a social commentary about revenues and tibits of history makes for a great read but it was. The prose was delightful and I was often reminded of Bill Bryson way to got off topic but yet still be on topic. I highly recommend

  10. 4 out of 5

    John

    Classic Michael Pollan writing on nature and gardens. Thoroughly enjoyable if you love these topics

  11. 5 out of 5

    BJ

    I really enjoyed this book, and many of the thoughts that were expressed mirror my own. I've only recently gotten into gardening this past year, but find it a shame that there isn't a larger presence of gardening culture in the U.S. in the form of books, television, and podcasts. We are highly reliant on British horticulturists, it seems, and I feel like we should have more garden societies as well as shows/conferences in the U.S. I really enjoyed this book, and many of the thoughts that were expressed mirror my own. I've only recently gotten into gardening this past year, but find it a shame that there isn't a larger presence of gardening culture in the U.S. in the form of books, television, and podcasts. We are highly reliant on British horticulturists, it seems, and I feel like we should have more garden societies as well as shows/conferences in the U.S.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Cat

    As a dedicated backyard gardener, I was the perfect audience for this book, one of Pollan's earliest. I particularly enjoyed the chapters that were more memoir than philosophical reflection, the chapter about his father (who refused to cut his grass, ultimately carving his initials into the lawn after officious neighbors complained) and his grandfather (who kept trying to improve his son-in-law's lawn and who saw anything less than stark rows and weed-free beds as a personal insult) and the chap As a dedicated backyard gardener, I was the perfect audience for this book, one of Pollan's earliest. I particularly enjoyed the chapters that were more memoir than philosophical reflection, the chapter about his father (who refused to cut his grass, ultimately carving his initials into the lawn after officious neighbors complained) and his grandfather (who kept trying to improve his son-in-law's lawn and who saw anything less than stark rows and weed-free beds as a personal insult) and the chapter about his desire to be loosey-goosey and "at one" with nature as he planned his Connecticut backyard and the rapidity with which this kumbaya attitude gave way to killer instincts as he raged against the woodchuck eating all of his seedlings. The overall concept in this book--that the fantasy of untouched nature is as ecologically damaging as the ethos of development, and that the two might well be tempered by a gardener's approach, accepting a conscious custodianship of spaces that are always invested with both nature and culture--is a rich one and perhaps influenced my colleague James Barilla who wrote about preserving wildness in urban spaces in My Backyard Jungle: The Adventures of an Urban Wildlife Lover Who Turned His Yard Into Habitat and Learned to Live with It. I think both Pollan and Barilla are right to see that purity and authenticity fantasies do more to hinder our ability to see and sense the places around us than they do to preserve those spaces. Taking responsibility for impact and recognizing that we can't help but having one goes a long way towards acknowledging the interdependence of our own species with a myriad of others. (In this sense, Pollan is really attempting to develop an ethics of life in the Anthropocene, avant la lettre.)Pollan writes about the curse of lawns, the futurity of trees, the snobbery and politicism of seed catalogs. As in his more famous works, he blends memoir, literary allusion, historical background, and popular science in an engaging way. I will confess that his reflections on ornamental garden planning had me suffering some garden envy, which in turn made me realize that while he talks about botany and aristocracy and fears of miscegenation expressed through the rejection of hybrid varietals, he doesn't really talk about class privilege, land ownership, and leisure time. His schedule and his wife's schedule allow them to spend a lot of time working on their gardens and dwelling in them. One of the problems this book doesn't confront--and perhaps it would derail it to do so--is that very few people enjoy that privilege and thus that garden authorship that conveys a custodial relationship to the land. (Perhaps it is telling that one of his constant touchstones is Thoreau who also had an awful lot of privilege and leisure allowing him to live barebones near Walden Pond!)

  13. 5 out of 5

    MaryJo

    Second Nature published in 1991 is Michael Pollans’ first book. I started reading Michael Pollan when my sister gave me Botany of Desire, and I had missed this early book about gardening. The voice is familiar to a Pollan reader, a combination of journalistic investigation, personal reflection, and an occasional zinger. The book is arranged by the seasons, a device which works well enough, as Pollan tells stories of his increasing engagement with gardening. I found myself laughing out loud, reco Second Nature published in 1991 is Michael Pollans’ first book. I started reading Michael Pollan when my sister gave me Botany of Desire, and I had missed this early book about gardening. The voice is familiar to a Pollan reader, a combination of journalistic investigation, personal reflection, and an occasional zinger. The book is arranged by the seasons, a device which works well enough, as Pollan tells stories of his increasing engagement with gardening. I found myself laughing out loud, recognizing how he was gently making fun of me and himself and all “obsessive” gardeners. I certainly recognized myself in his discussion of the obsession with old roses, an obsession I shared until a disease carried by the invasive mutliflora roses wiped out my carefully selected plants. Some of what he has to say must have been new in 1991, but is not now. A few things are out of date; for example, the comparison of the bright colors of the Southern based Wayside Garden catalog, with the more refined classic colors of the plants offered by The White Flower Farm. Much of the book is a meditation on gardeners’ complicated relationship to nature. The theme of our attempts at control and the various ways that we fail is introduced early on in a story many gardeners will recognize about a destructive woodchuck’s incursion on Pollan’s garden. As the book develops he comes to also consider the complicated arguments about “restoration” that continue to grow in relevance. The essay are thoughtful, and rarely didactic, listening to it (as an audio book) was a winter pleasure.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Vivian

