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A classic in the literature of the garden, Green Thoughts is a beautifully written and highly original collection of seventy-two essays, alphabetically arranged, on topics ranging from “Annuals” and “Artichokes” to “Weeds” and “Wildflowers.” An amateur gardener for over thirty years, Eleanor Perényi draws upon her wide-ranging knowledge of gardening lore to create a deligh A classic in the literature of the garden, Green Thoughts is a beautifully written and highly original collection of seventy-two essays, alphabetically arranged, on topics ranging from “Annuals” and “Artichokes” to “Weeds” and “Wildflowers.” An amateur gardener for over thirty years, Eleanor Perényi draws upon her wide-ranging knowledge of gardening lore to create a delightful, witty blend of how-to advice, informed opinion, historical insight, and philosophical musing. There are entries in praise of earthworms and in protest of rock gardens, a treatise on the sexual politics of tending plants, and a paean to the salubrious effect of gardening (see “Longevity”). Twenty years after its initial publication, Green Thoughts remains as much a joy to read as ever. This Modern Library edition is published with a new Introduction by Allen Lacy, former gardening columnist for The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times and the author of numerous gardening books.


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A classic in the literature of the garden, Green Thoughts is a beautifully written and highly original collection of seventy-two essays, alphabetically arranged, on topics ranging from “Annuals” and “Artichokes” to “Weeds” and “Wildflowers.” An amateur gardener for over thirty years, Eleanor Perényi draws upon her wide-ranging knowledge of gardening lore to create a deligh A classic in the literature of the garden, Green Thoughts is a beautifully written and highly original collection of seventy-two essays, alphabetically arranged, on topics ranging from “Annuals” and “Artichokes” to “Weeds” and “Wildflowers.” An amateur gardener for over thirty years, Eleanor Perényi draws upon her wide-ranging knowledge of gardening lore to create a delightful, witty blend of how-to advice, informed opinion, historical insight, and philosophical musing. There are entries in praise of earthworms and in protest of rock gardens, a treatise on the sexual politics of tending plants, and a paean to the salubrious effect of gardening (see “Longevity”). Twenty years after its initial publication, Green Thoughts remains as much a joy to read as ever. This Modern Library edition is published with a new Introduction by Allen Lacy, former gardening columnist for The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times and the author of numerous gardening books.

30 review for Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden

  1. 5 out of 5

    Abby

    “There is of course no such thing as a green thumb. Gardening is a vocation like any other—a calling, if you like, but not a gift from heaven. One acquires the necessary skills and knowledge to do it successfully, or one doesn’t. The ancients gardened without guidance from books, by eye and by hand, and while I am a devotee of gardening books and love to study and quarrel with them, I don’t think they are a substitute for practical experience, any more than cookbooks are.” I'd give this book six “There is of course no such thing as a green thumb. Gardening is a vocation like any other—a calling, if you like, but not a gift from heaven. One acquires the necessary skills and knowledge to do it successfully, or one doesn’t. The ancients gardened without guidance from books, by eye and by hand, and while I am a devotee of gardening books and love to study and quarrel with them, I don’t think they are a substitute for practical experience, any more than cookbooks are.” I'd give this book six stars if I could. A thoroughly delightful assortment (the book is arranged in alphabetical chapters on seemingly random topics, from Annuals to Women in the Garden) with salient advice, even decades after it was published, and a wisdom and cleverness about gardening. She's also a talented stylist and a pleasure to read. Also, it me: “The athletic tend to look down on gardening—until they try it. Then I am amused to hear their moans and groans: ‘My back, I can’t believe it.’ I can. I go through it every spring, and the cult of fitness has no part in my psychology. I loathe sport in nearly all its forms except horseback riding. But I figure my chances for a long life are at least as good as the average athlete’s, and maybe a lot better.”

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kristi

    Enjoyable read on a variety of gardening topics. At times, the writing is fun, opinionated, and quirky; at other times, simply informational. A good balance.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Shiloah

    What do I enjoy as nighttime reading? Biographies or gardening essays. This book was a true gem. It will definitely join the classics on my bookshelves as one I will refer to often and reread. I felt this was also a bit of an autobiographical book as you can’t help but get to know someone through their essays. I love that she organized this book in alphabetical order. I love her love of literature and how widely she read. I have added many books to my to-read list from her casual quotes or menti What do I enjoy as nighttime reading? Biographies or gardening essays. This book was a true gem. It will definitely join the classics on my bookshelves as one I will refer to often and reread. I felt this was also a bit of an autobiographical book as you can’t help but get to know someone through their essays. I love that she organized this book in alphabetical order. I love her love of literature and how widely she read. I have added many books to my to-read list from her casual quotes or mentions.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Mary Soderstrom

