Monday, May 25, 2009

Good In The Beginning

I have just finished a gift of a sabbatical, made possible by the same economic lull that is affecting us all. This winter and spring the last pieces have fallen into place…a hand-built front garden that's already getting some serious attention, a new website and blog…and a final piece that was Twitter-shaped.

My apprenticeship is over. June 1 marks 8 years since leaving the corporate world to be a landscape designer. It seems a fitting time, then, to honor the masters. Though my personal pantheon is rather vast, there are some particular footsteps I wish to honor, and to follow. Many of these masters are not designers. Mostly they are women, they are writers, and they are passionate about gardening. So I’d like to inaugurate this blog with a dedication to these particular teachers, My Wise Women, as it all began with them.

I will begin with a writer whose words have become part of my own lexicon. Her book has done more nightstand time than any other. I love essays, and appreciate that to say something briefly, yet well, is a gift.

Eleanor Perenyi ‘Green Thoughts, A Writer in the Garden’
Eleanor was the daughter of an American naval officer and a novelist, and met her husband, a Baron, in Hungary before World War II. They lived in a castle, but were very poor, and also very happy. She braved a brutal climate to start a garden with all the enthusiasm of young wife and mother, but lost it and her husband behind the Iron Curtain.

Eleanor wrote a book about this period of her life, published in 1946, called ‘More Was Lost.’ I came across it after becoming quite familiar with Eleanor as an older woman, speaking from a lifetime of experience...she was just a couple of years younger than my grandmother. To be re-introduced to her as a young woman was a nice surprise.

When she left Europe, Eleanor came to live on the Connecticut coast with her son and parents. There she created her second garden; reluctantly, at first, because of the pain of losing her first, but with growing dedication and skill. She writes of her hard-won gardening experience and opinions in 'Green Thoughts,' as alphabetical essays. Eleanor’s garden was the eclectic mix of an ardent enthusiast… perennials, vegetables, fruits, berries, roses, herbs. She was a lifetime subscriber to Organic Gardening magazine, and even writes of interviewing the original Mr. Rodale at his farm during her career. (see Compost).

Wow. In fact-checking I discovered that Eleanor Perenyi died just three weeks ago, May 3, 2009. I shouldn’t be surprised...I also lost my grandmother last November. But still, it comes as a bit of a shock…

Eleanor Perenyi, Writer and Gardener, Dies at 91
Eleanor Perenyi, a writer and deliciously opinionated amateur gardener whose book “Green Thoughts” is widely considered a classic of garden writing, died Sunday in Westerly, R.I. She was 91 and had lived in Stonington, Conn., for many years.

Here is her full obituary,

I’m quite moved by this news, and now feel a particular urgency to pass on her words and continue her legacy.

From the Forward to ‘Green Thoughts’ By Eleanor Perenyi, 1918-2009

“Why, then presume to write a book about gardening? The simplest answer is that a writer who gardens is sooner or later going to write a book about the subject—I take that as inevitable. One acquires one’s opinions and prejudices, picks up a trick or two, learns to question supposedly expert judgments, reads, saves clippings, and is eventually overtaken by the desire to pass it all on. But there is something more: As I look about me, I have reason to believe I belong to a vanishing species. Gardens like mine, which go by the unpleasing name of ‘labor intensive’ are on their way out and before they go, I would like to contribute my penny’s worth to their history.”

And so would I. Please comment if you visit! Thank you…


  1. Welcome. We can always use authentic voices. I look forward to reading more. I have been doing much the same and have found a renewed interest in writing through blogging.

  2. Thank-you Susan...I consider you to be one of my "wise women" too!

  3. I'm going to re-read her book now, thanks for the information on her passing. I do remember loving the book.

    Wonderful to know she lived so long!

  4. Thanks Sarah, I was thinking the same thing...I like the chapter in Green Thoughts about longevity..."I figure my chances for a long life are at least as good as the average athlete's, and maybe a lot better."

  5. By the way, "Good in the Beginning' is from Buddhism, which says that the hallmark of a good teaching is 'Good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good at the end."

  6. She's a heroine of mine. I have only read Green Thoughts and I appreciated the extra history you brought to us.

  7. Thanks, DP...I recommend "More Was Lost" for the back story (as much as she will tell, anyway) her husband did not die in the war, but was not able to leave the Soviet Union...very sad. She had their son, however.

  8. Laura: welcome to the garden blogosphere. Nice to have you here and I'm sure your contributions will help move along the dialog regarding good design. I'm about to add a link to your blog to my site. I hope it drives some eyeballs your way.

    Your very own GardenWiseGuy

  9. Thanks, Billy...honored to have you here! I will strive to be entertaining AND informational! Thanks for your support...much appreciated.

  10. In you walk out your door, turn left, then left on that street, then right where it ends and go past the pretty roses and on one block to the white and green house on the corner you get to another lawn free garden. Mine is a few years old and I look forward to watching yours grow up, it looks so lovely now.

    Please stop by for a cup of tea (and a big bunch of lavender!).