I’m in the last pages of Michael Pollan’s Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education. Published in 1991, much of what it says is relevant today. If you’ve read any of Pollan’s works, you know he mentions Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Walt Whitman quite a lot . I’ve come to view Pollan as a kind of modern day mix of all three of those transcendentalists (Whitman never confessed to being involved with the movement, although his poetry often expresses its tenants, especailly “Song of Myself”).
In Chapter 10, The Idea of a Gardener, Pollan writes:
Compared to the naturalist, the gardener never fell head over heels for nature. He’s seen her ruin his plans too many times for that. The gardener has learned, perforce, to live with her ambiguities- that she is neither all good nor all bad, that she gives as well as takes away. Nature’s apt to pull the rug out from under us at any time, to make a grim joke of our noblest intention. Perhaps this explains why garden writing tends to be comic rather than lyrical or elegiac in the way that nature writing usually is: the gardener can never quite forget about the rug underfoot, the possibility of the offstage hook. (193)
Pollan’s metaphors are catchy and most of the time right on. I’m sure most of us have been grabbed more than once by nature’s “offstage hook.” This summer the rug was pulled out from under me when I bragged about having celosia reseed when in fact it wasn’t celosia at all but an 18-foot long row of loosestrife. I know what you’re thinking, and I feel stupid that I didn’t know the difference, but you know as well as I do how hard it can be in early spring to determine one variety of seedling from another.
I’m of the school that most things in life, and in the garden, are not always . . .