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Second Nature: A Gardener's Education
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Second Nature: A Gardener's Education

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  5,902 ratings  ·  580 reviews
In his articles and in best-selling books such as The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan has established himself as one of our most important and beloved writers on modern man’s place in the natural world. A new literary classic, Second Nature has become a manifesto not just for gardeners but for environmentalists everywhere. “As delicious a meditation on one man’s relations ...more
Paperback, 258 pages
Published August 12th 2003 by Grove Press (first published 1991)
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3.93  · 
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"It may be in the margins of our gardens that we can discover fresh ways to bring our aesthetics and our ethics about the land into some meaningful alignment."
-- Michael Pollan, Second Nature


I'm pretty sure I'm now a Michael Pollan completist. This was Pollan's first, and as I typically read the first last, my usual brush with Pollan completism for now.

This book sent me back to days working in my grandmother's garden, my mother's garden, my wife and my first garden on our apartment balcony. It
Feb 23, 2008 rated it liked it
I am an unabashed fan of Michael Pollan. Yes, it may sound strange, but in my esteem, he is tantamount to a rock star or a Hollywood A-lister. "But Rachel!" you may be thinking, "he's just a regular guy! In fact, he's just a bald and bespectacled ol' college professor!"

Despite these potentially legitimate arguments, I classify Michael Pollan among the ranks of the elite. So, when I learned that Michael Pollan published a book about gardening in the early 1990's, I seized the opportunity to get a
I've been a gardener my whole life and so was delighted with Michael Pollan's story of his experiences with gardening and the endless struggles we go through as nature does its best to undo our every effort. A great read and a true gem of a meditation on gardens and the human spirit.

After 2012:

This is my third read of Second Nature. Once again I'm impressed by Pollan's ability to weave personal history with past and present theories/ideas/politics of gardens and our changing attitudes towards th
All Pollan's books explore the ways people relate to the world around them, from plants to food in general to space itself. This one's about gardens and gardening, and is probably the book in which he most explicitly addresses man's relationship to nature.

The oft-repeated thesis of this book is that all American concepts of the physical world and our place in it stress a division between nature and culture, and that while this notion has been useful in its various forms (Puritan establishment to
This book was, erm, okay. Just okay. There were definitely parts that I really liked about it (historical overview of gardening in the US, Pollan talking about his struggles with his five acres, reminiscing about his childhood gardening memories). But, and this is a big but, each chapter felt like it's own book, with a wrap up that left me feeling like SURELY this should be the end of the book, only to realize there were a gazzillion cds left in the case to go through. When I put in the last one ...more
Mads P.
Aug 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A fascinating and informative read that goes way beyond gardening. Drawing from history, ecology, religion, literature, and philosophy, Pollan discusses how gardening addresses our relationship with nature.

Excellent writing style. For example, he entertainingly describes "the loathsome slugs: naked bullets of flesh--evicted snails--that hide from the light of day, emerging at sunset to cruise the garden along their own avenues of slime."

In addition to the lowly slug, Pollan addresses big topics
Here Pollan describes a garden as “a middle ground between nature and culture,” and explores the philosophical divide between the two. The author writes of his grandfather’s half-acre garden on Long Island and of the summer when his father defied the neighbors by not tending to the lawn. He also chronicles the first seven years of developing his own garden in Cornwall, Connecticut: deciding on the right ratio between lawn, vegetables and flowers; figuring out how compost works; fighting groundho ...more
Mar 14, 2015 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Pollan fans, gardeners, NPRers
Written twenty-five years ago, much of what this book is about is as true today as it was then – because much of it is a history of the garden and gardening. It’s also, though, a contemporary study and self-analysis of the author’s one-year experience of putting in a garden(s) on his newly purchased (in 1984) five-acre, old farm, in Cornwall, Connecticut, with bits of social and cultural commentary sown in. Gardens are, he rightly point out, “a form of self-expression …” (p. 242) and Pollan exhi ...more
Gardening gives most of us our most direct and intimate experience of nature - of its satisfaction, fragility, and power.

One of Pollan's earlier works, and it shows. While there is a larger theme of gardening, there is also a lot of navel gazing. I liked the narrative historical sections on different concepts of wilderness and nature, actually preferring those to Pollan's check-in on how his zinnias are blooming...

