11 August 2009

BEVERLEY NICHOLS Passages

Rex Whistler illustration for one of Nichols books


"a garden is a place for shaping a little world of your own according to your heart's desire"
Beverley Nichols from Garden Open Tomorrow



the Nichols Sudbrook Garden



Earlier this summer, I had the real pleasure of sitting down to chat with a bonafide Beverley Nichols scholar.

No, I did not head off to Richmond, Surrey.



Nichols' Georgian Manor House in Ashtead, Surrey
known to readers as MERRY HALL

find out more about the real one(here)


This Nichols devotee was in my own backyard! Not Quite- but... The distinction of being the one cited authority on Beverley Nichols goes to North Carolina native Roy Dicks. Roy and I sat down over- oh so Southern- Ice Tea and spent hours blissfully waxing poetic about Beverley Nichols. You just want to do that when Beverley Nichols gardening books are on the table.




Sudbrook




This spring Timber Press released the book Roy edited- Rhapsody in Green-The Garden Wit and Wisdom of Beverley Nichols. The title comes from one of Nichols chapters in Green Grows the City. The collection is wonderful- After reading its pages, I want to run back to my own Nichols copies and start reading again. No one could turn the garden phrase like Beverley Nichols- not to mention- filled with the sorts of people one wishes to run into along the garden path.






My own introduction to Nichols came about 10 years ago- I just stumbled into him. A passing reference to this prolific writer and his gardening books intrigued me and my 1st reading was of Merry Hall. I started growing some wonderful lily specimens after reading of Nichols own lily love, devotion and worship. Over the years, I found most of the Garden books and have filled in the missing ones with the Timber Press's faithful reprints.



"Some fall in love with women; some fall in love with art; some fall in love with death.
I fall in love with gardens, which is much the same as falling in love with all three at once.
For a garden is a mistress, and gardening is a blend of all of the arts,
and if it is not the death of me, sooner or later,
I shall be much surprised.
"
Beverley Nichols- 1st lines of Merry Hall


As you can imagine-I was hooked.



Beverley Nichols in the Garden of Merry Hall





"a little gem
"
photograph from the JC Raulston Arboretum

"I must confess that for me the flower of the magnolia is most beautiful when life has almost ebbed from it. These are the twilit hours when the petals flag and falter, when their immaculate ivory texture dims, when they glow with a ghostly radiance that seems to come from another world"
BN from Forty Favourite Flowers


Roy was introduced to the world of Beverley Nichols by friend and gardener- JC Raulston. If you enjoy the beauty and fragrance of the Magnolia grandiflora "little gem"- you can get down on your knees and thank this late horticulturalist. He is recognized for revitalizing garden nurseries across the country with such species as the likes of "little gem" and has an arboretum named in his honor in North Carolina.
(Read more about him here
and the Arboretum here)




Down The Garden Path was the first of the 60 book titles by Nichols that Roy collected. In 1994, Roy began his search for the Nichols oeuvre with the help of a book finder in England. Through this search- he became a friend of Nichols' biographer Bryan Connon, made pilgrimages to four of the Nichols' homes and began his pursuit of having the Nichols gardening books published for a new generation of gardeners and readers. Roy approached Timber Press with the idea and after many starts and stops- their first-Down The Garden Path, of now ten books is in print. Down The Garden Path is also the first of Nichols' magical ramblings about the joys of gardening and the love of a house. Along with editing and writing several of the introductions for the books, Roy lectures throughout the country on Nichols and his books.



Nichols and great friend Osbert Sitwell


At our sit down, Roy encouraged the reading of the Connon's Nichols biography. Just as expected Beverley Nichols was witty, cuttingly humorous, multifaceted and very complex. He orbited with the stars and the royals during his heyday and I hope Nichols' words become bandied about everywhere in the near future- especially here and hopefully on other blogs as well.



the Glatton Garden
Down the Garden Path




Beverley was known less for his "hands on" in the garden and more for his "hands off "in the garden.
When it came to the labors of the garden BN left it to the laborers.

Nichols at Glatton in front of his Tudor Cottage





with friend and companion Cyril Butcher
atop A Thatched Roof
Glatton




As for the "Truths" in the Nichols gardening books- Roy tells all; The Houses and Gardens were very real. Nichols' love for both was certainly real and Our Man- Gaskin- Nichols' valet amongst valets- was real, as was Oldfield-Nichols' beloved gardener.


