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Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden

(Modern Library Gardening)

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  321 ratings  ·  37 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 279 pages
Published February 19th 2002 by Modern Library (first published 1981)
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Average rating 4.08  · 
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 ·  321 ratings  ·  37 reviews

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Sep 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, gardening
“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
Sep 14, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: own, gardening
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.
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 ...more
Mary Soderstrom
Mar 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Angela Clark
Jan 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 :)).
Mar 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
My favorite essay is the one about Toads.
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, ...more
Jul 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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
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 ...more
Rachel Kopel
Jun 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
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.
Oct 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Gardeners/nature lovers
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.
May 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.
" '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
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.
Apr 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
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.
Jul 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: essays, house-garden
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.
Mar 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Varied and interesting information throughout. A must if you're still a gardener, but I'm not.
Mar 21, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, gardens
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
Jul 31, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: gardening
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 ...more
Feb 15, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Jul 11, 2007 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Gardens who have read the classics
Shelves: rummage-sale
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 ...more
Elizabeth Brookbank
Jul 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
May 31, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015
I just love garden memoirs. Especially the ones that are total stream of consciousness 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!
Jan 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
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.
Jul 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
David Ward
Feb 04, 2010 rated it liked it
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.
Aug 29, 2014 rated it it was ok
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.
May 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
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.
Maryellen Walter
Jan 28, 2016 rated it liked it
This book of garden essays was published in 2002 and I found some things have changed since then. While some of the essays were interesting, I got bogged down in the essays on lawns, standards, and some others. It's an interesting book but I had to skip parts of it that I found too cumbersome.
Jan 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: gardening
Great gardening read. I can't believe I spent so much time in Stonington and never met her.
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Eleanor Perenyi (January 4, 1918 – May 3, 2009) was a gardener and author on gardening. She wrote Green Thoughts, a collection of essays based on her own experiences as a gardener. The book drew on her work on her husband’s castle (described in her 1946 publication More Was Lost). Green Thoughts was reviewed by Brooke Astor in The New York Times.

Eleanor Perenyi was the daughter of Navy officer, El

Other books in the series

Modern Library Gardening (7 books)
  • We Made a Garden
  • The American Gardener
  • In the Land of the Blue Poppies: The Collected Plant-Hunting Writings of Frank Kingdon Ward
  • My Summer in a Garden
  • The Gardener's Bed-Book: Short and Long Pieces to Be Read in Bed by Those Who Love Green Growing Things
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