    I really wanted to like this book, being an amateur gardener myself. I love sleepy gardening shows and wandering through hardware stores every spring. I picked up this book in anticipation of another growing season and even though it’s a relatively short book, I had to abandon it 50 pages in. The material is so dry. The author writes about having obviously grown up from a privileged home and how his white picket fence ideals didn’t fit tidily with the messiness of real garden, which should sound I really wanted to like this book, being an amateur gardener myself. I love sleepy gardening shows and wandering through hardware stores every spring. I picked up this book in anticipation of another growing season and even though it’s a relatively short book, I had to abandon it 50 pages in. The material is so dry. The author writes about having obviously grown up from a privileged home and how his white picket fence ideals didn’t fit tidily with the messiness of real garden, which should sound charming but just comes off pretentious and self indulgent. A total of 14 pages are spent on how he didn’t believe in fences, his defence against putting up a fence, and then finally putting up a fence. If this is the kind of riveting drama Michael Pollan brings to the table, I just can’t bring myself to continue reading.

  15. 4 out of 5

    David Radavich

    This is a revolutionary book from my perspective. It begins with the author's reflections on his grandfather's garden and his father's attitudes to yard care and continues to his own arduous garden-making. But along the way he considers the rich, fascinating history of gardens, yards, forests, and open spaces and how humans relate to them. I particularly relished his chapters on the "meaning" of trees across a broad variety of cultures and "the idea of a garden." As he says, gardens are narrativ This is a revolutionary book from my perspective. It begins with the author's reflections on his grandfather's garden and his father's attitudes to yard care and continues to his own arduous garden-making. But along the way he considers the rich, fascinating history of gardens, yards, forests, and open spaces and how humans relate to them. I particularly relished his chapters on the "meaning" of trees across a broad variety of cultures and "the idea of a garden." As he says, gardens are narratives, ultimately, about us. The ending felt weak to me, but overall, an outstanding book to keep on one's shelf.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    I am a real michael Pollan fan. Fun to see the seeds of his later books, planted in this one. As a beginning gardener, I found this book fascinating, informative and very easy to read. I most particularly like his discussion of what makes a "green thumb" and the concept of "wilderness." I am a real michael Pollan fan. Fun to see the seeds of his later books, planted in this one. As a beginning gardener, I found this book fascinating, informative and very easy to read. I most particularly like his discussion of what makes a "green thumb" and the concept of "wilderness."

  17. 5 out of 5

    Bernie Gourley

    This isn’t simply a discussion of lessons of gardening, though it does tread that ground. However, Pollan uses that topic as a jumping off point to explore a couple of broader topics. First, what defines the American approach to lawns and gardens, which is clearly distinct from that of our Old-World ancestors / comrades? Second, what does it mean to say some approach is more or less “natural” in an ecosystem that has been shaped by the hand of man? As a neophyte balcony-container gardener, I was This isn’t simply a discussion of lessons of gardening, though it does tread that ground. However, Pollan uses that topic as a jumping off point to explore a couple of broader topics. First, what defines the American approach to lawns and gardens, which is clearly distinct from that of our Old-World ancestors / comrades? Second, what does it mean to say some approach is more or less “natural” in an ecosystem that has been shaped by the hand of man? As a neophyte balcony-container gardener, I was attracted to the book for its gardening lessons, but I found myself most provoked to thought by these other questions.This book starts with an Introduction to set the stage and a first chapter that contrasts two approaches to lawn and garden that Pollan saw within his own family. The other eleven chapters are divided into seasonally-themed parts. These parts – Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter – touch upon the life of a gardener during each, respective, season. The section entitled Spring discusses the challenge of getting plants to grow against the onslaught of competitors and consumers: animal, vegetative, and other. It also discusses mowing, the open approach to lawns found throughout America, and what the latter means for the former. (It has long intrigued me that many Americans who will pledge liberty or death, often aren’t so big on their neighbor’s liberty if said individual’s lawn gets to about four inches of shag.) Lastly, Pollan educates the reader about the gardener’s passion for compost. The three Summer chapters explore what happens through the middle of the growing phase, including the need to weed. Though Pollan explores the criticisms from the “keep it natural” camp. There’s a lot of discussion of the ideas of Emerson and Thoreau, and how they represented a change from previous thought on the garden. However, the first chapter in this section is about Pollan’s experiences with growing roses, a provocative subject among gardeners, apparently. Fall is harvest season, but the chapter in this section that I found most intriguing was one about planting a tree. This is where Pollan brings the question of what it means to be “natural” to a head. He discusses a nearby piece of protected forest that was decimated by a tornado. There was an ardent debate between those who thought that nothing should be done with the land and it should be allowed to grow back however nature saw fit and others who thought intervention was necessary. The argument can end up turning a position on its head. What if one does nothing and the land is overtaken by a non-indigenous invasive species? The last section has an amusing chapter on garden catalogs and how companies’s style and emphasis varies in an attempt to corner a segment of the market. I enjoyed this book, and would highly recommend it not just for gardeners, but for individuals who have an interest in the interplay between nature and humanity.

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