Nichols, Gaskin, Oldfield


R
oy's "favorite Nichols book is definitely Merry Hall. I think it is his best single book because it was written at the height of his powers in 1951, having written the Glatton trilogy and "Green Grows the City" before it, so his garden writing was very confident. It is full of quotable lines and wonderful scenes with the battling women neighbors."


On that note, from the biography of Beverley Nichols A Life by Bryan Connon, hear Nichols on his characters (excerpted from BN's The Gift of a Home)
Reader- You may choose to skip these descriptions but I advise you not to- the words of Nichols on his creations are highly diverting!

"one of the characters who seems to have most interested people is MARIUS, the amiable scholar who wanders through the page dropping little scraps of knowledge as lightly as if he were taking part in a sort of literary paper-chase. Since his outstanding characteristic is his erudition I feel embarrassment in confessing that Marius is really only a fictional extension of an aspect of myself. Although this sounds conceited... As we go through life most of us accumulate quite a large collection of miscellaneous curiosa...it seemed...amusing to gather them together in the brain of another man, and let him play with them as he pleased. As soon as I had conceived this idea, Marius began to become very real to me."

on "OUR ROSE": So many readers claimed to have met her in their own lives. Well, of course, they had met her, if they had ever belonged to a provincial Garden Club ... Our Rose is a distillation of those thousands of ladies who have transformed the gay and careless art of flower arranging into a grim and exacting science, with formal rules and strict taboos, and serried legions of passionate contestants, hotly arguing about the precise angle at which a lupin may be place in its appropriate vase.


& MISS EMILY: again many readers claimed to recognize her. She was a very English type- well-bred, down-to-earth, not overburdened with humour, inclined to be bossy. You can still meet her in many a country lane, tramping home to a luncheon of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, with an elderly spaniel at her heels... Neither of these ladies was of an amiable disposition, and neither had much feminine allure. But I have a fondness for them... 'they may have been a headache, but they never were a bore.' To me, at any rate.




Nichols and his gardener Oldfield in the greenhouse
Merry Hall




For Beverley- writing his gardening books " was more like arranging a bunch of mixed flowers, here a story, here a winding paragraph, here a purple passage, and suddenly there was a book."
from BN All I Could Never BE


A favourite with Nichols' gardener Oldfield

Lilium 'Triumphator'
at the JC Raulston Arboretum


The Rhapsody book is illustrated with the original William McLaren drawings that accompanied many of the original Nichols books. The detailed drawings depict cherubic garden statuary, flower specimens and intimate vignettes from the garden.


a McLaren illustration


Rhapsody In Green will take you through all Nichols' garden books-in brief, leaving you with a quickened step to visit Nichols in all his gardening splendor starting... down the garden path.



Favourite Quotes from the Collection-




Casablanca Lilies from the Garden of Toby Worthington



Roy says his favorite quote is the one the book ends with and the one he always save until last in my talks:

"If all men were gardeners, the world at last would be at peace."
(BN, from Green Grows the City)



"The regal lilies do indeed praise the Lord. Some of my own, last summer were so exultant that they praised Him through no less than thirty snow-white trumpets on a single stem, and even the most accomplished angel could not do much better that that." (Forty Favourite Flowers, BN)



Nichols with lilies from the Gardens of Merry Hall



"A clump of paeonies, to its owner, is something that is deeply rooted in his heart. These flowers are part of himself... The owner of those paeonies has slaved for them, sacrificed for them, sometimes, I think, taken years off his life for them. They are not just 'for cutting', They are for living with, and maybe for dying with, too." (Laughter on the Stairs, BN)






the other two books in the Merry Hall trilogy


"There is only one 'basic rule' in flower arrangement. And that is to love the flowers, to listen to what they have to say, to watch the way they dance, and then to allow them to express themselves in their own sweet way." (The Art of Flower Arrangement, BN)



photograph from the JC Raulston Arboretum


"Even a single 'shop' carnation in a country bunch seems to put the whole thing out of focus, like a woman in a Dior dress at a meeting of the parish council." (Garden Open Today, BN)


Down the Garden Path- along with these two books are known as the
Allways trilogy-
& follow the Tudor cottage & garden in Glatton, Cambridgeshire




Re: Nichols
When I checked back with Roy recently- I had to ask a few very personal questions- and in the vein of previous posts- Of course One had to be-

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE FLOWER?

"It's always hard to select a favorite flower, but if pressed, I'd say it would be hellebores. There are so many colors and patterns and they add color to the winter garden all through January, February and March."

AND FINALLY- HOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW?

