This afternoon I stole away from my desk and spent a good 1 1/2 hours browsing in my neighborhood used book store. In an effort to avoid grocery shopping I allowed myself to wander up and down every aisle taking in everything from “metaphysics” to “romance”; “history & war,” “self improvement” and “cooking.” Of course I always take a sweep through the bargain books in the back room; $2.00 is too good a price to pass up. But I’m sorry, trade size paperbacks just don’t float my boat. I like a book I can really get my hands around. So when I came across an old paperback copy of Green Thoughts, a writer in the garden, by Eleanor Perenyi I was inspired to go home and dig out my ancient, well-loved, hard cover copy.
Green Thoughts was the first book of garden writing I ever came across, let alone purchased. “A writer who gardens is sooner or later going to write a book about the subject,” Perenyi observes in her foreword. “One acquires one’s opionions and prejudices, discovers a trick or two, learns to question supposedly expert judgments, reads, saves clippings and is eventually overtaken by the desire to pass it all on.”
Certainly bookshelves were filled with books by esteemed garden writers but in 1981 that was a realm far beyond my kin. I don’t remember how I stumbled upon this enchanting title in the stacks at my local Tower Books (remember Tower Books?!?); all I know is I was hooked!
Perenyi was a Baroness! Married to Baron Zsigmond Perenyi she lived on a grand estate in Hungary for many years. Her writing was published in The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Esquire and Harper’s Bazarr. She also was the managing editor of Mademoiselle, a well-known New York woman’s fashion magazine. Well respected literary reads – well maybe not M. - but hardly the stuff of heady horticultural how-to. Even her portrait on the back cover was a departure from the usual earnest gardener in a dewy garden. Penenyi relaxes on a bench in her orderly rose garden, glancing casually over her shoulder at the photographer, cocktail in one hand, cigarette in the other.
I still love to parse through the pages for underlined passages I marked long ago:
Sooner or later every gardener must face the fact that certain things are going to die on him. It is a temptation to be anthropomorphic about plants, to suspect that they do it to annoy… Usually, though gardening failures, like airplane crashes, are the result of ‘human error,’ of not reading the directions or paying attention.
…People who blame their failures on ‘not having a green thumb’ (and they are legion) usually haven’t done their homework. 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.
Gutsy, opinonated, articulate and blessedly free from sentimental, florid overwrought language. I’ve loved this book for nearly 30 years. Like the front flap of the tattered jacket reads: ” Here is a book to keep, to cherish and to refer to frequently.”