Second Nature by Michael Pollan

As a new gardener (seriously - aside from a few failed indoor window-pot plants, this is my first foray into the world of growing things) I picked up this memoir with the hopes that it would offer insight, sympathy, and the occasional Thing That Makes You Go Hm… I got all three. And some laughs.

Pollan begins his story where all memoirs begin: with childhood struggle. This struggle takes place between his father (who is happy to let the lawn go longer than he should) and his grandfather (who trucks to their house not only his own rosebushes but also his own soil.) It grows to encompass his own struggle with what is generally acceptable in suburban society against what he finds aesthetically pleasing and what still falls under the rigid guidelines set up by his grandfather.

He settles, with his wife, eventually in an old Connecticut dairy farm with offices above the detached garage and a rambling sprawling back yard - quickly being reclaimed by second-growth forests. He tells of his own trials and obsessions, his experiments, his failures...his first garden as an “adult” which falls desperately short in the eyes of the one man he’s trying to impress with it (his grandfather)...his attempts to get rid of a woodchuck (and since it’s on the back cover I’m not going to hesitate to tell you: he fire bombs its hole)...he vacillates between the Naturalists romantic view that the only beauty is natural beauty and anything “artificial” is forced and garish and the idea the you can bend the earth to your will, if only you have the knowledge to make it pliable.

He does inspire, in the midst of his pontificating, and I found myself perusing seed offerings online and making sketches of what the back garden could be if only I have the power to make it so.

Pollan winds up striking a nice balance within his garden life - the book is broken up into four sections for each season, but spans from childhood until it went to the editor so we get a nice umbrella view - somewhere between the complete lack of interest shown by his father and the iron (if also VERY green) fist of his grandfather...with emphasis the entire journey on how man interacts with nature: what is a “Weed” and what makes something “invasive” and if we were all gone tomorrow, what would nature do? The result is a garden in which I wouldn’t mind meandering...especially if at the end I got to sit down with Pollan and exchange ideas on the proliferation of pumpkins.

Ultimately, the idea that the reader is left with can be boiled down to one little quote: “A lawn is nature under totalitarian rule,” he says. And there you have it.


Town Mouse said...

I really enjoyed the Pollan book, but if I had to pick a favorite book about gardens, it's Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy.

This garden really made me think about my garden in a completely different way.

Towhees are rather common (not that I mind) so that's probably what you have. You could probably start with a saucer that's somehow elevated, it doesn't have to be fancy as long as it holds water.


Emily said...

Marvelous! Thank you! I've added it to my TBR list.

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