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Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden

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In the mode of her esteemed bestseller A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman's new book, Cultivating Delight celebrates the sensory pleasures she discovers in her garden. Ackerman delights in her garden through all the seasons. Whether she is deadheading flowers or glorying in the profusion of roses, offering sugar water to a hummingbird or studying the slug, she In the mode of her esteemed bestseller A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman's new book, Cultivating Delight celebrates the sensory pleasures she discovers in her garden. Ackerman delights in her garden through all the seasons. Whether she is deadheading flowers or glorying in the profusion of roses, offering sugar water to a hummingbird or studying the slug, she welcomes the unexpected drama and extravagance as well as the sanctuary her garden offers. She chronicles instances of violence in nature but also intuits loneliness and desire in the clamor of male crickets in the spring. And there is wonderment and marvel as she happens upon a tiny frog asleep inside the petals of a tulip. Visitors to her garden range from botanical explorers of earlier centuries to the nature mystic John Muir to the brilliant British garden writer Gertrude Jekyll. The author's garden nourishes its creator, who imaginatively returns the favor and seizes privileged moments to leap from science and metaphor to meditation on the human condition. Written in sensuous, lyrical prose, Cultivating Delight is a hymn to nature and to the pleasure we take in it.


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In the mode of her esteemed bestseller A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman's new book, Cultivating Delight celebrates the sensory pleasures she discovers in her garden. Ackerman delights in her garden through all the seasons. Whether she is deadheading flowers or glorying in the profusion of roses, offering sugar water to a hummingbird or studying the slug, she In the mode of her esteemed bestseller A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman's new book, Cultivating Delight celebrates the sensory pleasures she discovers in her garden. Ackerman delights in her garden through all the seasons. Whether she is deadheading flowers or glorying in the profusion of roses, offering sugar water to a hummingbird or studying the slug, she welcomes the unexpected drama and extravagance as well as the sanctuary her garden offers. She chronicles instances of violence in nature but also intuits loneliness and desire in the clamor of male crickets in the spring. And there is wonderment and marvel as she happens upon a tiny frog asleep inside the petals of a tulip. Visitors to her garden range from botanical explorers of earlier centuries to the nature mystic John Muir to the brilliant British garden writer Gertrude Jekyll. The author's garden nourishes its creator, who imaginatively returns the favor and seizes privileged moments to leap from science and metaphor to meditation on the human condition. Written in sensuous, lyrical prose, Cultivating Delight is a hymn to nature and to the pleasure we take in it.

30 review for Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden

  1. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    After reading several children's books I was ready to settle down to some real adult writing. Who better than Diane Ackerman? Ackerman's writing is sensual and poetic and occasionally over-done but she is a master of the written word. This is not a gardening book but rather a reflection of the delights of her personal garden through the four seasons. Ackerman gives beautiful descriptions of the natural world and her thoughts are as fertile as her garden soil. She has been criticized for flitting After reading several children's books I was ready to settle down to some real adult writing. Who better than Diane Ackerman? Ackerman's writing is sensual and poetic and occasionally over-done but she is a master of the written word. This is not a gardening book but rather a reflection of the delights of her personal garden through the four seasons. Ackerman gives beautiful descriptions of the natural world and her thoughts are as fertile as her garden soil. She has been criticized for flitting from topic to topic but I find that fascinating about her. Names of flowers lead her into mythology and the retelling of favorite myths. She muses about the lives of the wren, deer, hummingbirds and squirrels. I'd love to tour her garden and hear her wax poetically about her favorite roses. As she says," Thinking about gardens leads naturally to an alchemy of mind." Indeed!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Marni

    Im not a gardener but this made me want to be. Never have I so been mesmerized by reading about gardening (nor have I ever actually chose to read about gardening for that matter). Everything this woman writes is rich in detail and emotion. Ms Ackerman takes you through the seasons of her garden. The only thing keeping this from being 5 stars is that well 1 season really wasnt that interesting.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

