It was on my bookshelf. It had been there for years, unread, purchased sometime before 1990. It was Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perènyi, the current selection of the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club.
Something about it must have interested me when I looked through it in the bookstore. Who knows what?
More recently I noticed that a few garden bloggers liked it enough to put it on their sidebar, to let us know it was a source of inspiration for them. That intrigued me and so I chose it as the current selection for the book club.
Once the book was chosen and I had a reason to read it, I finally opened the book and began to read. The topics seemed tame enough… “annuals, artichokes, ashes… Perènyi readily shares useful information on each, obviously from her own experience as a gardener. The book is meant to inform and teach; after all there is an index!
But these writings aren’t the bland, sanitized, sterile bits of gardening information we’ve grown too accustomed to from many books and web sites. It takes only a page or two to realize that Perènyi is a real and passionate gardener, who didn’t hold back her pen when it came to stating her opinions about many gardening related topics and sharing her feelings about gardening.
She writes on failures in the garden…
“People who blame their failures on ‘not having a green thumb’ (and they are legion) usually haven’t done their homework. There is of course no such thing as a green thumb. Gardening is a vocation like any other- a calling, if you like, but not a gift from heaven. One acquires the necessary skills and knowledge to do it successfully, or one doesn’t. The ancients gardened without guidance from books, by eye and by hand, and while I am a devotee of gardening books and love to study and quarrel with them, I don’t think they are a substitute for practical experience, any more than cookbooks are.”
I’d like to quarrel with Perènyi on just one point… that gardening is not a gift from heaven. If I thank God every day that I enjoy gardening and it brings joy to my life, then I call that a gift from heaven!
I won’t quarrel that learning about gardening from books is not the same as going out into the garden and actually gardening. I think you have to have some failures to become a better gardener. And I’ve had my share of failures in the garden and believe I am better for it, for at least having tried. Out of failures come green thumbs!
I am also a “devotee of gardening books”. I laugh sometimes at all the gardening books I have and wonder what the “ancients” in my family tree, who gardened “by eye and by hand”, would think of my garden and what I sometimes do because I read it in a book. I’m sure at times they’d think me a fool. I try to remember that and just garden in a way that feels right and ignore the “book learning”.
Now that I’ve read Green Thoughts, after all these years of having it, I won’t be putting it back on the bookshelf. Instead I’ll add it to that stack of good gardening essay books we all have (or should have) nearby so I can pick it up and read parts of it anytime I want to connect with a real gardener again.
Perènyi, by the way, from what several of us can determine, is still living, and we hope gardening. I think she’d like to know that many of us are still discovering and enjoying her book 25 plus years after it was originally published and now consider it a classic. And she would love that we aren’t afraid to quarrel with her, too, if we don’t agree!