"Right now I have some early fall-blooming cyclamen in the garden, and some Formosa lilies."


AHHH! I THINK NICHOLS WOULD APPROVE.



all of these beautiful b&w photographs come copyright Timber Press- thank you for allowing me to use them.

36 comments:

  1. Hi, I am so glad you wrote this post. The work of Beverley Nichols is so inspirational and needs to be shared with others. Have a wonderful evening! Liz

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  2. Thank you for introducing me to the wonder that is Beverley Nichols! Prior to this post of yours, although the name sounds familiar, possibly my mother spoke of Beverley Nichols when I was growing up - sheloved gardens, gardening and books - I didn't know anything about Mr. Nichols. I only recently became interested in gardening and gardens although I have always enjoyed books about gardens and walking in and around beautiful ones. I'm thrilled to know that there are many enjoyable books by Mr. Nichols for my perusal. I was happy to see the picture of Beverley Nichols holding a beautiful black cat! I'm not surprised though as gardens and cats go hand in hand and Mr. Nichols seems to be a kindred spirit.

    Amy

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  3. Beverley Nichols has got it goin on. I "dig" it. j.

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  4. j.- funny You. p.gaye

    liz- I knew you would see it all. BN would applaud your florals. g

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  5. Amy, thank you for the heartfelt comments. I came to gardening late- after I had a home of my own. the first had absolutely NO sun except for a 6 foot space near a wall.I now have loads of sunshine-probably too much- anyway, Grandparents, granMA and father were avid at it- one with a golden green thumb, SO I got it honest. BN was the catalyst to try my own hand in the dirt. I am glad you are finding him here!GT

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  6. Had problems with previous comment, if it went thru trash this one!
    I read about Nichols in my early garden education/seduction. Then my garden took over my life without the help of an Oldfield (perfect name, by the way). I must put Nichols on my winter list. And such a casual mention of Dr. Raulston. More please and flavored with that North Carolina lovefest he deserves. If you haven't discovered Michael Dirr (my hero!) his Woody Plant Manuel is like poetry to me. (I think he now oversees the Raulston arboretum). My garden is blooming with vibrunums, surprise lilies, a few reblooming roses, and of course, giant zesty dandelions made strong by rains, humidity and whomping temps and my reluctance to do anything about them because of all three! Lovely post. Do you never sleep?

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  7. Dearie,
    This post on Mr. Nichols is very good- I prefer it to the last. His gardens must have been beautiful- I love Mr.Worthington's lilies, just glorious. Yours were pretty pretty too. BCT

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  8. Marvelous post, and most encouraging to know that
    LA and Mr Dicks are reviving the spirit of Beverley Nichols.
    I discovered BN over 30 years ago at a time when one could
    happen upon first editions in their original dust wrappers~
    admittedly, it was the design of those books that first caught my
    eye.
    It's an honor to see my lilies among such lofty company.
    Toby Worthington

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  9. I would love someone to post about Nichols's houses now, from Merry Hall to the funny little surburban one. And, oh, the magnolia bloom is beautiful. Didn't V Sackville-West describe them as being like great white doves settled into the tree's branches?

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  10. I forget to add that Mr. Worthington's Garden is worth of its own post. Am not surprised he paints as well with flowers as he does with his words.

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  11. Nichols was extremely fond of cats. I have an autographed cat calendar of his (circa 1975) as well as the books 'Cats ABC' and 'Cats XYZ'.He also wrote 'Father Figure', a disturbing account of his father's rages, bullying and so forth. A far cry from his delightful garden books.
    Anne S.

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  12. Hello Home! of course you would know JC Raulston-come to Raleigh for a gardening tour! what fun that would be. G

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  13. Mr Worthington- thank you,get out your Nichols books and read. Thank You for the photograph. g.

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  14. AAL- I would love to be the one to do that post- a bit of info in the next post, I hope. I love the magnolia- in its waning I agree with Nichols-it is all the better. Doves,pigeons the imagery is glorious and when I wish I could paint.G

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  15. Anonymous, Cats are definitely in the Nichols gardens- and much a part of his story, apparently Gaskin introduced them to the household. It sounds like you would like the biography. It is hard to image writing so many books on such varying topics and calendars too. It is obvious he and his father were at odds most of his life and the bio does not hold back. PGT

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  16. La: I'm trying to find the issue of Nest that featured the home of an Italian designer who owned a fantastic Rex Whistler painting of people in summer attire reclining in a field. I believe the painting was over the desk or drawing table.