    There are books that mark you because they crystallize what you’ve been thinking about a subject, or because they lead you deeper into a particular world of endeavor. Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perenyi was one such for me. For the first part of my life I took gardens and flowering plants for granted—they were part of the landscape, part of the set on the stage of my life, but no more real or important that the cut-out trees toted by the advancing hordes in Macbeth. But some There are books that mark you because they crystallize what you’ve been thinking about a subject, or because they lead you deeper into a particular world of endeavor. Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perenyi was one such for me. For the first part of my life I took gardens and flowering plants for granted—they were part of the landscape, part of the set on the stage of my life, but no more real or important that the cut-out trees toted by the advancing hordes in Macbeth. But some time in my 30s I fell in love with plants, and began trying to grow them indoors in this wintry climate and outside during the far too short summer season. Perenyi’s book was published when I was in the throes of trying to figure out how to make the most of a small city garden plot. Her essays on compost inspired me to keep at it: my chicken-wire contraption is probably the oldest in my neighborhood, and whatever gardening success I have is, in part, owed to it. But Perenyi also linked gardening to the wider world, with an essay on the origin of peonies, and ruminations on dahlias and the wisdom of using a push mower instead of a power one. Over the years I’ve returned to the book frequently, for ideas, encouragement and pleasure. Eleanor Perenyi at the age of 91a few years ago. To everything there is a season, as she wrote in an essay on autumn in Green Thoughts: “When will the final curtain fall? Heavier dews presage the morning when the moisture will have turned to ice, glazing the shriveled dahlias and lima beans, and the annuals will be blasted beyond recall. These deaths are stingless. I wouldn’t want it otherwise. I gardened one year in a tropical country and found that eternal bloom led to ennui.” It is fittimg--and perhaps not accidental--that she died just as the North American spring burst forth.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Angela Clark

    Wish I could have met the author. She seems like one of those sort of cranky but lovable characters you sometimes meet and end up really caring about. Loved the author picture with her out in her garden with her cigarette and whiskey glass (not that I condone smoking :)).

  6. 4 out of 5

    Holli

    My favorite essay is the one about Toads.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    This is a sweet book written with style and grace. I love the author's voice and wit. I read about 6 different "essays" and I'm looking forward to picking it up again and reading more. Take your time turning the pages. Pick this book up when you need a sweet escape. This is a sweet book written with style and grace. I love the author's voice and wit. I read about 6 different "essays" and I'm looking forward to picking it up again and reading more. Take your time turning the pages. Pick this book up when you need a sweet escape.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Grace

    3.5 stars. I started this book months ago and set it aside around 100 pages in because it just wasn't holding my attention, for the most part. The passages up to"Lawns" dragged a little, with the exception of Compost and Earthworms. actually Compost got me pretty interested and I ended up with The Rodale Book of Composting and I now have my own pile rotting away in the backyard. while at times the author comes off a little snobby and particular, I think that's to be expected in a gardening book, 3.5 stars. I started this book months ago and set it aside around 100 pages in because it just wasn't holding my attention, for the most part. The passages up to"Lawns" dragged a little, with the exception of Compost and Earthworms. actually Compost got me pretty interested and I ended up with The Rodale Book of Composting and I now have my own pile rotting away in the backyard. while at times the author comes off a little snobby and particular, I think that's to be expected in a gardening book, and even though I aspire to have the type of garden she so obviously disdained (with native plants and wildflowers that aren't tidied up at the end of every season), I kind of enjoyed how opinionated she was. every person moderately serious about gardening has things that they have strong opinions on and are particular about. I can probably also partially credit this book with nudging me into growing some vegetables this year. some of my favorite topics were: Annuals, Lawns, Magic, Making Notes, Mulches (of all things, yes, it was interesting!), Partly Cloudy, Pests and Diseases, Seeds, Toads, Tomato, Tree Houses, Two Gardeners, Wildflowers, and Woman's Place.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Gwyn

    Dulcy Mahar, the late and beloved Oregonian columnist, recommended Eleanor Perenyi's writings as both thought-provoking and inspirational. I picked up Green Thoughts expecting something similar to Dulcy's friendly, whimsical prose. Nothing could be further than the truth. "Opinionated" was the word Dulcy used to describe Perenyi, with more tact than I would have used. My first impression of Perenyi was that she was a stuck-up, cantankerous old you-know-what. You-know-what she may be, but she know Dulcy Mahar, the late and beloved Oregonian columnist, recommended Eleanor Perenyi's writings as both thought-provoking and inspirational. I picked up Green Thoughts expecting something similar to Dulcy's friendly, whimsical prose. Nothing could be further than the truth. "Opinionated" was the word Dulcy used to describe Perenyi, with more tact than I would have used. My first impression of Perenyi was that she was a stuck-up, cantankerous old you-know-what. You-know-what she may be, but she knows how to write. One essay led to another, and I found myself growing fond of her. Yes, she's cantankerous, and yes, she's stuck up, but she's also eloquent and intelligent and thoughtful. I don't think I'd want her as my next-door-neighbor, but I'd love her on my bookshelf.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Audrey Driscoll

