Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Second Nature: A Gardener's Education by Michael Pollan

"No doubt there will be setbacks - gardening is not a once-and-for-all thing - but I believe I've finally drawn a workable border between me and the advancing forest. Might it prove to be a Maginot Line? I don't think so. Because it doesn't depend on the invincibility of technology - or on the benevolence of nature. It depends on me acting like a sane and civilized human, which is to say, as a creature whose nature it is to remake his surroundings, and whose culture can guide him on questions of ethics and aesthetics. What I'm making here is a middle ground between nature and unapologetically set against it. What I'm making is a garden."

Second Nature is the lively and absorbing account of one man's experience in the garden. But this is much more than a book about gardening. In the tradition of the best American nature writing, this extraordinary book invites us to explore our unexamined feelings about nature and our place in the landscape.

Michael Pollan, Executive Editor of Harper's Magazine, brilliantly promotes the garden - rather than the wilderness - as the most appropriate site to rethink our relationship to nature and begin to place it on a saner footing. One of the best reasons to garden today, Pollan believes, is to put ourselves on the most intimate possible terms with one small corner of the universe.

Second Nature
contains a fair amount of information - there are chapters on the virtues of composting, how to plant a tree for the long haul, reading between the lines of the seed catalogs, and the secrets of the green thumb. But the book's true focus is the philosophy of gardening - what gardening has to teach us about the troubled borders between nature and culture, our attitudes toward wilderness and animals, the urgent environmental questions we face, Anglophilia and class-consciousness in the garden world, the curious politics of the American lawn, and the moral dimensions of landscape.

Funny, profound, and beautifully rendered, Second Nature has all the makings of a classic.




Having first read some of Michael Pollan's more recent books (The Omnivore's Dilemma and The Botany of Desire) I decided to go back and read this book which was published in 1991. I'm glad I did.

With his usual wit and humor he drew me into his particular garden world and kept me there, fascinated. His discussion of the merits and attitudes of various seed catalogs had me smiling the entire time!

There was also this supremely interesting paragraph where he talks about harvesting a 30 pound (!) heirloom Sibley squash from his garden. His wonderings about the miraculousness of where the harvest comes from are really profound, and funny!:

"Where did this thing, this great quantity of squash flesh come from? The earth, we say, but not really; there's no less earth now than there was in May when I planted it; none's been used up in its making. By all rights, creating something this fat should require so great an expense of matter that you'd expect to find Sibley squashes perched on the lips of fresh craters. That they're not, it seems to me, should be counted something of a miracle!"

As a book in general, I'd have to give this one an eight, but as a gardening related book it's a definite 10!

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆



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