    This book was a delight. Her sheer joy in gardening and nature were enlivening. It made me look deeper and longer at my own. (It also had me moving my obedient plants to new locations.) Filled with garden view reminiscing and avid notations, one can’t help but learn a bounty of horticultural knowledge, as well as unrelated trivial as her mind wanders. Fascinating! I have a small notebook filled with her observations and revelations. Oh, and her poetic mind assuredly adds to the joy of reading. E This book was a delight. Her sheer joy in gardening and nature were enlivening. It made me look deeper and longer at my own. (It also had me moving my obedient plants to new locations.) Filled with garden view reminiscing and avid notations, one can’t help but learn a bounty of horticultural knowledge, as well as unrelated trivial as her mind wanders. Fascinating! I have a small notebook filled with her observations and revelations. Oh, and her poetic mind assuredly adds to the joy of reading. Enjoyed her roaming from topic to topic, often with each new paragraph indentation. I identify with how her mind flits, like a hummingbird, from one to another thought. Quite the homage to John Muir “the ultimate nature mystic,” is given as she refers to her own “at-one-ment”... a “word” I intend to use. She also devotes appreciation to numerous in her chapters. Found the paragraphs expounding Gertrude Jekyll quite fascinating. Her intense senses (differentiating the sounds of trees from species to species.) And how her study of art segued into her garden design. Her mathematical car/garden wheelbarrow is classic. Every gardener can identify. (It’s exactly why I bought my van!) Then the 2nd gear Bug follow up woke my husband up with my snickering. (Spoiler!) There’s just so much observation and notation as she takes us from season to season, thought to action, that you truly feel as if you are in her garden with her, snacking in cherries, in situ, eyes wide open. Each sense is brought to attention and you find yourself looking out into your own garden with a keener eye, sense of smell-hearing-touch as each chapter ends. A delightful read. A treasure to shelve.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ângela

    I wanted to read this book since it came out. As an animal lover and a fan of WWII novels I had high hopes for this story. But the truth is it was quite disappointing. 😔 I was expecting to read about the Polish heroism in World War II focused in the true life events of the Zabinski's family whom hid and saved almost 300 Jews at their zoo during the war. But what I got was long passages of history, details about non-so-relevant people and recurrent descriptions of nature (witch is not a bad thing bu I wanted to read this book since it came out. As an animal lover and a fan of WWII novels I had high hopes for this story. But the truth is it was quite disappointing. 😔 I was expecting to read about the Polish heroism in World War II focused in the true life events of the Zabinski's family whom hid and saved almost 300 Jews at their zoo during the war. But what I got was long passages of history, details about non-so-relevant people and recurrent descriptions of nature (witch is not a bad thing but doesn't add much to the story).The timeline bounces way too much, and even at the end of the book, I couldn't connect with the characters.😩 Jan and Antonina were real and courageous people with a powerful story that in my opinion deserved to be better told.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Hester

    When I was a teenager, I loved Diane Ackerman. When I was older, I was a little embarrassed about my earlier passion for her purple prose. Her appeal is that she mixes science and reason with wonder delight (see the title). In her own words, "life doesn't require you to choose between reason and awe, or between clear-headed analysis and a rapturous sense of wonder. A balanced life includes both (p 109)." She describes a year in her garden (which sounds lovely), with discursions on the biology of When I was a teenager, I loved Diane Ackerman. When I was older, I was a little embarrassed about my earlier passion for her purple prose. Her appeal is that she mixes science and reason with wonder delight (see the title). In her own words, "life doesn't require you to choose between reason and awe, or between clear-headed analysis and a rapturous sense of wonder. A balanced life includes both (p 109)." She describes a year in her garden (which sounds lovely), with discursions on the biology of the various flora and fauna. The book is divided into four parts, one for each season, and each part is divided into many short chapters, really short essays. The best essays are great. I especially enjoyed one on grey squirrels. Others have really lovely language, like "for months snow ruled, four or five feet of it, drifting like egg whites over the garden. But a gentle thaw settled in on Monday, and all week I've heard its sinusy drip through the gutters, watched snow vanishing like cream (p 241)." Other essays are disjointed, like listening to your friend with ADD who is unable to finish a story. Her essay on the world's great bat expert felt especially full of odd non sequiturs, more about her own emotional quirks than on the glories of the natural world. Personally, I don't have a lot of patience for that. I would recommend someone read this like a book of poetry; don't feel compelled to read every piece.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Maryfrances

