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Green Thoughts

A book by master gardener Eleanor Perenyi

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Green Thoughts on the Death of One of the Best Nature Writers Ever

  • Jul 30, 2009
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There are books that mark you because they crystallize what you’ve been thinking about a subject, or because they lead you deeper into a particular world of endeavor. Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perenyi was one such for me. For the first part of my life I took gardens and flowering plants for granted—they were part of the landscape, part of the set on the stage of my life, but no more real or important that the cut-out trees toted by the advancing hordes in Macbeth.
But some time in my 30s I fell in love with plants, and began trying to grow them indoors in this wintry climate and outside during the far too short summer season.

Perenyi’s book was published when I was in the throes of trying to figure out how to make the most of a small city garden plot. Her essays on compost inspired me to keep at it: my chicken-wire contraption is probably the oldest in my neighborhood, and whatever gardening success I have is, in part, owed to it. But Perenyi also linked gardening to the wider world, with an essay on the origin of peonies, and ruminations on dahlias and the wisdom of using a push mower instead of a power one. Over the years I’ve returned to the book frequently, for ideas, encouragement and pleasure.

Eleanor Perenyi died not quite a month ago at the age of 91, although I only learned of it recently. To everything there is a season, as she wrote in an essay on autumn in Green Thoughts: “When will the final curtain fall? Heavier dews presage the morning when the moisture will have turned to ice, glazing the shriveled dahlias and lima beans, and the annuals will be blasted beyond recall. These deaths are stingless. I wouldn’t want it otherwise. I gardened one year in a tropical country and found that eternal bloom led to ennui.”

It is fittimg--and perhaps not accidental--that she died just as the North American spring burst forth.

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August 01, 2009

Gorgeous tribute. It is obvious the impact that this woman had on you and your current passion for gardening and green living. Thank you for sharing.

About the reviewer

Ranked #92
Mary Soderstrom is a Montreal-based writer of fiction and non-fiction. Her new collection of short stories, Desire Lines: Stories of Love and Geography, will be published by Oberon Press in November, … more
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  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library (February 19, 2002)
  • Language: English

A classic in the literature of the garden, Green Thoughts is a beautifully written and highly original collection of seventy-two essays, alphabetically arranged, on topics ranging from “Annuals” and “Artichokes” to “Weeds” and “Wildflowers.” An amateur gardener for over thirty years, Eleanor Perényi draws upon her wide-ranging knowledge of gardening lore to create a delightful, witty blend of how-to advice, informed opinion, historical insight, and philosophical musing. There are entries in praise of earthworms and in protest of rock gardens, a treatise on the sexual politics of tending plants, and a paean to the salubrious effect of gardening (see “Longevity”). Twenty years after its initial publication, Green Thoughts remains as much a joy to read as ever.

This Modern Library edition is published with a new Introduction by Allen Lacy, former gardening columnist for The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times and the author of numerous gardening books.
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