Nature, Fantasy, and Everyday Practice

Jennifer Wren Atkinson

American garden writing: a fantasy genre of everyday life


Jennifer Wren Atkinson looks at the unique role that gardening plays in American culture and history by exploring garden literature over the past 150 years. She delves into a diverse range of works: down-to-earth manuals and seed catalogs, accounts of enslaved people, literary fiction and nonfiction and even science fiction.
—Jeanne Maglaty, Smithsonian Magazine


Garden writing is not just a place to find advice about roses and rutabagas; it also contains hidden histories of desire, hope, and frustration and tells a story about how Americans have invested grand fantasies in the common soil of everyday life. Gardenland chronicles the development of this genre across key moments in American literature and history, from nineteenth-century industrialization and urbanization to the twentieth-century rise of factory farming and environmental advocacy to contemporary debates about public space and social justice—even to the consideration of the future of humanity’s place on earth.

In exploring the hidden landscape of desire in American gardens, Gardenland examines literary fiction, horticultural publications, and environmental writing, including works by Charles Dudley Warner, Henry David Thoreau, Willa Cather, Jamaica Kincaid, John McPhee, and Leslie Marmon Silko. Ultimately, Gardenland asks what the past century and a half of garden writing might tell us about our current social and ecological moment, and it offers surprising insight into our changing views about the natural world, along with realms that may otherwise seem remote from the world of leeks and hollyhocks.

Page count: 312 pp.
15 b&w images
Trim size: 6 x 9


List price: $59.95

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Jennifer Wren Atkinson is a senior lecturer in American literature and environmental studies at the University of Washington, Bothell.