    I love this book. If you like to read about nature and learn all kinds of little things about plants and animals, Diane Ackerman, a naturalist, writes a highly readable enjoyable book. She writes so well that I drink it all in slowly. She's easy to read, gives interesting details, and really ignites the reader's senses. This book is mainly about her own garden. Frankly, I thought writing about your own garden might be a bit tedious after a while, but not so with Ackerman. She throws in little ti I love this book. If you like to read about nature and learn all kinds of little things about plants and animals, Diane Ackerman, a naturalist, writes a highly readable enjoyable book. She writes so well that I drink it all in slowly. She's easy to read, gives interesting details, and really ignites the reader's senses. This book is mainly about her own garden. Frankly, I thought writing about your own garden might be a bit tedious after a while, but not so with Ackerman. She throws in little tidbits of information about plants, people, insects, animals, and the ways of nature. I savor the pages and find myself marking lots of passages I want to come back to.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Patience Blythe

    This book is the perfect book to read when a) it is the winter and you can't garden, or b) when you live in an apartment and can't garden, either. This book amazed me in its descriptions of plants and animals and the changes that occur through the year in a garden. After reading this book, I went on to read The Natural History of the Senses because I love Ackerman's writing style and sense of description so much. Enjoy! This book is the perfect book to read when a) it is the winter and you can't garden, or b) when you live in an apartment and can't garden, either. This book amazed me in its descriptions of plants and animals and the changes that occur through the year in a garden. After reading this book, I went on to read The Natural History of the Senses because I love Ackerman's writing style and sense of description so much. Enjoy!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Cassie

    As poetic as any Diane Ackerman book, with interesting factoids, general historical knowledge and personal stories regarding the natural world intertwined.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Ackerman is one of my favorite writers. This book, like all my favorites by her, was a pleasure to spend time with and helped open my eyes further to wonder of the natural world around me. It was fun to read this book in the fall as the leaves were changing, and read her poetic descriptions of leaves changing color, and other plants marching in time with the season, in her own garden

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mads

    Its a shame that I couldn't fully appreciate Ackerman's garden here because more than half the garden plant species she describes so beautifully aren't available in this country. I love everything in the book except when she goes in minute detail of a strange flower--and that's where I get lost. But its still beautifully written and like all the Ackerman books I've read, one finishes the book full, satisfied and smiling at the world, realizing that there is so much to learn! Its a shame that I couldn't fully appreciate Ackerman's garden here because more than half the garden plant species she describes so beautifully aren't available in this country. I love everything in the book except when she goes in minute detail of a strange flower--and that's where I get lost. But its still beautifully written and like all the Ackerman books I've read, one finishes the book full, satisfied and smiling at the world, realizing that there is so much to learn!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Phil

    Maybe not the best Ackerman book but nice for garden lovers.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    She is wonderful and I treasure nearly all of the interesting factoids of the natural world she weaves in - tidbits about hummingbirds, deer, bats, and of course the blooms themselves. However, this book was a bit like a wily vine and needed some serious trimming. It could have been about 70 pages shorter and been even more fabulous. Some themes got repetitive and even similar enough to be tedious. About 3/4 of the way through I didn't think I could finish it. I'm glad I did, but I do wish it ha She is wonderful and I treasure nearly all of the interesting factoids of the natural world she weaves in - tidbits about hummingbirds, deer, bats, and of course the blooms themselves. However, this book was a bit like a wily vine and needed some serious trimming. It could have been about 70 pages shorter and been even more fabulous. Some themes got repetitive and even similar enough to be tedious. About 3/4 of the way through I didn't think I could finish it. I'm glad I did, but I do wish it had been a tad less rambly.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Debbie

