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Second Nature: A Gardener's Education

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  7,887 ratings  ·  732 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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"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
Apr 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
Delivered in an entirely conversational manner, Second Nature: A Gardener's Education begins as a gardening memoir but soon branches off into various relevant ponderings. The author’s own recollections of trial and error in the garden are one thing, but then there are all these insightful reflections about how industry and social currents have shaped over time – and continue to shape – agriculture and ornamental horticulture alike. The book turns 30 this year, in 2021. In most respects, I feel i ...more
Anne (On semi-hiatus)
My review disappeared as did almost all info showing that I have read this book twice. The only thing that exists are some reading progress notes from earlier this year when I read this memoir for the second time.

I cannot write a proper review, one that is worthy of this gardening memoir, but will write a few words on what I recall. As a new gardener ages ago I discovered this "gardening" book before Pollan became a household name. He's brilliant and funny as well as a great writer and thinker
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
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 histor
Jamie Smith
Oct 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: natural-history
This book starts with a discussion of American lawns, and made me think of them in ways I never had before. When I was a kid my family moved to one of the sprawling new suburban subdivisions with thousands of homes in your choice of one of four styles and three paint colors, each on its quarter acre plot. Whatever trees or other natural features had once been there were all gone, the area for miles around bulldozed flat as a billiard table.

And throughout that subdivision all the front yards wer
Mar 14, 2015 rated it liked it
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
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
4 stars. Borrowed from Amazon's Prime Library, this book (published in 1991) is not only the author's memoir as a budding gardener but also offers a historical overview on changing Western views of such notions as wilderness, what is "natural," environmentalism, garden design, the politics of seed catalogs, and much more. ...more
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
Dec 27, 2016 rated it it was ok
I appreciated the Euro American and personal history but as an organic gardener, conservationist and former farm girl, I did not appreciate lumping the amazing diversity of styles, cultures and motivations into the homogenous idea of gardening in "our society". His definition felt very European-American focused. It left out much of our American diversity and history. ...more
Kevin Buckley
Mar 07, 2017 rated it it was ok
This garden essay was like most of my gardens: teeming with promise at the start, becomes overrun with weeds and in the end, you're happy it's finished.

Couple fun chapters, there's a sense of humor here, that seems ready to unfurl like a spring tulip, but in the end, the cool weather keeps its glory at bay.
Jun 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was such a relaxing read. Maybe I am alone in thinking reading about gardening while enjoying a social commentary about revenues and tibits of history makes for a great read but it was. The prose was delightful and I was often reminded of Bill Bryson way to got off topic but yet still be on topic.

I highly recommend
Norman Falk
Mar 02, 2022 rated it really liked it
If this book has one main contention, it is that gardening should be the ruling metaphor for what our relationship with nature (and consequently culture) should look like. The garden teaches us to wrestle with the tensions between the extremes of “domination and acquiescence”. Having done “something”, we cannot afford to do nothing to our natural landscapes. The garden should be “a place that admits of both nature and human habitation. But it is not, as I had imagined, a harmonious compromise be ...more
Nancy Lewis
Sep 15, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: homesteading
Using his own garden for context, Michael Pollan suggests that instead of considering nature as contrary to humans, we can see ourselves as participants in the natural world. The "garden ethic" values the changes humans make to the landscape in a kind of symbiosis with the land, just as birds build nests and beavers construct dams. It doesn't have to be all or nothing - a parking lot or a wild patch of brambles. We can make thoughtful, deliberate changes to our environment that benefit the birds ...more
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.
Mar 28, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2021
Classic Michael Pollan writing on nature and gardens.

Thoroughly enjoyable if you love these topics
Aug 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Really great book about gardening. Not a how-to, more of an inspirational why-do. Loved it. Excellent writing.
May 26, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2021
I really enjoyed this book, and many of the thoughts that were expressed mirror my own. I've only recently gotten into gardening this past year, but find it a shame that there isn't a larger presence of gardening culture in the U.S. in the form of books, television, and podcasts. We are highly reliant on British horticulturists, it seems, and I feel like we should have more garden societies as well as shows/conferences in the U.S. ...more
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
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: growing, 2012
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
Aug 25, 2019 rated it did not like it
I really wanted to like this book, being an amateur gardener myself. I love sleepy gardening shows and wandering through hardware stores every spring. I picked up this book in anticipation of another growing season and even though it’s a relatively short book, I had to abandon it 50 pages in. The material is so dry. The author writes about having obviously grown up from a privileged home and how his white picket fence ideals didn’t fit tidily with the messiness of real garden, which should sound ...more
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." ...more
Apr 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lovely, uplifting, thoughtful, funny--my favorite audiobook to date and a delight to listen to, even if sometimes Pollan waxes a little ridiculously poetic about roses.
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
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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.

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“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...
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The gardener cultivates wildness, but he does so carefully and respectfully, in full recognition of its mystery.”
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