Gardeners unacquainted with Beverley Nichols don’t know what they’re missing. And if you know a gardener who hasn’t yet enjoyed his books, you could effect the introduction this Christmas and solve a present problem. Nichols (1898-1983) goes largely unmentioned these days, although he was once a household name whose face appeared on advertising billboards and who mixed with the rich, famous and royal, counting talents such as Noel Coward among his friends.
Of all his many books, his gardening volumes remain the best known and are an entertaining blend of fact (gardening matters) and fiction (characters who dip in and out of the narrative). Some of them, I’m pleased to report, have recently been republished by Timber Press.
In Green Grows the City, which I’ve just finished reading, he describes his trials and tribulations with a long, sharply triangular plot in Hampstead, London and an equally long, sharp, interfering neighbour. With trial and error, he reaches a truce with his neighbour and finds the perfect design for an awkward plot, including diagrams for clarification which will surely still interest garden designers today.
Nichols has a light and chatty style, pinpointing feelings that all gardeners will recognise. Some accuse Nichols of sentimentality but he steps lightly enough not to be cloying. I doubt that many disagreed when they read, in 1939, “We both know, you and I, that if all men were gardeners, the world at last would be at peace.” A sentiment that seems a darn sight more sensible, to me, than the ridiculous assertion that war wouldn’t exist if women were in charge.
If you do want this as a Christmas present, given the delivery times apparently offered by Amazon, I'd recommend going straight to Timber Press, who cost a bit more, but give free delivery with a few days.
I’ll deliver more on Beverley Nichols and his champion, Roy C Dicks, when I post on him again next week.