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Annie in Austin
Welcome! As "Annie in Austin" I blog about gardening in Austin, TX with occasional looks back at our former gardens in Illinois. My husband Philo & I also make videos - some use garden images as background for my original songs, some capture Austin events & sometimes we share videos of birds in our garden. Come talk about gardens, movies, music, genealogy and Austin at the Transplantable Rose and listen to my original songs on YouTube. For an overview read Three Gardens, Twenty Years. Unless noted, these words and photos are my copyrighted work.
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Monday, November 12, 2007

Garden Bloggers Book Club - Green Thoughts by Eleanor Perenyi

Added December 2 - here's a link to the roundup of all the posts on Green Thoughts with some interesting questions for discussion from Carol of May Dreams-

This post was written for my blogspot blog, The Transplantable Rose, by Annie in Austin.
Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perényi is the current selection for the Garden Bloggers Book Club started by Carol of May Dreams Gardens.

For a dozen years, I took Green Thoughts out of the town library on an annual basis, then didn't see it for a decade until I recently bought my own copy. How could I have gone so long without an occasional bracing dose of this sophisticated, precise writing? Although Eleanor Perényi wrote this book in 1981, not only does it seem timeless, most of it seems current! She uses the alphabet to organize her essays, speaking of design, color theory, the weather and the delights and disappointments of growing new plants. But it's not a how-to book - her interests range from garden history [with an accent on the female side], to botanical language, cooking and sociology. These essays are delightfully informative and rivetingly opinionated- no wonder they turn up so frequently in anthologies and collections.

If you've already read Green Thoughts you probably have your own favorite topics - if you haven't read this book yet you're missing out on a wonderful set of essays - dip into "Blues", "Herbs", "Tools" or "Woman's Place" for entertainment, enlightenment and enjoyment.

When Mrs Perényi wrote this book, more than 25 years ago, she'd already encountered most of the ecological problems we still face, with Global Warming the exception. Her discourses on fresh vegetables fit the way we cook and eat now, her approach to things like watering, mulching, pesticides and compost make her words timeless. If you find yourself balancing on the border between respecting nature and loving to garden, read her essay on "Naturalizing" and know you've found a companion for the journey.

Reading Green Thoughts again after such a long interval made me wonder how much I'd been influenced by those earlier reads - in addition to what she taught about growing plants, when it came to garden philosophy there were so many points on which we agreed! But which came first? Did Eleanor's words form my ideas or did I enjoy those words right from the beginning because they reinforced what I was already feeling?

It's not necessary to know a lot about Eleanor Perényi's life to enjoy this book but I was always curious about her. That worldly air… that confidence… that exotic name… those hints at life in other countries…a mention of a poet and how her garden ended up in his poem. The biography at the back of my copy of the book tells us of her marriage to a Hungarian baron, a son, and a garden in Connecticut. She was born Eleanor S. Stone in Washington, DC. Eleanor's father was an attache with the Department of the Navy; her mother was an author and a descendent of the founder of the New Harmony Colony in Indiana. This Navy family was posted abroad so young Eleanor lived in several countries with exposure to other cultures.

I found references to Eleanor’s mother Grace Z. Stone, the very popular novelist who sometimes wrote as Ethel Vance. Several of her books were made into movies with major stars playing the characters... how I'd love to see The Bitter Tea of General Yen, which starred Barbara Stanwyck and was directed by Frank Capra!

On another site I read that Eleanor Perényi was only 19 when she met and married her Baron and lived on his family’s estate in the late 1930's. This land was once Hungarian but borders changed so it was part of Czechoslovakia as the second World War began. Eleanor told their story in the book More Was Lost – another title for my wishlist! She was nominated for a National Book Award for writing Liszt: The Artist as Romantic Hero, a biography about composer Franz Liszt. She edited and was a contributing writer for magazines like Madamoiselle, Harper's Bazaar, Atlantic Monthly and Esquire.

The garden in Green Thoughts existed in coastal Connecticut - a historic town first settled in the 1600's, somewhat rural, but with both Boston and New York City not too far away. Amherst professors and famous writers spent their summers there and it would seem a perfect setting for the author's personality as it is revealed in this garden book. One of the chapters of Green Thoughts mentions Gertrude Jekyll, the garden designer who at age 89 sat in a chair while firmly directing workers in the garden. I think Eleanor Perényi is near to that age herself now. I hope she still has a garden in Connecticut - and I hope she knows how much her readers appreciate her.

Before you go online to get the book, please check out the current post on my other blog, Annie's Addendum, and help me identify a few plants. Over there you can also see a larger photo of the intriguing treehouse drawing seen at the top of this post. The covers were changed for later editions, but since Eleanor refers to the drawing in one chapter, you might like to see it.


