Posts Tagged ‘Beverley Nichols’

Whenever I hear the name of Beverley Nichols I can’t help but think of one of my favourite books of childhood – The Tree that Sat Down. I was considerably past childhood when I learnt who Beverley Nichols was, and more interestingly how many books for grown ups he had written – and how beloved his books are by his legion of fans. His writing covered a multitude of subjects, including journalism, religion and politics. He wrote plays, many works of autobiography and novels and his books on garden and house restoration have proved an absolute delight to many who don’t consider themselves gardeners. I have to say that as someone who enjoys her garden but is absolutely not a gardener I found Merry Hall a delight from beginning to end, if you are a gardener – then there is a lot in it to inspire.

Beverley Nichols is very readable – these books are not dry, dusty tomes about when you should plant what and where – although gardeners should probably have a notebook to hand, there are tips aplenty. Nichols writes with great humour, his tone is deliciously irreverent, his passion for what he loves infectious.

“For a garden is a mistress, and gardening is a blend of all the arts, and if it is not the death of me, sooner or later, I shall be much surprised.”

Two years ago, I read Down the Garden Path (1932) in which Beverley Nichols tells us about the time he took on an old Tudor cottage and set about restoring it and the garden. He was passionate about gardens and gardening – and Down the Garden Path is the first book in a trilogy about that property – most especially the garden. Somewhere, buried in the tbr where I can’t lay my hands on it very easily is the second volume A Thatched Roof – however I had heard that Merry Hall was even better so I decided to read that instead – and it was within easy reach. Merry Hall is the first book in a second trilogy, and I fear books two and three may be a lot harder to find.  

“Every leaf that taps against the attic window, every thorn that nestles against the bricks, is part of a barrier that keeps the twentieth century at bay. I have always taken a dim view of the twentieth century, so that I consider this to be a laudable ambition.”

After the Second World War Beverley Nichols decided he wished to buy a large country house with extensive gardens. Early in the book Nichols finds his perfect house, a large Georgian house in five acres of grounds. House and garden are in need of much restoration, but this is exactly what he wanted – and he throws himself into the project with gusto and not a little obsession. With him to the country go his wonderfully capable servant Gaskin and his two cats One and Four. The garden has been tended for decades by Oldfield – a man of around seventy who worked for the last two of the house’s owners and knows the garden inside and out. Nichols naturally takes on Oldfield too – finding they don’t agree on everything – Oldfield’s silences speaking volumes.

Throughout the book Nichols recounts the slow transformation of the gardens, he definitely gets his hands dirty – not one to merely give orders – although Oldfield is indefatigably spritely. He waxes lyrical about flowers, trees, garden urns and the simple joy of watching things ‘come up.’ His descriptions of flora and fauna are really delicious and whether you are a frequent visitor to the garden centre of not, he will undoubtedly make you want to plant flowers immediately. One of the garden’s previous owners Mr Stebbing for whom Oldfield worked for many years, has in Nichols opinion committed some quite unpardonable crimes. The ghost of Stebbing is everywhere – and Nichols takes a quite violent dislike to everything about him. Beverley Nichols it must be said has pretty firm opinions on everything and leaves virtually no room at all for a differing one, still when you have splashed out on a Georgian manor I suppose you should be allowed to have it how you want it.

The other two thorns in Beverley Nichols’s side are two nosy near neighbours Miss Emily and ‘Our Rose’ the battles with whom are quite hilariously recounted. These include finding a good excuse for not selling any of his vegetables from his extensive vegetable garden to Miss Emily, who does little to disguise her desire to buy them. Throughout his writing Nichols is really quite arch and often decidedly wicked – a man of his class and time, there is not a whiff of PC about him, and he is definitely a bit of a snob. Still, I do think he writes deliberately outrageously, and while his pronouncements on women are pretty terrible – I suspect he liked to be provocative, it is clear most of his friends are women.

“To own a plot of land – to have enough money to plant that land with lilacs and maples and pines and pears, and not to do so, but to spend the money on something horrible like a mink coat …it is indecent. Who wants to see you in a mink coat? Nobody. You look repulsive in it, and if you had ever met a mink – which I have – you would be ashamed to be seen in such a garment, for minks are the most amiable and intelligent little creatures, whose morals compare very favourably with those of the women for whom they are slaughtered. Women who wear mink coats are only one degree better than the fiendish Frau Koch, who made lampshades out of the skins of the Nazis’ victims.”

