Sunday, May 10, 2009

Green Thoughts Author Eleanor Perenyi

Eleanor Perenyi, the author of Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden, published in 1981, has died at 91.

Green Thoughts
is the first garden book I ever bought. I don't know what persuaded me to get it because I didn't even have a garden at that point of my life. Of course, I became a gardener, and I have treasured the book since then, and have reread it with great fondness over the years.

Organized alphabetically, the book is made up of 72 essays from Annuals through Longevity, ending at Woman's Place, a discussion of women in the garden - "the tradition of the flower-filled feminine ghetto." Green Thoughts is idiosyncratic: you think there would be a chapter called Spring, but there isn't.

Perenyi used her own Connecticut garden as a window onto the wider world of literature, history and philosophy, and, of course, horticulture. She was certainly ahead of her time on pesticides, declaring: "...natural remedies must be substituted for those man-made ones that are 90 percent toxic in one way or another. As a corollary, nature left alone will strike a tolerable balance among the predators. And we organic gardeners had better be right, because time is running out on the indiscriminate users of chemicals."

In the chapter "Longevity", Perenyi details "gardeners' longevity in impressive defiance of the actuarial tables" from Rome through the Middle Ages to the 20th Century, and anticipates her own ripe old age:
"I like to think of these statistics when I am down on my hands and knees grubbing, while my non-gardening friends are out on the tennis court or jogging past the fence. The athletic tend to look down on gardening - until they try it. Then I am amused to hear their moans and groans: 'My back, I can't believe it.' I can. I go through it every spring, and the cult of fitness has no part in my psychology. I loathe sport in nearly all its forms except horseback riding. But I figure my chances of a long life are at least as good as the average athlete's, and maybe a lot better."
Even though (sadly) it's out of print, you can still buy Green Thoughts at and

For more on Perenyi's fascinating life - she was born Eleanor Spencer Stone in Washington and married an impecunious Hungarian baron at 19, beginning her gardening career on the grounds of his 750-acre estate - read the New York Times obituary.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a book worth buying - maybe along with one or two or her other books.


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