Down the Garden Path

Down the Garden Path

by Beverley Nichols


View All Available Formats & Editions


Down the Garden Path has stood the test of time as one of the world’s best-loved and most-quoted gardening books. From a disaster building a rock garden, to further adventures with greenhouses, woodland gardens, not to mention cats and treacle, Nichols has left us a true gardening classic.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780881927108
Publisher: Timber Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 12/13/2004
Pages: 308
Product dimensions: 5.88(w) x 8.33(h) x 1.00(d)

About 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.

Read an Excerpt

Mrs. M. stared at me with undisguised suspicion. 'Rock garden?' she cried. 'What do you mean ... rock garden?'

'By a rock garden,' I replied, 'I mean a garden containing a quantity of rocks.'

'But you haven't any rocks.'

'Not yet ... no.'

'Where are you going to get them?'

I had not the least idea where I was going to get them, so I said, in a sepulchral voice, 'They Are Coming,' rather as though the skies might open at any moment and deluge us with a cascade of boulders.

'Yes ... but where from?'

'Yorkshire.' This was partly guess-work and partly memory, because I remembered reading in some book of a man who had a quarry of stone in Yorkshire which he used to export.

Mrs. M snorted again. 'That'll cost you a pretty penny,' she said. I could hear signs of fierce envy in her voice.
She swung her string-bag backwards and forwards, and glared at my mountain. Then she said:

'But you're surely not just going to stuff a lot of rocks on all that mud?'

'Stuff them? No. I shan't stuff them.'

'Well ... throw them, then. You've got to have some sort of design.'

'I have.'

'What is it?'

'It is being Done For Me,' I said.

'By whom?'

I could think of nobody but Sir Edwin Lutyens, who designed Delhi. So I said, 'You will catch cold, Mrs. M., if you stand in the wet grass.'

I am glad to be able to record that she did.

I was therefore committed to a rock garden. I spent a restless night, cursing myself for being so easily irritated by Mrs. M. But on the following morning, when I again visited the pond and its accompanying mountain, the prospect did not look so black. The site was promising. A fair slope led down to the pond. Two green arms of a hedge encircled it. And over the pond towered the mountain, which had only to be slightly sat on, and carven into shape, and decorated with roses, cunningly disposed, to be transformed into a rock garden.

So I fondly imagined.

I ordered the rocks. I was told that it was cheaper to order a truck-full, which would contain about eight tons.
It seemed a great deal, especially as they had to come all the way from Yorkshire. However I was assured that if less were ordered 'it would come out much dearer in the end'. This commercial principle is usually to be distrusted, for we learn by bitter experience that it is not cheaper to order, for example, ten yards of silk for pyjamas when only three are required, or to buy a guinea bottle of hair oil when the three-shilling size would do just as well. For it usually happens that we take a hatred to the silk, while the oil goes bad.
However, it was unlikely that the rocks would go bad. Besides, there constantly rose before me the sneering face of Mrs. M. who did not believe that any rocks were coming at all.

She believed it, well enough, a few days later, when she had to drive four miles out of her way because the road in front of my cottage was completely blocked by the collapse of an enormous van-full of best quality, fully weathered Yorkshire rocks. She believed it still more when she discovered that she would be deprived of the services of her odd man, who had secretly deserted her in order to earn double pay in transporting my rocks across the field. He had transported them with such energy that he ruptured himself, and was confined to his bed for three weeks.

At last the thing was done. All the rocks were safely ensconced in the mountain ... the big ones at the bottom,
the small ones at the top. Looking back at this adventure, it seems almost incredible that I could have been such a fatuous and ignorant optimist as to imagine that this was the way to make a rock garden ... without any plan, without even an adequate preparation of the soil. Yet I did imagine it ... until I saw it in being. Then I
realized that a very big and expensive mistake had been made.

The thing was horrible. It was utterly out of keeping with the quiet and rambling beauty of the rest of the garden. I tried looking at it from this way and from that, half closing my eyes and putting my head on one side. I regarded it before and after cocktail-time. It looked much worse after, which is a proof that alcohol stimulates the aesthetic sense. No amount of self-hypnotism could persuade me that I liked it.

It reminded me of those puddings made of spongecake and custard, which are studded with almonds until they look like some dreadful beast thrown up from the depths of the sea. It had no sort of design. It was so steep that the earth was already showing signs of falling away in the slightest rain. The best I could say about it was that it made a very good shelter from the wind.

Had it not been for Mrs. M. I should have destroyed it overnight. False pride made me keep it there for several days. But there are stronger emotions than false pride. One morning, a few days later, I went out, saw the hideous thing and decided that it could remain no longer. Urgently we summoned the same men who had put it together. By the following afternoon, the earth had all been taken away, and deposited in a neighbouring field. There remained only a quantity of rocks, scattered about the grass.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Down the Garden Path 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
SandwichCake More than 1 year ago
Beautiful facsimile edition of the original 1932 printing with illustrations by Rex Whistler. A bit pricey at $24.95. From its jolting opening line "Down the Garden Path" is a quick and enjoyable account of the author's acquisition of an old cottage and his creation of rather elaborate gardens on its property. Although the subject is ostensibly gardening, the book is rather more a portrait of the many eccentric characters he encounters in the process, including many plants that he profiles with descriptions as human as the humans in his story. Very funny, very British, very very. Mr Beverly Nichols writes in a deceptively casual style that provides an unexpected lasting effect. He is adept at aphorism and it is these bits of his prose that will stay with you long after reading the book. If you like E.F. Benson and Nancy Mitford, you are likely to find this book diverting, but it is a minor literary achievement compared to their work--stylistic and engaging, not very developed, a great casual read. The introduction, by a Nichols fan turned scholar, explains that Nichols was a prolific writer whose audience eagerly awaiting his next garden chronicle. He also wrote plays, children's stories and more. He was a member of a social set that included Noel Coward, Cole Porter, Somerset Maughm as well as Anita Loos and the opera star Dame Nellie Melba (whose autobiography he ghost-wrote).
annonymous More than 1 year ago
It was enjoyable to read about gardening in the 1930s. While this was an entertaining book, it inspired me to get to my garden and taught me about many flowers I had never heard of. Best of all, flowers that bloom in the snow.
NewsieQ on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this book after reading the author's "Merry Hall" trilogy and his biography. Maybe I had Beverley Nichols overload, but Down the Garden Path (his best known work) was my least favorite of his books. What I really liked about the Merry Hall trilogy was its emphasis not on gardening, but on the characters in his life. That said, I think true gardeners would probably like Down the Garden Path better -- it's more gardening book (albeit in a stream of consciousness manner with lots of offshoots into other "stuff") than character study. The author's coolness toward women is very much in evidence, as it is in the other books. Not misogyny but close. 02/09/2010
Dragonfly5LC More than 1 year ago
His books are so wonderful!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago