Chapter 3: Defining Our Terms and Direction

Chapter 3 Discussion Questions

The Garden: What Does It Tell Us about the Meaning of Nature?



Reflection Questions:

    • By and large it seems that college students are often more interested in preserving wilderness than in either gardening or protecting the natural qualities of our near environment. Do you think this is the case, and if so, why?
    • “’All or nothing,’ says the wilderness ethic, and in fact we’ve ended up with a landscape in America that conforms to that injunction remarkably well” (p. 233). What is Pollan talking about? Do you agree with his analysis?


Discussion Questions:

    1. Pollan writes on p. 13 that his grandfather’s “concern for our soil was also an extension of his genuine and deeply felt love of land. I don’t mean love of the land, in the nature lover’s sense. The land is abstract and in some final sense unpossessable by any individual.” What do you think?
    2. Pollan refers to gardening as “moral drama of a high order” (p. 80). What is he talking about? Do you agree with him?
    3. Pollan writes in Chapter 4: “There isn’t an American gardening book published in the last twenty years that doesn’t become lyrical on the subject of compost.” By contrast, claims Pollan, most Europeans seem to be only mildly interested in compost. What does this difference in attitude tell us about the views of Europeans and Americans about gardening?
    4. According to Pollan (Chapter 6), Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “a weed is simply a plant whose virtues we haven’t yet discovered.” What do you think?
    5. Pollan argues in Chapter 4 that Americans tend to think in terms of “crude alternatives” about nature: “to virtually subdue it in the name of ‘progress,’ or to place it strictly off limits in ‘wilderness areas.’” Do you think this comment is accurate, and if so, why do we act this way?


Study Questions: 

    1. What were some of Pollan’s views that changed as a result of actually growing a garden as over against theorizing about nature?
    2. American gardeners, according to Pollan, are more interested in virtue than in beauty. What is his evidence for such a claim?
    3. Pollan notes that in the sixties “weed” became a nickname for marijuana. Why does he find this significant?
    4. Why is your attitude towards “weeds” a pretty good indicator of your overall view of nature?
    5. What does Pollan mean when he writes (p. 136) that “[t]o weed is to bring culture to nature”?
    6. In what ways, if any, did Pollan’s discussion of Cathedral Pines change your views about the management of nature?
    7. In Chapter nine, Pollan discusses the case of Cathedral Pines. What would you have chosen to do at Cathedral Pines following the tornado if you had had the authority to make the decision? Give reasons for your plan of action (note: Pollan also discusses Cathedral Pines on pp. 233-38).
    8. In Chapter 10, Pollan summarizes what he thinks the garden can tell us that will help us develop a new land ethic. In your own words, summarize his main points.
    9. What are some of the ways in which the design of a garden is an intellectual challenge? (See Chapter 12).


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Religion and Environmental Values in America Copyright © 2019 by Gregory E Hitzhusen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.