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Second Nature: A Gardener's Education

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  6,732 ratings  ·  622 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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 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: 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
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
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.
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.
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
Sep 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was a lot of fun. For a nearly 30 year old book, it almost could have been written today. The only thing that was dated was the discussion about plant catalogues and mail order seeds (though it was still one of the most fun chapters to read). "Made wild by pompous catalogs" (Henry Ward Beecher) - just writing this down so I don't forget the incredibly accurate phrasing.

Michael Pollan Michael Pollans gardening (I'm using Michael Pollan as a verb here), with expected results. He learns a lot,
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
Jul 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
I got this after reading The Botany of Desire, which looks at the relationship between plants and mankind. In Second Nature, the field of view of much narrower, ranging from the backyard garden to a municipal park. As such, it's a little more "practical" from the point of view of a wanna-be-homesteader like me.

It's not exactly an instruction manual though, it's still very philosophical, but scattered with some of his own experience. For instance he talks about how at first, he was reticent to fe
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.
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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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