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Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden Hardcover – October 2, 2001

3.9 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Diane Ackerman relishes the world of her garden. As a poet, she finds within it an endless field of metaphors. As a naturalist, she notices each small, miraculous detail: the hummingbirds and their routines, the showy tulips, the crazy yellow forsythia. Of visiting deer she writes, "I love watching the deer, which always arrive like magic or a miracle or the answer to an unasked question."

In her popular book A Natural History of the Senses, Ackerman celebrates the human body; in A Natural History of My Garden, she turns her attention to the world outside the body, outside the human sphere. Structured by seasons, this is a book of subtle shifts, but the reader never feels lost. Her prose is so welcoming, at times it feels like she's talking directly to you, although her lush, poetic language is the opposite of speech.

Distracted urban readers craving a book that will transport them would do well to spend time immersed in these pages, as will gardeners who've lost appreciation for their plot. Ackerman is a generous writer--a teacher who will share treasured, obscure passages from Beckett or Hawthorne. She's emotional and highly charged, and her descriptions are so clear they're small marvels. She's remarkable for her ability to find mystery everywhere. --Emily White

From Publishers Weekly

In a generous and jauntily haphazard excursion through the four seasons of her Ithaca, N.Y., backyard landscape and the innumerable interests of her fertile mind, poet and naturalist Ackerman (A Natural History of the Senses; A Natural History of Love) reprises her role as an enchanting intellectual sensualist. Her extensive flower (and even weed) beds provide both subject matter and metaphor. More interested in what a great garden does for a person's spirit and soul than in how to make it grow, Ackerman buzzes productively from idea to revelation to insight, lighting on topics as diverse as how roses are reminiscent of dolls' faces; why we see faces in nature; how plants, animals and humans are alike; whether plants have motives and instincts; how flowers protect themselves from both heat, aridity and freezing cold; and why women are more prone to hypothermia than men in just five paragraphs. She celebrates the diversity of weeds, finds beauty in chaos and order, embraces trial and error as a way of learning and respects the inevitable cycle of birth, death and rebirth. (Oct.)Forecast: With the success of her earlier works preceding her, and an eight-city author tour and 15-city NPR campaign to come, Ackerman's breezy philosophical lyricism should flourish amoang both garden enthusiasts and fans of encyclopedic curiosity.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (October 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060199865
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060199869
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.9 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,224,475 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Well this is going to make me feel like a curmudgeon, since I can see that Diane Ackerman has a devoted following. However, having just tried and failed to get through my second Diane Ackerman book, I have to tell you that I find them boring and unreadable. She doesn't write much about natural history; she writes poetic meditations on natural history. There is a big difference. Her books are about her responses to the natural world, and she can be quite self-absorbed.
For example, in one essay she begins by describing her feelings upon seeing a sick raccoon stagger across her yard in broad daylight. She calls the local animal welfare people to look into it. Then she turns to describing her feelings and reactions to the other elements of her garden. I was left wondering what happened to the raccoon. She never told me.
If you are looking for Diane Ackerman's personal reactions to nature, this may be for you. But I was looking for some good winter reading about nature itself, for when I miss my garden. At the same time I ordered this book, I also ordered a book by Sy Montgomery called "The Curious Naturalist: Nature's Everyday Mysteries". I just chose it by searching for such books on Amazon[.com]. It turns out that Sy Montgomery was the nature columnist for the Boston Globe, and her essays are delightful, concise, amazing and informative. I didn't learn much about the interior life of the author, but I learned the most amazing things about the nature all around me. I read about the messages that singing insects send in the autumn evenings and how they create their songs; the messages in spider webs; the peculiar life-giving structure of water; the way sound travels over snow in winter. Most delightful of all, the author describes ways of interacting with our animal brothers and sisters.
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Format: Hardcover
Smart, witty, informed, observant, funny, practical, and powerfully moving-- Ackerman combines all of these qualities in a book that's both superb natural history and stylish literature. As a scientist, I'm continually amazed by Ackerman's scrupulousness. As a gardener, I'm impressed by her inventiveness (I'm going to try some of her strategies this season). As a lover of literature, I find myself rereading poetic passages of unbelievable beauty. This is one of my favorite books on any subject, because it's brimming with her trademark-- a fascinating sensibility, who loves and is endlessly curious about the natural world, while keeping an equally fascinated eye on the human condition. All that combined with the soul of a poet. In short, a literary treasure.
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Format: Hardcover
Diane Ackerman says, "I must confess, I am not a master gardener by a long shot, nor even a particularly expert one." In CULTIVATING DELIGHT, Ackerman proves this by sharing the contents of a journal she kept following an accident in which she was struck by a motorist while riding her bicycle. DELIGHT is not a gardening book, it is a synopsis of a journal kept by a convalesing writer who happens to have a garden.
Ackerman lives and gardens in Ithaca New York, home of Cornell University and one of the most beautiful and idyllic college towns in the United States. In her book, Ackerman describes her life of privilage: swimming in her backyard pool with friends; riding her bike around town, along the lake, or into the countryside; collecting roses from her many and various garden beds (1,500 roses over the summer); resting in the bay window of her study to watch wrens house hunt and breed or hummingbirds whom she has named Ruby and Gizmo stop by for a snack from one of the various feeders she has hung; shopping at craft fairs; stopping by the garden center; and myriad other tasks.
Ackerman uses the four seasons to stucture her book--an overworked device that fails (A NATURAL HISTORY OF THE SENSES was much better organized). A few passages are good--she's somewhat eloquent when it comes to describing birds--but mostly I found her writing irritating and repetitive. She too frequently makes use of cliched phrases and/or awkward metaphors. As an avid reader of books on gardening and nature, I found her thoughts unoriginal and uninspiring.
I recommend one consider resisting the beautiful cover of this book (which is relatively original and apparently matches the colors in the wall paper in Ms. Ackerman's study), and read THE INVITING GARDEN by Allen Lacy. Or if you are looking for book on gardening that is truly profound, try Jim Nollman's book, WHY WE GARDEN.
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Format: Paperback
Gardens. They're great, and I have a lovely one in my front yard. But I can claim exactly none of the credit. My style of gardening is to sit on the front steps chatting with Teri, my gardener, while she prunes the shrubs and tucks primroses and lobelia and cyclamen into the little bare spots.
But I love reading about people who DO enjoy gardening, and Diane Ackerman is a consummate writer on the subject. I've read The Moon by Whale Light and A Natural History of the Senses, two others of her several books, and find myself equally charmed by this one. It's a casual tour through the four seasons of her upstate backyard garden. But, as she's a naturalist, a poet, and a philosopher, she doesn't stop with just the plants; she uses the plants and their interdependent roles as metaphors to browse mentally through a wide variety of topics, including what gardens can do for people more than how people can tend a garden. It's like a role reversal of sorts. Some of the subjects that her free- and far-ranging mind roams over include: how we are like plants, plant's self-defense mechanisms, why we see faces in nature, etc. Her lyrical writing and vast, encyclopedic curiosity sometimes remind me of Annie Dillard's nature writing, a comparison that should be considered a compliment to both authors.
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