Perenyi was ahead of her time in many ways. At a time when the prevailing “wisdom” around gardening was to heap tons of chemicals onto everything in sight, she was an organic gardening enthusiast. Given that the book was published in 1981, and that some of the essays were probably written years before—or refer to years earlier—she was definitely a visionary. (She’s still alive and living in Connecticut, or so the book blurb tells us.)
Green Thoughts is organized alphabetically (from ‘Annuals’ to ‘Woman’s Place’) AND it also has an index—something that is all too often lacking in books of non-fiction. The author’s musings take us through a cottage garden of thoughts on gardening, some serious, some caustic, some funny, and some all of the above in one essay. I love the essay entitled “Partly Cloudy” where she takes bitingly funny jabs at weather forecasters and points out that we’ve lost touch with weather. This, some twenty-five years before global warming became the buzzword for our century.
Perenyi was concerned about the loss of older species in favour of new ‘improved’ hybrids and was recognizing the need to save seed and plant non-hybrid varieties when most gardeners were getting enthralled with the ‘new improved’ hybrids. She was intimate with the gentle art of composting and with the pleasures of mulch long before these gardening rites were not only cool, but strongly recommended. She wryly writes that her enthusiasm over mulch and compost as the mainstay of a great garden didn’t excite her friends the way it did her.
I don’t always agree with Perenyi’s strong opinions on things, but that’s nothing—reading this book is like listening to a wise old gardening friend, who is entitled to her vices and her opinions. And she doesn’t hesitate to admit her shortcomings in the garden, or to poke fun at herself with the same wit that she turns on other less enlightened souls.
The funniest essay in is entitled ‘Seed Tapes’, in which she says,
“Many catalogues…offer these ridiculous devices designed for the gardener too stupid to sow seed by himself—and of course, charge extra for them; and to put it plainly, they are a swindle.”
Don’t hold back, Mme. Perenyi—please do tell us what you REALLY think!
To sum up, if you don’t own a copy of Green Thoughts, go and get one—either from a secondhand book store, or through Amazon, or by whatever other legal means. Because if you enjoy reading about the highs and lows of gardening, not merely about how to decorate your garden room or when to plant your peas, you’ll want to turn to Green Thoughts again and again. I’ve read other books on gardening that have delighted me almost as well (Christopher Lloyd and Beth Chatto’s Dear Friend and Gardener comes to mind), but Green Thoughts is probably the benchmark against which all other volumes will ever be weighed.
I’ll keep that in mind as I work on my own book of essays…