Second Nature (Michael Pollan)

Well, friends, the year is almost done. How are you doing on your own Reading Challenges? There’s still about three weeks left, and I would need to read six books in that time to meet my goal. Two per week is totally feasible, right?? If I really buckled down, I could make it work, but we’ll just have to see. 🙂

Title/Year Published – Second Nature: A gardener’s education (1991)

Author – Michael Pollan

Page count – 258

Rating – Buy/Borrow/Bypass + Goodreads 4/5

(I don’t know that I need to read this book again, but it’s definitely one I’m passing along to several gardening/horticulture/landscaper friends. And I can’t wait to get my hands on some of the books and authors he recommends/references.)

I hadn’t realized this when I got the book, but I’ve already read another by this author called The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Like I said in that review, it was a book that made me think about things in a philosophical way that I hadn’t considered before. Whereas Omnivore applied to anyone who, ya know, eats food, this book is really more of interest to those who do any type of horticultural work – whether you are a farmer, manage the landscape of a large estate, or just keep a couple pots of flowers on your front step.

The book is divided into four parts, appropriately themed around the four seasons. And it asks basic philosophical questions like “Why do we garden?” and “What is a garden?” The author guides the reader through different theories of gardening and the histories of landscape design. His precise vocabulary may strike some as lofty or overly academic, but I relish his desire to use just the right words to paint a picture and capture certain feelings. I also appreciate his often subtle or quirky sparks of humor.

I love the following passage. It speaks to a sort of greater philosophy that goes beyond gardening and could apply to one’s attitude toward life in general (you know, the whole “it’s about the journey, not the destination”):

“It’s easy to get discouraged, unless, like the green thumb, you are happier to garden in time than in space; unless, that is, your heart is in the verb. For the garden is never done – the weeds you pull today will return tomorrow, a new generation of aphids will step forward to avenge the ones you’ve slain, and everything you plant – everything – sooner or later will die. Among the many things the green thumb knows is the consolation of the compost pile, where nature, ever obliging, redeems this season’s death and disasters in the fresh promise of next spring.” (p. 132)

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