I find him more funny than offensive – though I admit had he been writing now; I might think differently.

I found it an absolute delight to spend a few sunny days recently reading this in my poor little garden which is rather overgrown and in need of a little TLC. I have been inspired to plant some more flowers for next year, but really I was reminded how fortunate I am in having outside space – and this was the perfect book to read out there.

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Way back sometime in the 1970s – when I was a very little girl, but already in love with books I read a book called The Tree that Sat Down by Beverley Nichols. I loved every word of that little book and have remembered it ever since. I even remembered the author (as a child I thought Beverley Nichols was a woman, and it was many years before I discovered my mistake). I think we carry the books we loved as children with us somewhere – though I’m hopeless at remembering the titles of many of them now. That was pretty much my only experience of Beverley Nichols – until many years later – a few blogging friends began sharing their love of his adult books, their enthusiasm ensuring that I soon acquired some for myself.

Beverley Nichols was an enormously prolific writer – journalism, politics, autobiography and novels. Though some of his most popular works seem to have been his books of gardening and house restoration. Down the Garden Path is the first book in one of the two gardening trilogies that Nichols produced. A book about gardening restoration is not something I would usually read, but there was something very appealing about this trilogy. Having heard such wonderful things about Nichol’s warm witty writing from other readers, it seemed a good place to start. However, I think I probably have the best books still to read, as it seems some people believe the other gardening trilogy starting with Merry Hall is better than this one. Yet, I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

“I bought my cottage by sending a wireless to Timbuctoo from the Mauretania, at midnight, with a fierce storm lashing the decks.
It sounds rather vulgar, but it is true.”

In the early 1930’s Beverley Nichols was already a well-known writer – still quite a young man, he also had a passion for gardens, and it would seem, enough money to buy a cottage with large gardens in the country. This book tells the story of the garden (and cottage) he bought in Cambridgeshire. It and the two sequels which follow were illustrated by Rex Whistler – and were a huge success.

Having quite rashly bought his cottage – because of the gardens he knew came with it –Beverley hurried down to view his new house, hardly able to wait to see the garden. He is met by Arthur – a strange, oddly behaved servant who provides him with uneatable food and stays in bed all morning. The garden however, which Beverley remembered so well has been sadly neglected, and is nothing like it had been. He is devastated, but the immediately starts putting it to rights, planning how it will look, researching in detail winter flowers, so that there is always flowers in his garden. It is a labour of love.

“It was not till I experimented with seeds plucked straight from a growing plant that I had my first success…the first thrill of creation…the first taste of blood. This, surely, must be akin to the pride of paternity…indeed, many soured bachelors would wager that it must be almost as wonderful to see the first tiny crinkled leaves of one’s first plant as to see the tiny crinkled face of one’s first child.”


Nichols writes deliciously about his garden, his descriptions are glorious, his passion for his flowers is infectious. Despite not being a gardener – or even all that knowledgeable about flowers I found myself quite happily caught up in Nichol’s enthusiasm and as someone who has been known to push a few daff bulbs into my garden soil and sit in my zero-gravity chair with a cup of tea and book on a sunny day I found myself oddly able to fully appreciate the glory in the appearance of little garden miracles. Though even while he is describing the glories of nature and his simple, never ending joy in the miracle of mother-nature – he can’t resist a little cheeky humour on the side.

“The seed of a blue lupin will usually produce a blue lupin. But the seed of a blue-eyed man may produce a brown-eyed bore…especially if his wife has a taste for gigolos.”

However probably the best parts of this book are Nichol’s mischievous portraits of some of his neighbours. We never get to know these people as well as I would have liked but, he is rather funny about them all – Mrs M, Miss W, Miss X (we never learn their full names either). One of his visitor; hilariously described, an affected woman, who makes much of her apparent tininess and feminine weakness. Another neighbour, Mrs M becomes Nichols’s rival and nagging thorn in his side. She finds something to criticise in everything he does, and Beverley presumably makes himself feel better by writing about her with such scathingly sharp wit. We even meet his parents who visit him in his country home.

It is Beverley Nichols simple joy for life that is so adorable here. I am really looking forward to reading a lot by him now.

BN allways garden

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