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SECOND NATURE by Michael Pollan


A Gardener's Education

by Michael Pollan

Pub Date: May 3rd, 1991
ISBN: 0-87113-443-8
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

From the executive editor of Harper's magazine, an important and profoundly original book that is a radical departure from the standard gardening text. Juxtaposing two currents of human responses to nature—the ``market ethic,'' in which manipulation and chemistry are used regardless of consequence, and the ``wilderness ethic,'' in which the environment is allowed to take its ``natural'' course—Pollan develops an alternative ``gardener's ethic.'' Pollan begins by contrasting the gardening methods of his grandfather, who represents the market ethic, with those of his father, who leans more toward the wilderness ethic. As he begins his own garden, Pollan tries to emulate his father's less rigid ways but soon runs afoul of a woodchuck—which pushes him into the market ethic as he tries anything to rid himself of this garden-damaging pest. As he examines alternatives, Pollan begins to develop his own philosophy. He realizes that animals in general alter the environment to their advantage, and he sees a parallel between a garden fence and a beaver's dam. His newfound notion views ``a garden [as] a place that admits nature and human habitation,'' one ``requiring human intervention or it will collapse.'' He uses three examples—lawns, roses, and weeds—to support his argument, and by tracing their history and social and political aspects, makes a sound case for intervention in nature. In rejecting the wilderness ethic, he notes that it is now too late ``to follow Thoreau into the woods.'' Instead, Pollan offers a 10-point formula for the gardener's ethic, which generally recognizes no division between nature and culture; in fact, he advocates that we participate in the transformation of nature by striking a balance between the market and the wilderness ethics: romantic notions about nature bear little fruit; continual taking can ruin a garden. More than a gardening book, this is a well-developed philosophy of life and nature in a technological world.