Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education – Michael Pollan

Any American gardener should read this book – it’s the story of Pollan’s evolution as a gardener at his New England farmhouse, but within this evolution, he explores quite a bit of what makes gardening here in America both the same as other places, and also very unique.

One of the things he brings up, that I had never thought about, but could instantly see, is that the American garden (and by garden, we’re often speaking about larger grounds of a home), abhors fences.    If you look at the front lawns of suburbia, they flow into the next perfectly manicured lawn, and if you put up any sort of substantial fence or hedge, you’re absenting yourself from this landscape, and even if only subconsciously, your neighbors will look down on this rebellion.    I’ve always had a thing against hedges in the city, and I think I understand part of why now.    But he also points out that this lack of fencing can be traced back to the Puritans, who believed that this land was given to us by God, and you can’t fence that off.    And it’s that viewpoint that has governed a lot of how Americans relate to land up to the present day.

There are a number of other really interesting chapters, but my other particular favorite was one about the variety of seed catalogs you can find in America.    It’s now a bit dated (the book was published in 1991), but even with what was out there then (which I remember looking at from what my mother received), there’s a lot of things I had never thought about that you find out about regional identity and class viewpoints from these catalogs.    I’d actually be really interested to see what he’d say about the catalogs out there today – in the book, Johnny’s Select Seeds is a relative newcomer, and they’ve been around for a while now.

I really enjoyed this book.    I don’t think I was expecting to have a gardening book make me think this much – there’s a lot of information to chew over in here, though I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me, coming from the author of The Botany of Desire.

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