Garden Open Todayby Beverley Nichols, William McLaren
Writing very much for fellow garden enthusiasts, Nichols here tells stories of the plants and trees of his garden, in a chatty, familiar style. Amid the anecdotes there are plenty of tips and information about various plants. Nichols, who died in 1983, lived and gardened in England. Originally published in 1963 (New York, Dutton); this reprint has a new foreword (by Roy C. Dicks) and index. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Read an Excerpt
As you will have gathered, if you have accompanied me this far in our journey down the garden path, I am very fond of arranging flowers and I have no great admiration for most of the professional ladies who arrange them.
But there was one woman whose way with flowers was so unique, whose whole approach to this enchanting domestic art was so fresh and creative, that she stands far apart from her tiresome imitators, and far, far above them. Her name, as you may have guessed, was Constance Spry, and this might be a fitting place in which to pay her tribute.
A hundred years hence the name of Constance Spry may well have the same sort of lustre as the names of Gertrude Jekyll and Mrs. Beeton. She was a woman destined for immortality in the Temple of the Household Gods. She has had the same sort of impact in her small and delightful world as many great reformers in a wider sphere, in the sense that we can speak quite definitively of a pre-Spry and a post-Spry period. When Constance first went out into the country lanes and gathered her faded leaves and her curious berries and her spectral branches, and when she proceeded to create from these unfamiliar ingredients designs of baroque beauty, she was writing a fragrant page of history. Needless to say she was imitated, she was misunderstood, she was parodied and sometimes she was abused. But she had established a point of no return; with Constance the art of flower decoration became adult, and nothing will ever be quite the same again.
I was honoured with the friendship of this charming person, who once paid me in one of her books the supreme compliment of saying that I was the only person she had ever met who had discovered a way of arranging sweet peas. If this seems a trivial matter to you, in does not seem so to me; often at times when the critics have been particularly beastly, I have retreated to a dark corner, and muttered to myself: 'Well, whatever they may say in the Sunday Express, at least Constance thought I could arrange sweet peas'
The particular decoration to which she referred was at a party given in her honour. There were, of course, lilies in abundance and vast vases in the Spry tradition, vases recalling the lines of the poet:
Voici des fruits, des fleurs, des feuilles et des branches, Et puis, voici mon coeur, qui ne bat que pour vous.
But I wanted something of my very own, something which she could not accuse me of having copied from her. So I went out into the kitchen garden to think, and there I saw a long row of sweet peas. But what could one do with sweet peas?
This is what I did. I picked a bunch starting with the pure whites, and going on to the ivories and the creams, set them next to the very soft pinks, and the palest blues, followed by the cherries and the brighter blues, merging into the deep reds and the deepest blues, and ending with the dark violets and the near-blacks. I set these, in precisely that order, in a white basket. The result was a floral rainbow which made the party. And gave me, in the words of Constance Spry, my little accolade of immortality.
Meet the Author
Beverley Nichols (1898–1983) was a prolific writer on subjects ranging from religion to politics and travel, in addition to authoring six novels, five detective mysteries, four children's stories, six autobiographies, and six plays. He is perhaps best remembered today for his gardening books. The first of them, Down the Garden Path, centered on his home and garden at Glatton and has been in print almost continuously since 1932. Merry Hall (1951) and its sequels Laughter on the Stairs (1953) and Sunlight on the Lawn (1956) document Nichols' travails in renovating a Georgian mansion and its gardens soon after the war. His final garden was at Sudbrook Cottage, which serves as the setting for Garden Open Today (1963) and Garden Open Tomorrow (1968). The progress of all three gardens was followed avidly by readers of his books and weekly magazine columns.
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