“A garden is a place for shaping a little world of your own according to your heart’s desire.” Beverley Nichols from Green Grows the City
I don’t remember the exact date that Beverley Nichols came into my life. I’d been invited twenty miles South of London near Ashstead in Surrey to Merry Hall, his elegant Georgian mansion. where he was enthralled with his home and gardens. Nichols was a prolific writer, chiefly known as a reporter and novelist until he published his first two gardening books; Down the Garden Path and Green Grows the City. Whatever writing fame he’d hoped to be remembered by: his plays, his music, his books on cats, travel , mysteries and fiction, it would be his ten gardening books that have endeared him to his readers, then and now.
At Merry Hall, I fell in love, not only with Nichols, but with his delightful local company of neighbors and other friends who came and went from this slightly run down place. I was particularly fond of Reginald Arthur Gaskin, Nichols’ man servant, who did his best to keep Nichols in check with his extravagant dreams for both garden and house. To understand the difficulty of such a job for Gaskin, you need to know that Nichols believed that the necessities of life have a way of coming to you, and recommended going right out and buying the grand piano. He also thought it was a sin to teach a child that a penny saved was a penny earned; traits I find in him to be hilariously funny, since I believe that if one is good, two is better!
Perhaps I should explain that my visit to Merry Hall was by way of reading Nichols first book in a trilogy, which was my initial introduction to Beverley Nichols, followed by Laughter on the Stairs and Sunlight on the Lawn. Some people said his garden books where “as much about his house and cats and friends and neighbors as about plants and garden making.” That is what is so much fun about them. He did, however, capture the “universals of garden making.” I would have hated to miss Oldfield, Nichols gardener, who was typical of the ‘old school’ head gardeners before World War II; a subject I write about in Greening of a Heart. I want to make special mention of ‘Our Rose,’ Miss Rose Fenton, the trendy flower arranger that Nichols mentions throughout the Trilogy. As a way of paying tribute to Nichols, and my love affair with him and his world, I wrote into my own novel, Greening...’Miss Elizabeth,’ with her ghastly contributions to flower arranging. She has her own story and reasons for being who she is, but ‘Our Rose,’ is the unforgettable character of Nichols imagination that has remained with me all these year.
Like many before me, I set about trying to collect his books with much excitement. In 1997, while in London, I took myself off to Charing Cross Road, famous for the book shops along the road. I would stick my head around the door and ask, “Got any Beverley Nichols?” Today I have fourteen of Nichols’ tittles on a book shelf and wonderful memories of the acquisition of them. My favorite story, making its way into my own fiction, was that same Charing Cross afternoon, I started to step off the curb forgetting the direction the cars in London come from. A hand grasped my elbow to restrain my forward motion. A man said to me, “You don’t want to do that, Love. It makes such a mess at rush hour!” All these years later, that incident still makes me chuckle. There is a happy ending to finding Beverley Nichols work. Timber Press began to reproduce Nichols garden books. Check the press out @ http://www.timber-press.com and invite Nichols into your life. You will not be sorry. There is so much more to say about him, but it must wait for another time. (One word of caution…whatever you do, don’t read Nichols biography until AFTER you have enjoyed getting to know him)
Beverley Nichols September 9, 1898 – September 15, 1983