    Ms. Ackerman's website says that she writes natural history books that can best be described as a blend of poetry, colloquial history, and easy-reading science. I agree. I have been wanting to read a garden book like this one. My only small frustration was that I wanted her to be a bit more religious and a little less scientific in her musings. In any case...it was a wonderful read. She also wrote the Zookeeper's Wife, a fact that I didn't realize until after I had finished this book. Ms. Ackerman's website says that she writes natural history books that can best be described as a blend of poetry, colloquial history, and easy-reading science. I agree. I have been wanting to read a garden book like this one. My only small frustration was that I wanted her to be a bit more religious and a little less scientific in her musings. In any case...it was a wonderful read. She also wrote the Zookeeper's Wife, a fact that I didn't realize until after I had finished this book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    I liked this book because of my great grandmother, who was an avid gardener. I aspire to her skill and dedication. Her persistence was an example to me. Heck, she died only five days short of 107. Might I add another woman of strong influence in my life...Virginia Butler. She, too, shows this same passion and love for nature through gardening. She taught me many things.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    I've always enjoyed Diane Ackerman's beautifully observed natural history writing. In this series of short essays that span one year, she describes her experiences and enjoyment of her garden in upstate New York -- living vicariously, this non-gardener did too, from the names and scents of summer roses to the bare architecture of the garden plants in drifting snow. I've always enjoyed Diane Ackerman's beautifully observed natural history writing. In this series of short essays that span one year, she describes her experiences and enjoyment of her garden in upstate New York -- living vicariously, this non-gardener did too, from the names and scents of summer roses to the bare architecture of the garden plants in drifting snow.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ted Burke

    Cultivating Delight by Diane Ackerman is a wonderful series of meditations , anecdotes, and lyric essays based on her deep observation of her expansive, personal garden in Ithaca , NY. She is a fine writer who has a dual sense of the poetic and the scientific, and her ability to employ both sensibilities on the same subject results in surprising insights.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    There were some highlights-she provided information on different plants and names of good nature writers. But her focus on her roses throughout the book and the many pages that she devoted to the roses was less useful to me. She talks briefly about native plants-but from her description (turtleads being large as plates) gave me the impression that she uses hybrids.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    The author is a poet, naturalist, and avid gardener in upstate New York. She says, "Some gardeners seem unable to fully enjoy their gardens, so caught up are they in the latest skirmish with mildew or beetle...My philosophy is: Forget winning, cultivate delight." The author is a poet, naturalist, and avid gardener in upstate New York. She says, "Some gardeners seem unable to fully enjoy their gardens, so caught up are they in the latest skirmish with mildew or beetle...My philosophy is: Forget winning, cultivate delight."

  19. 5 out of 5

    Lacey McGinty

    Well written and had interesting perspectives about the origins of plants and the ties they have to history. The book read like a novel, which I enjoyed. Non fiction can sometimes be very dry, but this book fed the senses. If you enjoy the experience of gardening, you will enjoy this book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Melanie

    This book makes me wish I could garden. It also added an item to my life wish-list: that someone would name a rose after me.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    Lovely ramble through a year in her garden, with side trips into wildlife observations and wonderful literary quotes. The story of catching and tagging squirrels is particularly good.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    This is a charming book to dip into from time to time. She uses wonderful phrases that capture a moment in a truly vivid and delightful way.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nicole Perkins

    I've read this before, but Diane Ackerman is too good to only read once. I'm going to hit the library up for the rest of her work, some of which I've read, but most will be new and amazing! I've read this before, but Diane Ackerman is too good to only read once. I'm going to hit the library up for the rest of her work, some of which I've read, but most will be new and amazing!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Essays about gardening. What's not to love? Ackerman is a brilliant writer, she works a lot of details into her prose and I learned a ton about perennials. Really made me miss my garden beds. Essays about gardening. What's not to love? Ackerman is a brilliant writer, she works a lot of details into her prose and I learned a ton about perennials. Really made me miss my garden beds.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sharen

    If you enjoy nature, gardens and poetry, this is for you. Ackerman has a way with prose that is poetic and evocative.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Les Wolf

