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Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden (Modern Library Gardening) Paperback – February 19, 2002
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From Library Journal
Modern Library expands its scope into gardening with these two titles. Published in 1981, Perenyi's text offers a collection of essays on topics from annuals to wild flowers and everything in between. The practical information is laced with anecdotes and historical tidbits about gardens and gardeners. Reaching back to 1871, Warner's volume also offers helpful advice along with much humor and even drama as he uses plant life to draw lessons for daily living. A nice break from the straightforward how-to books.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
“You do not have to be a good gardener to fall in love with Green Thoughts. It reads with the intrepid assurance of a classic.” —Mary McCarthy, The New York Review of Books
“Unlike any other gardening book I know, with its Old World charm, its down-to-earth practicality, its whimsy and sophistication.” —Brooke Astor, The New York Times Book Review
“One of those dangerous reference works that you reach for at a moment of horticultural crisis or indecision only to find yourself an hour later browsing far beyond the page where you began.” —The New Yorker
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See for example her five page essay on Pruning (p.190) which begins:
"Never before or afterward did a gardening style evoke so much attention, generate so much literary heat, as one that overthrew the formal garden with its geometrically determined space and sculptured evergreens and replaced it with an imitation of wild nature....The leaders were Pope, Addison, Horace Walpole, and their friends among the Whig aristocracy..."
And she must have enjoyed cooking & eating, since perhaps a third of these green thoughts include recipes. Archival pictures (not included in this unillustrated edition) show a movie-star slender & elegant blonde. Her later years find her elegant in a more Julia Child way. P 181, e.g., has a fine recipe for potato salad and one for herbed fingerlings she grew herself that seem worth an addition to the waistline. The fingerlings were smuggled in but have since, Perenyi notes in a relieved way, been found in legal nurseries.
AMONG ITS FINE QUALITIES: This book is likely to be read years from now:
--Perenyi had directed the proceedings at gardens larger (her husband's vast estates in Hungary) and smaller (her acres in Connecticut). She writes as knowledgable amateur as do, among others, Vita Sackville-West & Henry Mitchell. Essays begin with artichokes, asparagus and ashes, go on to a long list of culinary herbs such as borage, lavender, and tarragon, continue through toads, tomatoes and tree-houses and conclude with women & agriculture through the ages. The essays are arranged alphabetically, a refreshing change from the gardener's year organization.
--What she has to say may be superseded over the years with new cultivars and new techniques but is likely to stand oak firm on topics such as mulch, mauve, and pesticides. However, this is not a comprehensive, how-to book or an in-depth source on matters such as roses or ranunculus. There are other books for that.
--Perenyi was the editor of magazines such as Mademoiselle and Harper's Bazaar, a regular contributor to The Atlantic Monthly, the author of a prize-winning biography of Frans Liszt, and of a memoir of her life with her husband in Europe. She was a writer first and foremost, and her skills shine in "Green Thoughts," in which there seems to be nary a clunky sentence.
--Nor a dull sentence. Perenyi held strong opinions on every topic about which she wrote here. She disdained, for example, seed tapes and people who used them; her admiration for dahlias was almost unbounded; and she gave a go-out-and-win-the-game talk on failures. Her observations were ahead of her time in matters such as organic gardening, her advice makes sense, and her authoritative voice seems like instructions to Adam & Eve.
Here she is on Makielski Berry Farm, then located in Ypsilanti:
"This lttle company has a list, not a catalog, and wouldn't be worth mentioning except that they carry the only decent gooseberry I have been able to discover in America. The name is Poorman and while not comparable to the English fruit, it is far better than the dreary and ubiquitous Pixwell." (p 275)
--The book includes a ten page small print index that looks professionally done, a section on where to order plants and seeds that while it may be out of date, still makes for more good reading, and introductory material by series editor Michael Pollan and garden writer Allen Lacy. Perenyi is among the few writers who can make these popular authors seem serviceable rather than scintillating.
ANY READER ALERTS? This book helped inspire a new generation of gardeners. However, its pleasures may be best enjoyed in small portions. Strong views can seem fresh. A lot of them at once can feel ill-tempered.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: At used book prices, as low as a penny, "A Green Thought" can be bought in quantities for the reader's own pleasure and for sowing with a generous hand among friends. A new copy is still a fine value & a sumptuous treat, perhaps given with a quality dibble & a package of Johnny's seeds.
Pereni is well-versed in gardens-of-the world and their captivating aspects. Scent, height, color – mostly blue – contrast, shape, all come under her eye. Chapter 1 is about annuals and you can quickly deduce that they are at the bottom of her list. She cuts some slack for the ‘old annuals’ –love-in-a-mist, pincushion flower, bachelor’s buttons. But she decries the gaudy, scentless, mass-marketed plants we see today in Lowe’s and Home Depot. She clearly states that they aren’t cheap and save no labor for the gardener. Use perennials! “A garden of store-bought annuals is as temporary as plastic pools.”
Pereni admits that she has a hemlock hedge for decades and it gave her no satisfaction. She challenges that hedges are no more than banal additions to a landscape. Fruit trees also come under her scrutiny. Unless a person has an orchard, she avers that fruit trees, while ornamental for a brief period, are better left to nature than a garden.
Day lilies come under her scrutiny as well. She faults them for their blousey display and hybridized sins. “A garden stocked with the newest, showiest hybrids is as depressing as a woman with a facelift.”
Her essay on ‘failures’ is classic. She recounts many of her own garden failings with a wry eye. What she has learned from these is priceless. She notes “Gardening is a vocation, but not a gift from heaven.” So live and learn. Join her in the garden. This is a brilliant conversation you won’t want to miss.
There is a wealth of knowledge, generalities and minutiae, all of interest, that she passes through. The tone is aristocratic-bohemian. It feels sometimes as though one were walking with her near sunset, just before supper, whiskies in hand.
One can hardly imagine a more pleasureable gardening book.