    This is a collection of essays on a large variety of garden-related topics, arranged rather prosaically in alphabetical order, starting with "Annuals" and ending with "Woman's Place." Ms. Perenyi was a woman of culture and sophistication, well-read and well-travelled, and it shows in her musings on everything from compost to garlic to creating standards. She refers frequently to the writings of others (not only gardeners) and expresses pithy opinions on their opinions. (For example, she takes a This is a collection of essays on a large variety of garden-related topics, arranged rather prosaically in alphabetical order, starting with "Annuals" and ending with "Woman's Place." Ms. Perenyi was a woman of culture and sophistication, well-read and well-travelled, and it shows in her musings on everything from compost to garlic to creating standards. She refers frequently to the writings of others (not only gardeners) and expresses pithy opinions on their opinions. (For example, she takes a bit of a swipe at Henry Beston, decrying his thoughts on herbs as overly romantic). But every one of these essays is rooted in real gardening, mainly in Connecticut, but in Hungary as well (where the author lived after her marriage), and many of the topics have been extensively researched. Even non-gardeners would enjoy this book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Kopel

    Another in the endless piles of library book sale finds. Perenyi is a delight, an excellent writer and gardener and well able to combine the two. I enjoyed several months of reading one or two entries at bedtime and am sorry this book is finished. Passing is along to a reading gardner/ gardening reader friend.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Robbin

    This book is WONDERFUL! If you are a gardener or want to be a gardener, you will fall in love with this informative and VERY entertaining book.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Julia

    If you read this in Maggie Smith's voice, it is even better. Love her. I'll never look at petunias the same way again. If you read this in Maggie Smith's voice, it is even better. Love her. I'll never look at petunias the same way again.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    " 'A writer who gardens is sooner or later going to write a book about the subject,' Eleanor Petenyi observes in her Foreword. 'One acquires one's opinions and prejudices, discovers a trick or two, learns to question supposedly expert judgments, reads, saves clipp0ings and is eventually overtaken by the desire to pass it all on.' "Perhaps America has produced too few writers who garden. In any case, there has not before been a gardening book quite like this one by the distinguished biographer of " 'A writer who gardens is sooner or later going to write a book about the subject,' Eleanor Petenyi observes in her Foreword. 'One acquires one's opinions and prejudices, discovers a trick or two, learns to question supposedly expert judgments, reads, saves clipp0ings and is eventually overtaken by the desire to pass it all on.' "Perhaps America has produced too few writers who garden. In any case, there has not before been a gardening book quite like this one by the distinguished biographer of Liszt. At once highly useful and highly personal Green Thoughts is filled with practical advice, opinions and prejudices, unexpected bits of history and down-to-earth warnings about the present state of horticulture, especially in this country. From Annuals, a tribute to and discussion of those plants that 'flower, set seed and die withing a single season [yet] perform prodigies in their brief lives' to Woman's Place, an astonishing glimpse into sexism in the garden through the years, this book is designed to enchant and instruct the casual admirer of flowers or aficionado of fresh vegetables quite as much as the ardent delver in the earth. "If you have ever wondered which vegetables it is worthwhile to grow in a small garden (and, incidentally, if there are imaginative ways in which to serve them); whether it is your imagination or sweet peas have actually lost their fragrance in recent years; why dahlias are called dahlias and tulips, tulips; or any one of a number of such questions, you will find an answer in these pages. Here is a book to keep, to cherish and to refer to frequently." ~~back cover A most charming book, one that's not quickly read but rather sipped and savored. I loved that Eleanor is a crusty old lady with such firm and often contrary opinions, which she of course doesn't mind in the least sharing. She doesn't cover everything about gardening in an exhaustive matter, but only those subjects that interest her; often they're surprising, as is Woman's Place, the last essay in the book. If I was a more vigorous gardener I'd certainly keep this book for its practical advice. But alas, I'm not.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Joanna

