Eleanor Perenyi

I’m stepping away from the garden for a few days (going to DEEtroit, especially to hit my favorite spice shop downtown), so I thought I would leave you with words that are not my own. (I feel I’ve been overly wordy lately anyway.)

Eleanor Perenyi has not written enough on gardening, in my mind; she is my favorite writer on the garden, though. I tried to find her take on peonies, as she had said something profound about their ability to drop their petals “like prom dresses atop the grand piano,” or some such; don’t quote me. But instead I found this paragraph on vegetables. Please note the date, and her sentiments.

“All that has changed. I am a full-time resident now and not as hell-bent as I used to be. I have cut down on many things, but nothing short of total decrepitude could make me decide to give up the vegetables. Ordinary greed comes into it, of course, and the bolstering of insecurities: Scarlett O’Hara grubbing for yams evidently made more of an impression than I realized at the time. But most of all they bewitch me with their textures, infinitely varied forms, even their sounds–the silky rustle of cabbages, the rattle of peas in their pods. Whether in orderly rows in the garden or lying in a heap on the kitchen table, they are almost too beautiful to eat, which at least proves that one isn’t just a hog. Given the aesthetic choice, I prefer vegetables to fruits or flowers. I am hardly the first to experience this half-worshipful emotion (think what Chardin could do with a scallion or a plum), but it is undoubtedly sharpened by the premonition that I may be the last. The seven-year-old-son of one of my garden helpers brought this home to me the other day. An intelligent child, he wanted to know what were the pea pods he saw lying in the compost heap. I explained. Still a blank, and it came to me that although he knew perfectly well what peas were, he had supposed they came out of a cardboard box, frozen. And there will soon be many more of him than me. Already I am something of a freak in the community on account of my vegetables, herbs and fruits. I foresee the day when I graduate from freak to witch.” from Green Thoughts: a Writer in the Garden, 1981.

8 responses to “Eleanor Perenyi

  1. Very timely quote, as some of us gardeners turn more of our attention to the vegetable gardens. Have fun in the big city.

  2. I love Eleanor Perenyi. Great quote from her. And sad to think how much worse it has gotten since she wrote it. Lovely peonies. Do you say Pee-OH-nee or PEE-oh-nees there?

  3. Or possibly PEE-uh-nies, which, I will admit, may be a Philadelphia thing.

  4. I’m a Michigander or Michiganian as they tried to make us ( but we refused) We say PEE-uh-nies. I didn’t know there was any other way. Don’t get me started with Cle-MA-tis or CLE-ma-tis!

  5. Annie in Austin

    Have fun in DeetChroyt, El, and at the spice shop.
    [It was also Pee-uh-nees in Illinois.]

    Thank you for the lovely, still pertinent words from Eleanor Perenyi… Green Thoughts is a masterpiece.

    I think Ms Perenyi is still alive and would be about 88-years old by now. I wonder if she is still able to garden? Do you think she’d like the concept of garden blogging?

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  6. Eleanor Perenyi was so opinionated I’m sure she’d have strong views on garden blogging, just not sure what they would be! El, your peonies are lovely and I half-remember that quote too, something about “peonies shattering on the ebony piano” or some such thing. I wish she had written more than one garden book.

    I suppose she is still alive, do you think she’s still in the garden pictured on the back of Green Thoughts?

  7. i dare say it is getting worse and worse.

    i am often amazed when checking out at the grocery store that many kids cannot identify the vegetables i am buying. they have their handy chart for the codes, but they aren’t quite sure what exactly they are holding. and i’m not talking about telling the difference between a mango and a papaya, here.

    i’m talking squash, eggplant, brussel sprouts–they hold them up to me with udder amazement that i am going to somehow consume the thing.

  8. Hello all

    PEEonies, though I have heard old timers around here call them Pineys.

    Eleanor Perenyi: Reading her is like stopping by her place and having her give us a tour. Yes she is opinionated. But aren’t we all, especially if we’re holding forth about our own patches of earth? I can only hope to aspire to her (what she called) amateur’s knowledge of botany. You know, I would like to think she’d appreciate garden blogging, at least the type that continues the conversation that is cultivation.

    And as far as edible fare goes, I do think Rooster is right and it has gotten much worse than when she wrote this. The seven-year-old she mentioned in the quote is somewhere around 34 years old now, and the chances that he cultivates vegetables, brush with fame aside, is not something I would place bets on.

    I do somehow feel that flower gardening is “safe” in this country. It interests enough people. Vegetables other than the ubiquitous Early Girl tomato and some green peppers is another story entirely.

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