17 November 2007

Garden Blogger's Book Club: Green Thoughts by Eleanor Perenyi

A few years ago, Random House began re-releasing some classics of the written world to an appreciative public under the imprint of Modern Library. Eleanor Perenyi’s Green Thoughts was one of the first four to be published in the gardening series, and of the volumes I own, it’s the best. In fact, I would be so bold as to say it’s one of the best books of essays on gardening (as opposed to ‘how to garden’ treatises) that exists. So I was thrilled when the book was chosen to be the title for Garden Bloggers Book Club for Oct-Nov.

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…


  1. It was good to read your review of Green Thoughts. Your review has reinforced the thought that I want it on my christmas wish list. I have told my family that this is the year of "books" for me. It seems like I wind up with themes for each christmas list.Last year it was paint brushes. One year guitar music. I could go on and on. Do you ever find that to be true with your wish lists?

    Your book is at the top of my list this year and I will have it by the end of the year by cracky. I love the way you write. Easy to read yet powerful.

  2. Jodi, I really enjoyed your review of "Green Thoughts". I laughed when I read that 'seed tape' comment, too. Tell it like it is Eleanor! Watch for the virtual meeting post on November 30th.

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  3. Jodi, well put, especially the "benchmark" comment. So true. Something about this garden book keeps me coming back to it year after year. Perenyi's style combined with her wit and wisdom makes it a real keeper.

  4. jodi - i actually saw this book today while looking for another gardening book. I really enjoyed your review and I think I'll check this one out!

  5. Your delight in gardening permeates your review. It is amazing how some people went "natural" or organic long before the rest of us, guided perhaps by their hearts.

  6. definately one for my christmas list, you can never have too many gardening books!
    can we have a photo of your nice horsey please!

  7. When I was staying in Ireland this week, I visited several bookshops in order to get "Green Thoughts", but I failed (however I came home with some other gardening books!). I was very curious to read it after the mentioning in various blogs. And especially now when saying that you enjoyed this book almost as much as "Dear Friend and Gardener" (these letters I enjoyed very, very much!) I hope to still find this booklet somewhere. I cross the fingers...for me!
    Regards from Switzerland!

  8. I tried to find a copy of this book for the Bloggers Book Club but had no success. Your review was very interesting to read.

  9. Dagnabbit. I keep meaning to pick this book up at the library so I can join Carol's book club too. Glad you reminded me--and that the book will be a good read.

    --Robin (Bumblebee)

  10. I think I must have been sleeping when the bookclub choice was announced and wouldn't ya know, Green Thoughts has been sitting on my bedside table for ... months...! I'm re-interested in reading it now because of your review - I know if you enjoyed it, I probably will too!

  11. Hi Jodi,

    How wonderful to find another long-time Green Thoughts fan! I knew LostRoses was one of us after seeing a picture of the book in her sidebar some months ago. It will be fun to read all the entries when Carol rounds us up.

    Great review, Jodi - you nailed the reasons why we bond with Eleanor Perényi and her book.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  12. I'm still making the rounds of all the Green Thoughts reviews, but I think every single one so far has mentioned that Ms. Perenyi has Definite Opinions. She'd be a wonderful blogger. Maybe that's why so many liked the book?

    I'm looking forward to reading Dear Friend and Gardener, especially after your enthusiastic endorsement!


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