seems to be my year for reading books by Michael Pollan. I had just finished
reading his latest book,
In Defense of Food, when I delved back into Second Nature, published in 1991. This was the selection for the February/March edition of the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club, a bimonthly reading
group hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.
Second Nature, Michael Pollan chronicles his experiences from
a newly-minted and idealistic gardener to a battle-seasoned one. This book does not tell us how to garden specifically, but rather is a series of essays on
subjects that most gardeners think about inevitably at some point in their
Through topics as diverse as compost, rose growing, tree
planting, seed catalogues and weeds, I felt as if I had embarked on an eye-opening journey of discovery with Mr. Pollan. There’s drama in this book
too, just as there is in our gardens. From his first mention of woodchucks,
I wanted to read on and discover how ultimately Pollan makes peace with them. Or
does he? Who among us hasn’t planted a garden only to discover some critters
or night-time insects happily feasting on our gardens?
several essays, Pollan challenges the romantic ideals and assumptions that held
sway in his mind before he began gardening in earnest. As he discovered,
assumed that I could make a garden and at the same time remain on warm terms
with the local flora and fauna. The process of overcoming my failures taught me
how much harder it is to get along with nature as an active participant than as
a distant admirer. (123)
Pollan talks at length about what he sees as the competing and conflicting forces between nature and culture that have long been part of our North American heritage. It makes me want to delve further into the perennial discussion over how much human intervention is acceptable in our role as stewards of this planet. Pollan’s take on this issue makes for interesting, although outdated, reading. In 1991, when this book was published, environmental issues hadn’t quite reached the general public’s consciousness to the same degree as they have now.
are many interesting insights into the history of gardening as well. One of my favourite parts was reading Pollan description of how
Americans (and Canadians too, for that matter) came to plant lawns across the US, no matter
the climatic conditions.
He writes with such wit and candour
that I suspect most every reader will be chuckling or nodding in sympathy or understanding. A
discussion of seed catalogues has become a classic in garden reading and, if you don’t read any other section of Second Nature, this is one that shouldn’t be missed.
If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to read Second Nature. At the same time, you might enjoy reading Michael Pollan’s guest blogging posts on his book at Amazon.com.