The strongest section of the book was "Planting Trees", discussing the history
Mar 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
With thoughtful research and writing, and the incorporation of many of his own gardening experiences, Pollan makes a compelling case to say goodbye to the American lawn and hello to a garden. Not just any garden though. One that is gentle to the earth and its fragile ecosystems, and one that gives homage to the landscape’s past. I see many of his ideas in my future.
May 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Second Nature published in 1991 is Michael Pollans’ first book. I started reading Michael Pollan when my sister gave me Botany of Desire, and I had missed this early book about gardening. The voice is familiar to a Pollan reader, a combination of journalistic investigation, personal reflection, and an occasional zinger. The book is arranged by the seasons, a device which works well enough, as Pollan tells stories of his increasing engagement with gardening. I found myself laughing out loud, reco ...more
Jul 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012, growing
I haven't even read Michael Pollan's really famous work, but I always think of the Botany of Desire as one of the cornerstones of my perspective. I don't know why it took me so long to get to Second Nature. I'm so fascinated by humanity's place in the landscape and I like his style. In his typical style, Pollan brings a contemporary American ethnobotany to these classic garden icons.

Michael Pollan explores such items as:
his father garden vs. his grandfather's garden
roses, history, modern hybrid
David Radavich
May 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a revolutionary book from my perspective. It begins with the author's reflections on his grandfather's garden and his father's attitudes to yard care and continues to his own arduous garden-making. But along the way he considers the rich, fascinating history of gardens, yards, forests, and open spaces and how humans relate to them. I particularly relished his chapters on the "meaning" of trees across a broad variety of cultures and "the idea of a garden." As he says, gardens are narrativ ...more
Feb 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I am a real michael Pollan fan. Fun to see the seeds of his later books, planted in this one. As a beginning gardener, I found this book fascinating, informative and very easy to read. I most particularly like his discussion of what makes a "green thumb" and the concept of "wilderness."
Sep 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
As a dedicated backyard gardener, I was the perfect audience for this book, one of Pollan's earliest. I particularly enjoyed the chapters that were more memoir than philosophical reflection, the chapter about his father (who refused to cut his grass, ultimately carving his initials into the lawn after officious neighbors complained) and his grandfather (who kept trying to improve his son-in-law's lawn and who saw anything less than stark rows and weed-free beds as a personal insult) and the chap ...more
Bernie Gourley
Apr 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This isn’t simply a discussion of lessons of gardening, though it does tread that ground. However, Pollan uses that topic as a jumping off point to explore a couple of broader topics. First, what defines the American approach to lawns and gardens, which is clearly distinct from that of our Old-World ancestors / comrades? Second, what does it mean to say some approach is more or less “natural” in an ecosystem that has been shaped by the hand of man? As a neophyte balcony-container gardener, I was ...more
Feb 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: gardens, philosophy
I would recommend the audio book - read wryly and humorously by Pollan himself - as that's how I experienced it.

this has to be my favorite of his work so far! It's far ranging, covering what feels like every aspect of gardening from the general, like composting, to the very specific, like the sexual politics of roses (!). He touches on battling nature in the form of woodchucks, the social ladder of seed catalogs, puritans, his father, drops the names of Vita Sackville West and modern horticultu
David Bean
Feb 01, 2019 rated it liked it
While I've read several of Pollan's books to date and always enjoyed them, this was the first outside of his wheelhouse of nutrition/food that I have always enjoyed as they hit closer to a personal, current wheelhouse of interest. "But still", I said as I loaded up the book on my Kindle, "I worked weekends in a plant nursery and as a landscaper for many seasons in my formative years, I'll have no trouble going along for the ride!" How little I know. This is really a collection of essays on a var ...more
Oct 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nature
After being thoroughly impressed with Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, for some reason I waited nearly three years to read another of his books. Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education is equally well-written and is his first published book.

