Idyll Book Club-Second Nature, A Gardeners Education

dodgerdudetteDecember 17, 2006

Hello everyone,

Thanks to all for your participation in our last book thread. For our next book we will read "Second Nature-A Gardeners Education" by Michael Pollan..

Today is Sunday Dec 17th. I would like to give everyone three weeks to aquire the book-I know we will all be busy with the holiday festivities in the next week. I propose that we start our discussion the week of Jan 9th . By that time the weather should be really crummy just about everywhere except Maui, and don't think we have any Idyllers there! A perfect time to hunker down with a book.

My copy of the book is only 257 pages. I will post a few discussion points prior to our start date, but I would encourage discussion to be open to whatever interests the individual readers.

See you then !

Kathy in the Napa Valley

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Kathy in anticipation of your choosing this book, I ordered it last week and it was delivered today. I am looking forward to everyone's interpretations of it.

I may find some time to begin reading during the holidays.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2006 at 4:30PM
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Happy to see you are joining us again gldno !

    Bookmark   December 18, 2006 at 11:02PM
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gardenbug(Canada zone 5)

Found my old copy last night!

    Bookmark   December 19, 2006 at 8:37AM
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honey_mi(Z5 MI)

Thanks, Kathy. I'll order a copy today. I was late getting the last book and then got distracted with personal stuff here so didn't participate in the discussion. It was quite interesting to read what other's think reading the same material.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2006 at 9:24AM
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OK I'm going to try this again. I already have this book knocking around on a bookshelf somewhere around here. With the long,cold January nights coming up I should have plenty of time to participate this time around, (I hope!).


    Bookmark   December 19, 2006 at 9:28AM
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I've passed my request on to Santa...

    Bookmark   December 20, 2006 at 6:02PM
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david_5311(Z 5b/6a SE Mich)

Well I have read this book before and this would be a great excuse to re-read it. It is entertaining and fast reading as well as very thought provoking. Worth reading if only for the hilarious stories about the author's interactions with groundhogs (be prepared to laugh uproariously out loud...), not to mention a perspective on the annual purple loosestrife threads on this forum, and a lot of other issues that affect how we look at the natural world.

    Bookmark   December 21, 2006 at 1:40PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

It sounds like a good read and I am hoping that I will be able to join the group as well. I did see my local library has a copy of it and I will put a reserve in for it.


    Bookmark   December 21, 2006 at 1:57PM
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chloehoover(z6b VA)

Managed to glom a copy at a "me-trip" to Borders today - looking forward to laughing out loud!


    Bookmark   December 27, 2006 at 5:02PM
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veronicastrum(z5 IL)

Count me in on this one also!


    Bookmark   December 27, 2006 at 9:22PM
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Hello readers, lurkers etc..
Today is Jan 9th and I hope that eveyone is in full holiday recovery mode.
Hope all of you who wish to participate have aquired the book. I would like to begin our discussion this upcoming weekend (Jan 13 ) and since the book is divided into seasons we could start with the intro and the Spring segment. I will post a few discussion points on Friday evening but would invite all of you to bring up anything you wish for us to chat about.

Happy Reading, talk to you on Sat

Kathy in Napa

    Bookmark   January 9, 2007 at 9:44PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Hi Kathy..

Have the book and have started reading. There seems to be an introduction and a chapter entitled Two Gardens before the Spring segment. Did you want us to read both?


    Bookmark   January 12, 2007 at 10:10AM
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Hey PM, For context and enjoyment I think you'll want to read those sections too. Maybe Kathy meant that the discussion would be through the end of 'Spring' section.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2007 at 6:07PM
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Hi PM, yes, as Cynthia said lets read all the way through the Intro, chapter 1 and through spring..
Happy reading
Kathy in Napa

    Bookmark   January 12, 2007 at 10:32PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Thanks Cindy...through the spring it is. :-)

    Bookmark   January 13, 2007 at 9:01AM
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Hello Idyll Readers and friends ,
I would like to post a few observations that I had while reading this weekend. Feel free to respond to these discussion points specifically or add your own. There is a lot of content in this book.

One of my very favorite images was his father on the back patio with his Salem and his highball overviewing the yard that he had no interest in.Is that a classic 50's deal or what ? Everyone smoked-can you imagine what our houses must have smelled like ? I have neighbors here that never seem to go out into their back yards or the front yard for that matter. Lawns were a recurring theme in the first segment of the book. What are your views on lawns ? Do you see any trends where you live in regards to lawns ?

Michael had non-gardening parents, and his grandfathers garden was a strong factor in his development as a gardener- How have the gardens of your childhood influenced the garden you tend today ?

