Thoughts on Green Thoughts

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!


  1. Lovely post Carol. I also learn from both gardening books and from my garden. And sure I had some failures but a lot of successes too. And the nice thing about gardening is that you get to try again next year. :-)

    BTW this sounds like a great book, Annie was very enthousiastic about it too. Must buy it soon!

  2. I think by "gift from heaven" Perenyi was saying that the act of gardening is not a "god-given talent" reserved for the few, but a skill that can be learned by anyone who puts the effort in. Like many skills, there are always a few people who seem to shine. But just as one can enjoy playing the piano without being a renowned concert pianist, one can enjoy messing around in a garden without being an expert plantsman or garden designer. In other words, claiming lack of talent is just an excuse not to do.

  3. Splendid review, Carol--isn't it fun to read a book (or watch a film, or listen to music) that you haven't tried for whatever reason--and then be thrilled to bits by it?
    I have hundreds of gardening books in my library. Some I've read from cover to cover. Others I dip into as references. But I find that I learn most by doing, and by reading blogs by passionate gardeners like you. We celebrate our triumphs as well as our experiments that don't turn out so well. :-)

  4. Maybe you were right to wait to read this book, Carol - it may have felt more relevant now that you've been hanging out in the blogosphere with contemporary, opinionated, gardeners of a certain age - the passionate, experienced Eleanor P would fit right in!

    I'm so glad you read it and enjoyed it~ and chose it as our book for this month.

    A bag of fingerling potatoes at the grocery store stopped me in my tracks the other day, as I remembered her 'smuggling' story.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  5. How funny - we've used the same title for our GBBook Club post! (Great minds think alike?) I'm glad you enjoyed this book as much as I did.

  6. My copy has arrived and I am reading it at the moment. I like the style of her writing. sara from farmingfriends

  7. I noticed that throughout the book she placed heavy emphasis on gardening skills as something to be learned and developed. Sometimes I think we get too caught up in the buying and planting, and don't pay enough attention to the nurturing. Well, I do, anyway.

    I enjoyed the book. I had it on my wish list for a while and needed a nudge to actually read it.


Post a Comment

Comments are to a blog what flowers are to a garden. Sow your thoughts here and may all your comments multiply as blooms in your garden.

Though there is never enough time to respond to each comment individually these days, please know that I do read and love each one and will try to reciprocate on your blog.

By the way, if you are leaving a comment just so you can include a link to your business site, the garden fairies will find it and compost it!