This is essentially a collection of essays divided into four sections: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter, and though each essay approaches its topic--of which there is quite a variety--through the lens of a gardener, as usual Pollan consistently expands specific
Nov 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gardening, nonfiction
Before he became famous for his real-food polemics, Michael Pollan was puttering around in his New England garden. This book, published in 1993, is a pure delight and total inspiration to a gardener of my ilk (invested in a garden that balances itself with nature, values native plants and eschews foolish hybrids, and strives to eradicate the lawn in all its iterations). His presentation of a gardener’s ethics was also deeply motivating. I hope to return to it again and again in my gardening life ...more
Jan 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
A delightful book exploring the relationship between American culture and nature--full of funny anecdotes, rich history, and engaging discussion. Pollan ensures that his view on the discussed issues is very clear to the reader, which occasionally can be a bit overbearing, but not annoyingly so. It is definitely an informative and enjoyable read for those who like plants and gardening, but these are not necessary prerequisites. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning m ...more
Jun 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: eco
The first of Pollan's books, I put this one off because I figured it would be uneven and because it was not easily found. I ultimately tracked down a copy through inter-library loan and I'm glad I did. It's everything Pollan's fans could want on gardening. While a lot of his recent work has focused on food, this one and A Place of My Own stand apart and are good bets for fans of MP's writing but are tired of the overlap in the food books.
Alex Smith
Apr 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A personal revolution - I’ve grown vegetables and moved earth to appease my inner search for meaning and order, but somewhere in this book I began to feel validated in pursuing a lively relationship with land. I have always wanted open country and mountain property, but now I can see even greater potential in the unpredictable path of gardening. Well written of course, but also surprising with how well footed the narrative builds into a birds eye view of our relationship to nature as a species.
May 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Such sweet garden musings. The section on his Dad vs the lawn mowing fanatics reminded me of a couple of former neighbors. And the worrisomeness of planting a tree reminded me of myself.
Anna Kander
Aug 05, 2018 added it
Shelves: nonfiction
Hannah Barkey
Mar 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Michael Pollan's captivating meditation Second Nature has claimed a place in my heart right next to the works of Wendell Berry.
sofie  jacobsen
Apr 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book was so rad. It really made me think about the philosophy of gardening and consider man's relationship with nature and nature's relationship with man. I listened to it and will be buying a hard cover copy so I can highlight my favorite sections 😂.
Susan Sink
Jun 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book gets five stars from me because I really believe it is a modern classic. It belongs up there with Izaak Walton, Aldo Leopold and yes, even Thoreau, with whom he argues throughout the book.

It's not just about gardening; it's about Americans' relationship to the land-- including their suburban front and back yards. I think the fact that he starts with his Long Island suburban plot is what really engaged me. We suburbanites grow up with a very limited view of nature and often a diminished
Apr 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010, non-fiction
One of my summer reading goals is to read through all of Michael Pollan’s work; so I started with Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education, his first book, which was published in 1991.

Second Nature takes readers through the explorations, tribulations, and revelations of Pollan himself, as he works to leave his mark on his personal landscape. This is not a “how-to” garden book. Here you will not find natural remedies for warding off common garden pests, or how to produce more tomatoes per plant. Wha
Oct 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
What a great book. Not only did I discover several new garden supply stores, but I also was awakened to the oddity of the all encompassing front yards of grass throughout the US and how that came to be and how hard it is to break away from the tyranny to conform to it.

Pollan discusses the conflict between having a garden and allowing the weeds and creatures to live their lives and how we actually act as weeds ourselves in changing the landscape around us.
"Native grasses proved poor forage for Eu
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Michael Pollan is an American author, journalist, activist, and professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is also the director of the Knight Program in Science and Environmental Journalism.

Excerpted from Wikipedia.
“A garden should make you feel you've entered privileged space -- a place not just set apart but reverberant -- and it seems to me that, to achieve this, the gardener must put some kind of twist on the existing landscape, turn its prose into something nearer poetry.” 54 likes
“Anthropocentric as [the gardener] may be, he recognizes that he is dependent for his health and survival on many other forms of life, so he is careful to take their interests into account in whatever he does. He is in fact a wilderness advocate of a certain kind. It is when he respects and nurtures the wilderness of his soil and his plants that his garden seems to flourish most. Wildness, he has found, resides not only out there, but right here: in his soil, in his plants, even in himself...
But wildness is more a quality than a place, and though humans can't manufacture it, they can nourish and husband it...
The gardener cultivates wildness, but he does so carefully and respectfully, in full recognition of its mystery.”
More quotes…