There are books that mark you because they crystallize what you’ve been thinking about a subject, or because they lead you deeper into a particular world of endeavor. Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perenyi was one such for me. For the first part of my life I took gardens and flowering plants for granted—they were part of the landscape, part of the set on the stage of my life, but no more real or important that the cut-out trees toted by the advancing hordes in Macbeth.
But some time in my 30s I fell in love with plants, and began trying to grow them indoors in this wintry climate and outside during the far too short summer season.
Perenyi’s book was published when I was in the throes of trying to figure out how to make the most of a small city garden plot. Her essays on compost inspired me to keep at it: my chicken-wire contraption is probably the oldest in my neighborhood, and whatever gardening success I have is, in part, owed to it. But Perenyi also linked gardening to the wider world, with an essay on the origin of peonies, and ruminations on dahlias and the wisdom of using a push mower instead of a power one. Over the years I’ve returned to the book frequently, for ideas, encouragement and pleasure.
Eleanor Perenyi died not quite a month ago at the age of 91, although I only learned of it recently. To everything there is a season, as she wrote in an essay on autumn in Green Thoughts: “When will the final curtain fall? Heavier dews presage the morning when the moisture will have turned to ice, glazing the shriveled dahlias and lima beans, and the annuals will be blasted beyond recall. These deaths are stingless. I wouldn’t want it otherwise. I gardened one year in a tropical country and found that eternal bloom led to ennui.”
It is fittimg--and perhaps not accidental--that she died just as the North American spring burst forth.