  1. Thanks for dropping by my blog and your nice comment. Your fine review of "Green Thoughts" made me put it on my "To Buy and Read" list. I love your excellent blog with its sharp pics and your precise writing. Have a Happy Thanksgiving..Jon on 11-12-07 at Mississippi Garden, http://mississippigarden. blogspot.com

  2. Annie, I was so disappointed that our library didn't have this book. After reading your review I will just have to purchase it. It sounds too good to miss.

  3. What a great review! Your additional information on Eleanor does make the book more appealing to me. I found myself with my copy at my side, flipping to each section you mentioned, marking it as "read this". And I love that she had some good Hoosier roots.

    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

  4. I found Eleanor a fascinating person too, Annie, especially after reading the same short bio of her that you mentioned. Green Thoughts has been on the bookshelf beside my bed for many years, and I often open it at random and peruse her very straightforward and opinionated gardening thoughts. Quite the character, and like you, I hope she is still enjoying a garden.

  5. hello!
    Just noticed your blog on Jon's site.
    I'll come back to read more,
    cheers from Canada

  6. I had to smile at "The Bitter Tea of General Yen"... they just don't name 'em like that anymore! :)

  7. An excellent review. I read this book a long time ago and wanted to re-read it for the club but just didn't get around to it. Like you, I was curious about the woman herself and even tried to find more information on her and never could. Do you know if she is still living?

  8. I've been meaning to read this book and yet I've never gotten around to it. I'll have to put it on the list for those days when it's cold enough to build a fire and snuggle under a blanket on the couch reading.

    Doesn't look like that's going to happen this week, though.

  9. Annie, you must have a fabulous garden, you love gardening so much. You have a real passion for it. I love to see the exchanges between you and the other gardeners.

    My mother loved gardening that much as well, and she had a wonderful garden.

  10. What a great review of what is obviously a great book. Your review gave me instant Green Thoughts, Annie. And thanks for the bio, that was very interesting too!

  11. Hello Jon - thank you so much for your words. They mean a lot. Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.

    Lisa, Green Thoughts was out of print for awhile but was reissued. I hope you like it.

    Thanks, Carol - I was sure you'd like the Indiana part ;-]

    LostRoses, I was thinking of you as I wrote, because you have this book in your sidebar - it was so cool to know you loved Green Thoughts, too.

    guild rez - I just went over to look at the shopping carts - it was very creative to make them into a blog!

    Most titles have few words today, Rurality, but watch out, Love in the Time of Cholera is coming soon!

    Thank you Phillip - as far as I know Ms Perenyi is still alive. The NYTimes would never have let her leave this earth unheralded!

    Dream on, MSS - after that teaser of cool nights at while ago all the snuggle weather disappeared. Maybe you can read it in January?

    Josie, just remember that I get to choose which parts of the garden to show! After 3 years at this house, I'm pretty happy with the way it's developing.

    I'll bet you have some good stories to tell about your mother's garden [hint, hint].

    Thank you YolandaElizabet - but you didn't need me to make your thoughts green - if Josie wants to see fabulous she should check out your Bliss Garden in the Netherlands!

    Thanks for the comments - when Carol does the roundup I'll add a link to the Book Club Meeting.


  12. Oh - I read this book about 10 years ago, it was a gift from a friend, and I remember it being beautiful written (it's one of the books now packed and in storage - otherwise, I would get it and out and re-read the sections that you recommended!). Nice to have a bit of history added to it - thank you. ( I too hope that she still has a garden in Connecticut - that's a nice image).

  13. I am suddenly wishing that I hadn't skipped this month's book club... somehow reading Eleanor Perenyi sounds so much more of a necessity to hear you talk about her and her work, Annie!

  14. Like you, I also read this book many years ago. On re-reading, it is interesting to see how my opinions diverge from and agree with hers. I hope to be posting about it soon. (Too busy, got to pick up leaves b4 it snows!) Thanks for the fascinating bio of the author.

  15. Hi Annie,

    I've read this book too probably a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, being over 40, I've forgotten much of it. I'll try to catch it again soon. Thanks for your review. It made me want to read it again.

  16. Annie, I waited to read your review until I finished the book, so I'm just now catching up.

    I also noticed that her thoughts on organic gardening seemed very fresh and topical. She was way out in front on this, but she did say that she was a long time reader of Rodale's Organic Gardening - back to when J.I. Rodale was still around. I wonder when she started writing Green Thoughts. Whether she had been squirreling away notes for a long time, saving them up for a book?

    I appreciate that you added her biographical background to your review. I Googled briefly, but didn't find much. I think I'll skip her Liszt book, but More Was Lost should be a good story.


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