    This collection of short essays on gardens and gardening is by turns amusing, informative, glorious, persnickety, hopeful, scornful, and lovely. Many of the essays spoke to me like a beloved friend of the heart, others irked me, and on balance I am just glad to have finally finished it. The sequence of essays is arranged alphabetically by title, and I think the disjointedness of topics (lawns, lilies, longevity, etc) detracted from my enjoyment of the work as a whole.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mariam

    Very subject matter specific and heavy. She’s sarcastic about gardening which is an achievement. And racist—less of an achievement—although still impressive that she managed to fit that into a gardening book. Very much herself without a filter. Forward thinking about organic planting and pesticides considering this was written sometime after the World Wars (I believe). Lots of good information about gardening though. I will use it as a reference, often.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sharron

    No photographs, not even a pen and ink sketch yet the author’s marvelous prose evokes the beauty and infinite variety of the plant world as few other books have.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

    A lovely writer, just not what I'm interested in at the moment. Finished the first quarter of the book. A lovely writer, just not what I'm interested in at the moment. Finished the first quarter of the book.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    Varied and interesting information throughout. A must if you're still a gardener, but I'm not. Varied and interesting information throughout. A must if you're still a gardener, but I'm not.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    Those who garden and write gardening books, seem to be independent and often cranky people. While Eleanor Perenyi may fit that description, she is also likable. Perenyi is independent enough to reject the “expert” opinion, and not care what people think when she uses seaweed as a fertilizer. She is cranky enough to lament the state of the world, and criticize the government for not allowing her to grow a small amount of pot for personal use. She is also somewhat snobby, describing colorful annual Those who garden and write gardening books, seem to be independent and often cranky people. While Eleanor Perenyi may fit that description, she is also likable. Perenyi is independent enough to reject the “expert” opinion, and not care what people think when she uses seaweed as a fertilizer. She is cranky enough to lament the state of the world, and criticize the government for not allowing her to grow a small amount of pot for personal use. She is also somewhat snobby, describing colorful annual flower beds as vulgar, and upset by how hard it is to find good help. She looks down on Americans customs, being from Hungary herself. However, she is likable for her optimism in gardening, and her enjoyment of things like perennials, compost and parsley. This book is a series of essays with titles like herbs (the longest section in the book), artichoke, blues, night, and daylilies. I especially like how she shares the natural history of the plants and gardening methods. (Did you know crab grass is actually “Polish millet”, a widely used grain, brought to the US by immigrants, who then rejected it for wheat and corn, which fetch better prices?) Some of her ideas haven’t changed much in 30 years (all things organic and companion planting). Some of her ideas are out of date. She recommend Russian Olive trees or shrubs, and I’m pretty sure that is an invasive species in most of the U.S. Of course I believe she lived in Massachusetts, so this book would be more applicable on the east coast, if you intend to use it for her gardening advice. I read it as entertainment, and was not disappointed. But if you are looking for “salt hay” that she recommends fifty times, I think you have to be in a costal region to find that. When Perenyi writes on “Pruning” she waxes very literary, sharing from Milton, Thoreau and others. This book may be boring for those who want to read the book for the gardening tips, not a discussion of the classics.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie

    Considered by some a gardening classic and originally published in 1981, this is a selection of gardening essays organized alphebetically beginning with A (for annuals) and ending with W (for women's place). (I don't know what happened to XYorZ. Hasn't the women ever heard of zinnias?) Perhaps she just got tired of the topic of gardening. I must confess, I only made it to L for Lawns before I had to put the book aside for a break. This weekend I picked it up again and plowed through the rest of Considered by some a gardening classic and originally published in 1981, this is a selection of gardening essays organized alphebetically beginning with A (for annuals) and ending with W (for women's place). (I don't know what happened to XYorZ. Hasn't the women ever heard of zinnias?) Perhaps she just got tired of the topic of gardening. I must confess, I only made it to L for Lawns before I had to put the book aside for a break. This weekend I picked it up again and plowed through the rest of the alphabet. Since the author does her gardening in New England many of the topics I just skimmed over. Such as Azaleas and Rhododendrons, Gooseberries and currants, Belgian Fences, and her section on mulches which included something called salt hay?? I did enjoy her frequent literary references and I learned quite a lot about the history of gardening. I liked her subtle sense of humor but even she admitted to being cantankerous and opinionated when it comes to gardening and some of her opinions I didn't agree with. Frequently using Latin classifications and French phrases, and complaining about the hired help, she is what I call a "hoity toity" gardener.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    Eleanor Perenyi was a retired editor from Glamour who had a garden in Connecticut. Her passion appeared to be old fashioned flowering perennials-such as roses, tulips and Turk's lilies. But she provides useful information about seed catalogs, blocking the garden with swarths of solid color and preparing the soil. She has also talks about gardeners that have gone before her-such as Ellen Willmot who had several outstanding gardens but lost them due to the pre-WWII economy. For those who have a tra Eleanor Perenyi was a retired editor from Glamour who had a garden in Connecticut. Her passion appeared to be old fashioned flowering perennials-such as roses, tulips and Turk's lilies. But she provides useful information about seed catalogs, blocking the garden with swarths of solid color and preparing the soil. She has also talks about gardeners that have gone before her-such as Ellen Willmot who had several outstanding gardens but lost them due to the pre-WWII economy. For those who have a traditional garden, Ms. Perenyi has a great deal of insight about various topics. But for someone who is gardening for wildlife, her information is limited and she didn't appear to appreciate the wildlife and the beauty around the garden. Her focus was on the beauty that she could create in the garden.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    I'm not sure where I heard of this book but I think it sounded more intriguing than deserved. I had a hard time getting into it I think mainly because the author referred to English poets and the classics like everyone has read them . . . perhaps I should?? I did gleam a few tips from the book; how to winter my rosemary plant (dig it up and place in a pot -- next year just put the pot in the ground), how to deadhead my lilies, and what to do with the ashes from my fire pit (place around plants t I'm not sure where I heard of this book but I think it sounded more intriguing than deserved. I had a hard time getting into it I think mainly because the author referred to English poets and the classics like everyone has read them . . . perhaps I should?? I did gleam a few tips from the book; how to winter my rosemary plant (dig it up and place in a pot -- next year just put the pot in the ground), how to deadhead my lilies, and what to do with the ashes from my fire pit (place around plants to ward off disease). I flipped through most of the book as I wasn't interested in reading 5 pages of compost notes or the best way to take care of your lawn.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Brookbank

    I loved this book. Part gardening advice book, part landscaping history/social critique, part memoir - it is hard to think of something more in my wheelhouse than this book. It is also so funny - with a wry wit that made me laugh and shake my head in recognition at the same time. I plan on buying my own copy so I can return to it any time I want! And it's perfect for dipping in and out of as the mood strikes, as it is organized as a series of essays on various horticultural themes (Alliums, Bean I loved this book. Part gardening advice book, part landscaping history/social critique, part memoir - it is hard to think of something more in my wheelhouse than this book. It is also so funny - with a wry wit that made me laugh and shake my head in recognition at the same time. I plan on buying my own copy so I can return to it any time I want! And it's perfect for dipping in and out of as the mood strikes, as it is organized as a series of essays on various horticultural themes (Alliums, Beans, Frost, etc.), rather than a book you have to read start to finish.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    I just love garden memoirs. Especially the ones that are total stream of consciousness writing....no real thought or lay out. Perenyi is delightful to read. I skipped around and read all the sections I was interested in. I hate lilies so I skipped that. I love her short, one paragraph entry in Mazes: "Should you ever find yourself lost in one, choose either the right or the left wall and follow its every turning. You can't fail to emerge." So sweet and to the point. Love! I just love garden memoirs. Especially the ones that are total stream of consciousness writing....no real thought or lay out. Perenyi is delightful to read. I skipped around and read all the sections I was interested in. I hate lilies so I skipped that. I love her short, one paragraph entry in Mazes: "Should you ever find yourself lost in one, choose either the right or the left wall and follow its every turning. You can't fail to emerge." So sweet and to the point. Love!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie

    This is a lovely, practical, enchanting and instructional book regarding everything one would wish to know about gardening. There are surprising bits of history, opinions and prejudices, warnings of the state of horticulture in the US and practical advice. I foresee using this book for many answers as well as pure pleasure reading.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    Very personal views on the garden. She write short essays on subjects such as compost, roses, and garlic. These are not just how to grows pieces but they range from the etymology of a word to the subjective quality of a plant.

  28. 4 out of 5

    David Ward

    Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perenyi (Modern Library 2002)(635). This is a collection of gardening essays by a long-term amateur gardener. It features a fantastic section on herb gardening. My rating: 7/10, finished 2005.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    Interesting writing about gardens from the perspective of a long time northeastern gardener. She is a bit cranky at times and contradictory at others. But well worth reading for the bits of arcane information she has and the insight she has into the issues besetting our environment.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    This book is a series of gardening essays. Not easy reading always but always interesting. I learned a few new "tricks." I found however I could only read a few of the chapters at a time and then had to put it down. BUT I did finish it and I am glad. This book is a series of gardening essays. Not easy reading always but always interesting. I learned a few new "tricks." I found however I could only read a few of the chapters at a time and then had to put it down. BUT I did finish it and I am glad.

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