His philosophical struggles with the natural versus the manipulated garden were very timely- and considering that the book was written 15 years ago rather out of the mainstream for that era. At that point the organic gardening movement was still fringe and IPM was a University concept that was not widely practiced. Do you recognize this struggle in yourself ?

Feel free to chime in on these issues or any others..

Happy readingÂ

Kathy in Napa

    Bookmark   January 15, 2007 at 8:51PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

We have largely removed ourselves from the Great North American Lawn. So, while I wouldnt have taken his fathers route to express an opinion on it, I did get a good chuckle out of that action. On other GW forums, the issue of HOAs and the restriction they can place on what you can do on your property comes up from time to time. I cant imagine wanting to live under such oversight from your neighbours! (I can understand some of the desire to avoid eyesores in a neighbourhood. But it rather seems that things can get too nit-picky and Id be prone to take Pollans fathers route to express an opinion!)

A bit more of our front lawn will disappear this spring. Looking at the lay-out in its barer winter state has drawn my attention to the need to put in a small bed on the northeast corner. It needs a small tree for some height and to make the remaining lawn in that area become the grassy path through the flower beds thats what the lawn has become elsewhere. Under the wisteria tree will get expanded into a small bed too to shape that area better. By this summer, the only grass in the front yard will be in the ditch between the garden and the road (there are restrictions on what you can do in the ditch) and 3-4 grass paths between beds.

We are fortunate to live in a neighbourhood where there are quite a few active gardeners. A neighbour across the street did the lasagna thing to much of her front lawn in the fall so itll be interesting to see how that develops this year. The house on the corner at the top of the street turned most of their lawn into a garden, but then, unfortunately, hid it behind a very unattractive fence! A neighbour down the street eliminated much of her lawn in favour of a garden years ago. They sold the house last spring. The new owners, so far, have made only minor changes and are interested in gardening so were all hopeful that changes they make will be positive ones. Certainly the majority of the neighbourhood still subscribes to the Lawn but there are enough rebels that were not considered outcasts! :- )

Definitely childhood gardens influence this one. I discussed that in the previous book thread so wont repeat it here.

Ive never been too conflicted over the nature vs. garden issue. My front garden is frankly artificial in the context of nature and is purely ornamental. The backyard aims to be a more natural-looking woodland garden, but an obviously (wo)man made one. And it never occurred to me to be angst-ridden about it! I agree with his views (later in the book I think..?) that theres little truly wild nature left so its quite likely better in many cases to learn how to manage/garden whats there in as intelligent and environmentally healthy a way as possible than to let chaos reign and hope for the best from Mother Nature (whos looking a bit the worse for wear these days)

As for being timely/ahead of the pack on these issues have you read a book called The Once & Future Gardener? Its a collection of gardening articles from the past 100+ years. Its surprising how current most of them are.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2007 at 12:04PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA


I had never heard of this book before. I drag home bags of gardening books from the library but they are always about plant selection or culture etc and never a book written by a gardener on his gardening experiences and history. I am really enjoying this book. I find it fascinating. Especially since I have grown children and none of them is more than mildly interested in gardening so I sometimes think about whether they missed the gardening gene or was it their experiences with my gardening that had some effect? Reading the author's account of his childhood, I can see both at work..his genes and his experiences.

I grew up with no exposure to gardening at all. I take that influences were an aunt that was a nun and we would go to her convent once a year for a family reunion and they had an extensive walled garden that we could roam around in that had fruit trees and statuary. We only did that 3 years in a row and that was all. I loved going there. Other than that, I seemed to really love programs about farm life on TV or at the movies. Like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Neither of my parents gardened ever. I can't remember them ever planting a seed. I didn't see family growing up, so there was no exposure there. Ooops, I forgot, my mother did grow houseplants a little and then I got interested in them after highschool. But really I never put shovel to earth until my late 20s when we moved into our first home. I did later discover I have two great aunts that were never married and had extensive gardens and lived into their 90s. So, was it genes or because my only experiences with gardens were positive ones? It is funny though, that I definitely do favor productive gardens..and a walled kitchen garden would be my I think my childhood experiences must have influenced that a lot.

I can really see how the author of the book would have been positively influenced not only by the positive experiences with his grandfather, but by the negative ones with his father. I wonder if they were a perfect recipe for increasing the interest in gardening. Did I read it right, but it seemed to me, he got all the pleasure out of the garden growing up but not a lot of the weeding and digging?

I was actually surprised at the author's description of only seeing his Dad on the patio smoking a cigarette. We were usually always in and out of the yard at our house. I found his father quite a character. The image of him in his boxers in the garage trying to get the sprinkler system to work, was, too. I couldn't quite identify with his grasp of the lawn and the prevailing attitudes toward lawns. I have never been in that situation where someone in the neighborhood wanted to ignore their lawn. You have me thinking about whether I saw neighbors in the yard or not..and you are right, there were lots and still are lots that barely set foot in their yard. I never noticed that.