    "Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden" consists of a series of interesting ruminations involving a garden and its inhabitants seasoned with a liberal dash of practical advice, philosophy and poetry. It involves not only the garden but also a supporting cast of neighbors and florists and naturalists, among others. Diane Ackerman describes herself as an "earth ecstatic". I'm always amused by those who believe that our complex and amazing world could somehow have come into being an "Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden" consists of a series of interesting ruminations involving a garden and its inhabitants seasoned with a liberal dash of practical advice, philosophy and poetry. It involves not only the garden but also a supporting cast of neighbors and florists and naturalists, among others. Diane Ackerman describes herself as an "earth ecstatic". I'm always amused by those who believe that our complex and amazing world could somehow have come into being and formed itself following a cosmic explosion and millions of years of wishful thinking. The great gods the unbeliever has come to call Evolution and Natural Selection have fathered so many coincidences and selective processes and somehow brought about the incredible symbiosis characteristic of the tremendous variety of life forms that populate our planet. Flora and fauna have single-handedly "found a way" to adapt, survive and thrive. Trees have taught themselves to shed their leaves in winter to conserve energy during the cold season and butterflies have mastered the intricacies of migration entirely on their own. So much worship of the creation instead of the Creator. That brand of thinking becomes burdensome to the believer. To help to illustrate what I mean, let's take "beauty" as an example. We're surrounded by beauty in the natural world and yet, how can anyone justify it's existence merely from an evolutionary standpoint? What purpose does it serve? Wouldn't a bee find a flower by scent and color alone without the spectacular embellishments and variety that we find in nature? I believe that beauty was put here by an intelligent Creator for man's enjoyment that is, by One who understands how to appeal to our senses. Nevertheless, the writing is cogent, richly detailed, daring and sensuous and the author is generous with practical gardening advice.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sandra

    Oh! To be able to sit and sip a cup of tea, as I did indeed with Diane Ackerman's book, reading and re-reading her poetic and sensual reflections of a year in her garden. Looking out my windows over our snow-covered garden and reading her evocative prose taking us thru all the seasons in her garden---twas the perfect read for this Winter. I've had this and several other Ackerman books sitting on the shelf for some while. I am so glad I read and can highly recommend this and now I am ready for mo Oh! To be able to sit and sip a cup of tea, as I did indeed with Diane Ackerman's book, reading and re-reading her poetic and sensual reflections of a year in her garden. Looking out my windows over our snow-covered garden and reading her evocative prose taking us thru all the seasons in her garden---twas the perfect read for this Winter. I've had this and several other Ackerman books sitting on the shelf for some while. I am so glad I read and can highly recommend this and now I am ready for more of her!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kristine Vance

    A meandering, slow-paced, detail-filled look at one gardener's experiences. I thoroughly enjoyed this book; it's a good read for times when life is overwhelming and there is a need to slow down and remember to savor all that is beautiful in the world. There are some lovely quotes from other gardeners, and I am now interested in reading some of Gertrude Jekyll's work -- I had never heard of her until I read Cultivating Delight. A meandering, slow-paced, detail-filled look at one gardener's experiences. I thoroughly enjoyed this book; it's a good read for times when life is overwhelming and there is a need to slow down and remember to savor all that is beautiful in the world. There are some lovely quotes from other gardeners, and I am now interested in reading some of Gertrude Jekyll's work -- I had never heard of her until I read Cultivating Delight.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Janée Baugher

    The author personifies plants, animals, and insects. She questions, wonders, dreams on historical facts, close observations, and personal anecdotes. The quotes I've gleaned from this book are just exquisite (Georgia O'Keefe, Oscar Wilde, etc.). For instance, the Talamud reads "Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, 'Grow, grow'." Every plant, every insect, every animal has a purpose, Ackerman instructs us. The author personifies plants, animals, and insects. She questions, wonders, dreams on historical facts, close observations, and personal anecdotes. The quotes I've gleaned from this book are just exquisite (Georgia O'Keefe, Oscar Wilde, etc.). For instance, the Talamud reads "Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, 'Grow, grow'." Every plant, every insect, every animal has a purpose, Ackerman instructs us.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Adrienne Scanlan

    As always, Ackerman's use of language is masterful, as is her knowledge base about botany and natural history, and skill at weaving seemingly different topics into a nuanced trail of thoughts and factoids on nature and our place in it. Overall though, the book is scattered and a chore to read through to the end (unless a reader has a strong fondness for roses). As always, Ackerman's use of language is masterful, as is her knowledge base about botany and natural history, and skill at weaving seemingly different topics into a nuanced trail of thoughts and factoids on nature and our place in it. Overall though, the book is scattered and a chore to read through to the end (unless a reader has a strong fondness for roses).

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