Garden Open Todayby Beverley Nichols, William McLaren
"When Beverley Nichols first published Garden Open Today in 1963, he was already well known for his "garden adventure" books such as Down the Garden Path and Merry Hall, whose unforgettable characters still live in the imaginations of present day gardeners. In Garden Open Today, however, Mr. Nichols attempted a departure from his previous gardening books; he sought to… See more details below
"When Beverley Nichols first published Garden Open Today in 1963, he was already well known for his "garden adventure" books such as Down the Garden Path and Merry Hall, whose unforgettable characters still live in the imaginations of present day gardeners. In Garden Open Today, however, Mr. Nichols attempted a departure from his previous gardening books; he sought to distill thirty years of practical gardening experience in an entertaining fashion, and perhaps to strike back at critics who whispered that he was not a "real gardener." His book concludes with a now-famous invitation to readers to come judge his garden for themselves - hence the book's title - an offer he left open until his death in 1983." Despite all his efforts to hew to the practical, however, Mr. Nichols could never resist the bon mot or humorous remark. His analysis of soil types by comparing them to great writers is as funny as it is dubious. (For those who can't wait, Emily Bronte is a "peat person" and Graham Greene is, alas, "a very heavy clay indeed.") Perhaps it is best to leave Mr. Nichols's contemporary reviewers with the last word on this delightful book, which no literate gardener will want to miss.
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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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