I am still thinking about the rest, but I have been gardening organically for 25 years, so I haven't struggled over that for a long time. I will have to think about that aspect some more.

be back later...

    Bookmark   January 16, 2007 at 3:34PM
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wendy2(zone 6 MA)

I think the author's father's attitude towards the lawn was based more on non-conformity than gardening. I think he moved to the suburbs with the idea of owning his own land, being the king of his castle and his domain. When he settled his family there, he was faced with the reality of the neighboring "kingdoms" and their rule being imposed upon him - "The front lawn symbolized the collective face of suburbia". He also had to contend with his father-in-law, who insisted on trucking in soil for him; he felt that he was being treated as a tenant rather than a fellow property-owner. His neglect of the lawn and his final statement of mowing his initials with the lawnmower were his way of rebelling, saying that the land was his and hed treat it as he liked.

I live in suburbia, and I always have. Around here, people tend to fence in their side yards and backyards, but not usually the front yards. The weekend air is noisy with the power lawn equipment, and some of my neighbors have landscapers come and do the lawn. I have a front lawn, but it there is a border along the fence on one side and across the front. Every year when DH edges, he seems to hack away a little more of the lawn; but I dont think he quite realizes he is doing it. We have talked about enlarging the front border to encircle a tree to make mowing easier, but havent got around to doing it yet. One of DHs co-workers, a younger bachelor that lives in a condo here in town, often drives by and sees DH digging or mowing he usually tries unsuccessfully to lure DH out to a sports bar with him. I joke that he must think DH is a slave to the yard, but DH says he doesnt feel enslaved at all he enjoys the physical activity.

There are neighbors that I never see in the yard, especially if there are no kids in the house. I think people tend to be outside in the backyard, on porches or decks. I grew up on a cul-de-sac, and there were a gang of us kids in the neighborhood that were always playing outside together. When dinner was ready, the mothers would yell out the back door to call us in. The adults would come out and sit on the front steps after supper, and wed play kickball or red-light green-light in the street until the street lights came on. We just dont have that now, parents arrange formal play-dates and the kids are dropped off and picked up.

I thought it was a riot when the author spoke of his fathers "quasi-horticultural accomplishments" including the replacement of the weeping birch with a white-painted willow "This was perhaps my fathers greatest achievement as a gardener, a strikingly original synthesis of topiary and fraud." If the new owners were like him and appreciated the garden only from inside the house, they would probably never know!

The authors take on Dudleytown, the abandoned settlement, really got me thinking. He says "What makes Dudleytown spooky is the evident speed and force and thoroughness with which the forest has obliterated the place." Ive seen those New England stone walls, formerly the edge of a farmers field, snaking through the woods around here. Those walls always had me thinking in terms of the past, and what was there before the forest. Ive spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out what was on our land before our house was built in 1929 (most likely a farm or an apple orchard). The authors vision of the forest overtaking his home may sound extreme, but it makes you ponder what might become of your place after youre gone.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2007 at 3:06PM
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Does anyone else find this book hard to read? While the first chapter or two held my interest. I found that he digresses a bit to much for my taste. I like more of a story line. Maybe my problem was sticking with it. Not usually a problem for me. The type in my copy is small and hard for me to read for long. My eyes get tired, so I have trouble picking it up again. I will finish it but may not keep up with you all.

Except for a couple of short peroids while I was growing up, we have always lived in rural areas. The yards never amounted to much. Maybe a few shrubs and fruit trees. A vegetable garden most of the time due to necessity. My paternal grandmother lived with us from the time I was nine and she did the gardening, and picked wild blackeberries for perserves and pies. My dad was an over the road trucker and wasn't home much. My mother was leagally blind and though she tried to have a few flowers it didn't amount to much. I did have to help in the vegie garden and a couple of my uncles had a large scale strawberry patch that a couple of my cousins, myself and a friend were payed a small sum for helping to weed and pick. We always managed to have a little fun there.

I didn't do much with the yard in our first house. To busy with three little ones. Once we moved to the place before this one and all the kids were in school I started with a small vegie garden and strawberry patch. We always had horses around so had plenty of good fertilizer. There was a steep bank in front of the house that I worked with over the years. Strawberries did well there then I started adding the flowers. Mostly simple annuals at first and then started adding perennials. The neighbors always commented on how nice it looked and how much time I spent out there.LOL.

