Favorite Garden Books: Second Nature
Pollan traces his own development as a gardener from his early childhood excitement at finding a watermelon growing from one of the previous summer’s discarded seeds, through the tension between his father’s resistance to any kind of gardening or outdoor work and his grandfather’s particularly obsessive form of vegetable gardening, to his own trial and error gardening at the first house he and his wife bought in Connecticut. I love his description of learning to think like a carrot; and his rueful account of his escalating war with the woodchuck (which he compares to the stages of the American war in Vietnam) will resonate for anyone who has ever struggled with unwanted four-legged visitors in the garden. I find Pollan’s sense of humor delightful, and his writing often makes me laugh aloud. Here, for example, is his account of a raccoon raid on his corn crop:
The last year I planted corn, I hadn’t harvested more than a half-dozen ears before a gang of raccoons climbed the fence one night and threw a raucous party on my tab. They toppled every single cornstalk, ruining the crop yet not even eating it all – half-chewed ears littered the garden like empties. It looked as though they’d take a bite or two from an ear, fling it over their shoulder, and then reach for another. They stomped through the beds, ripped the tops off the leeks and beets strictly for spite, and then deposited several turds – large, impudent turds – smack in the middle of my beds. Compared to the cat burglaries of deer and woodchucks, this looked like the work of the Manson family. (p. 167)
But this book is more than just a humorous account of Pollan’s gardening experiences. He deftly weaves this narrative together with bits of horticultural history and with thought-provoking philosophical discussions. One theme that runs through the book concerns the tension between the American apotheosis of wilderness, which constructs nature and culture as opposed, and the idea of gardening, which bridges nature and culture.
Even as this book entertains me and makes me laugh, it nourishes my gardening soul and stimulates my mind.