As that area started to develope to the point it wasn't safe to ride the horses there. We longed for more privacy and space.
We certainly lucked into finding this place. Fifty two acres mostly wooded. About eighteen acres of pasture, but that is down a steep hill and across one of the creeks. It was hard to even pick a spot to build the house since everything was pretty overgrown. I finally looked for a spot with the biggest trees nearby. The property had been logged and there weren't a lot of big trees. But I found and area that did have and is near the center of the property. Cedars were abundant, but so were dogwoods. Needless to say the earth is not good. A hard packed sandy clay. I have had to incorporate a lot of organic matter. Lucky for me their is an large animal humane society nearby. Lots of bedding and manure.

Anyway I have managed to have a vegetable garden and several flower beds. The vegetable garden keeps shrinking. But lo and behold DH was browsing a garden catalog the other day and says he is ready to plant more things. I doubt that it will happen this year but as soon as he retires more power to him. He can sit out there and keep the squirrels from carrying off all the tomatoes. Heck they don't even carry them off. They just take a bite out of them and drop them. grrrr

Yes the woods will readily encroach on everything you clear if it gets half a chance. There are several old foundations of log houses on the property. One had a rock walled cellar. There is even a tree growing in that. The whole area is overgrown with vinca. Very pretty in spring when in bloom but quite invasive. I mow paths through it and around it trying to keep it contained.
The creeks had no crossings when we bought the property. Luckily DH had access to heavy equipment. He had to redo the crossings many times as the power of nature took them out with heavy rains. He has widen them enough now that they can carry most of the water without to much damage. But its one of the first things I go check after heavy rains.

Well I didn't mean to write a book. I am going to make an effort to read a couple more chapters of this one. I know there is some good stories in there yet. Norma

    Bookmark   January 21, 2007 at 7:53PM
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gardenbug(Canada zone 5)

Somehow other things are taking up the time I'd normally spend reading. I have several books in the "pause" phase right now. Still have good intentions, but appointments, visitors, events and knitting seems to come first for now.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2007 at 10:50AM
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I am just coming off 14 days without power! I may not be able to get back into discussing the book mode. I had already read the book and must agree wholeheartedly with Norma. I found it a very slow the time he would get through saying something, my mind had wandered.

Sorry everyone, this book wasn't my cup of tea. It had some good thoughts but a bit verbose for me.

I will be reading all the comments though.

I think I am suffering extreme letdown....we had DH's parents (89 and 83) with us for 10 days and they are city folks; flushing toilets with a bucket of water wasn't exactly a pleasant thing for them (or us!) We did survive, but you should see my yard; it looks like a war zone. It will take us a very long time to clean up. We did have some good food using my gas range and the wood stove. How the pioneers read by candlelight or lamplight is beyond me....I sure couldn't do it. I did get up one morning at 3 am and read by flashlight when I couldn't sleep.

Happy reading and discussing everyone.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2007 at 7:07AM
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Wow gldno, you have some challenges there- glad to hear you got power back at last.

Oddly, my reading problems are opposite yours- we have had no rain here to speak of and I have spent every weekend outside doing renovation projects that I thought would not get completed till spring ! So, I read , but slowly.
I have just started the "Summer" segment, and can see where those who are not into roses in a big way may find the chapter "Into the Rose Garden" tough going. The author is pretty opinionated (reminded me a bit of Eleanor Perenyi's grumpy yet classic "A Writer in the Garden") but I could not argue with some of his observations about the world of roses.
Norma, the experience of reading is so very subjective-I've read plenty of books that others just could not stand and I have often found it impossible to get into books that have been passionately recommended to me. I really like the writing "style" of Micheal Pollan and can read this book just for the pleasure of the way it is written. Inspite of your finding it a difficult read , you did reflect on your early gardening experiences , and you recognized his observations on the forest and its' pervasiveness. Maybe we take something out of books in spite of our feelings about the content.
I am going to read the chapter on Weeds this evening. A topic near to my heart ! I will say that I have made substantial progress in the weed control area-don't spray at all, but have used mulches and hand picking with excellent results-mulching is key. I am looking forward to his views;his garden is much much larger than mine..

Happy reading everyone. Post when you can-read slow if you pressure !

Kathy in Napa

    Bookmark   January 29, 2007 at 10:55PM
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gardenbug(Canada zone 5)

I was reading about roses last night and thoroughly enjoying it....which I guess proves Kathy's point. When in agreement, it doesn't seem slow slogging or even opinionated to me! Mind you, I did fall asleep and not finish the section. ;-)

    Bookmark   January 30, 2007 at 7:37AM
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AdamM321(MA z5/6)

Gee gldno...What a tough time! I hope things are getting back to normal at your house.

I was actually enjoying the book but started finding it hard to squeeze in more reading. I am going to try to pick it up again this week. :-)

    Bookmark   January 30, 2007 at 8:41AM
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