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  17. rurritable- I would love to see it- I have been looking at some of his things just recently- He was a great friend of Cecil Beaton. I may very well have been painted at CB's Ashcombe where he painted with Beaton. thanks for the read. G.

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  18. la, your blog is becoming magisterial. I love this stuff on B N because I had only come across him as a child. He wrote a weekly column in the workaday Woman's Own my mother took. I loathed his picture staring out at me but what did I know at the age of 6?? Good to be reconciled with him now. Rosie

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  19. What a distinctive post. Nice job little augury. I am a bit familiar with Nichols. What a prolific writer and much dismissed. I hope you start a trend.

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  20. LOVE BN's books -- the ones at Merry Hall are simply magical! And especially his wonderful descriptions of his cats! And his sheer love for finding "something" for his homes!

    Jan at Rosemary Cottage

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  21. Teacats- Nichols was full of tales- all memorable. On a different note read the post today August 14 about Nichols. G.

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  22. Rosie- Nichols as a child, that might be daunting. It is just about mind blowing how prolific he was! I would love to see some of that.
    Gaye

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  23. The would-be gardener in my is delighted by this post! Just the perfect thing to escape the Monday blues...in my mind I am wandering in green gardens.

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  24. I was given "Merry Hall" and kindly asked to keep it under wraps and to myself. In my heart I want to live that kind of life of incredible splendor.
    pve

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  25. I know Beverley Nichols' works well. Down the garden path is my favourite. What a lovely post Little Augury. David. :-)

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  26. David, thank you. My first book was Merry Hall-still a favourite, but hard to pick one. I plan to go back through many this summer, they are irresistible. pgt

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  27. I live in Torquay in England and stumbled across Beverley Nichols by accident whilst researching the history of the area more generally. Nichols' house is very close by and is more or less in tact. It is now flats and a couple of bungalows have been built at the bottom of the garden but it nevertheless survives.

    Nichols has been largely forgotten in the UK and only people of the older generation have dim recollections of him. Mostly, it has to be said through his journalism.

    I am rapidly working my way through his auto biogs and also have got some of his thrillers on their way to me as I write. I would like to present a talk on him later in the year when we have our annual Agatha Christie festival.... but I have a lot of work to do before that.

    I am totally blown away by this man, by his talent and by the extraordinary life that he led. Without being too new agey about it, i do feel that he has somehow reached out to me and led me down a path that has really enriched my own life.

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  28. The first book that I bought and read of BN was a detached house, it was 20 years ago, and I thought it was written in that period,.
    Until I was halfway and realized it was written in the 1930's.
    Conclusion" his books are for all times, and they never will be "dated" A sublime writer.

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  29. Mrs. Lavender- well said. I have been hankering to read BN again this summer-yet I think I may add them to my to be read list for the no so far away New Year. Thanks for the comment. PGT

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  30. Have just stumbled across this blog, whilst having a google to look for images of 'Merry Hall' which I am re-reading. I have read BN since I was young and so enjoy his books. Lovely to see that others still remember his work and appreciate his talent.

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  31. Hello Gaye...I've just recently become aquanted with Mr. Nichols and his home, Merry Hall...and amm just now delving into Sunlight On The Stairs! I was so thrilled to find your posts about him...I'm a bit of a gushing groupie at the moment being new to it all, and can't get enough of his writings or other's tidbits about him. I even Google mapped Merry Hall...have you done that yet? Bing maps showed it quite well in BirdsEye mode too...I'd so love to know the history of the house since he sold it, wish there were more images of it and the garden available.
    Well toodles, and thank you for this wonderful, perfectly timed post...three years late!!!
    xoxo J~

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  32. I discovered Nichols over 30 yrs ago and started collecting his books and reading everything. His mysteries are very polished well written as are the childrens books, but like most, I am devoted to his garden books and the cat books. No one understood or loved the feline creature as much as Nichols!

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    Replies
    1. it never brings me greater pleasure than to hear from an old story 2009 at that! I always read it over again after I get a new comment-I must always remember Nichols! Stories well told never tire-I should think of reading his over again! pgt

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  33. Nichols is timeless! I have wanted to climb into his books and live in his world for years....

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  34. Lovely post. I just finished Merry Hall. The Encore chapter about finding the iris, tulip and convolvolis was so heartfelt and well told. I hope the dolphin fountain still spouts.......

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    Replies
    1. Claire, so glad you visited. The books are priceless! Your comments make me long to read them again. thank you pgt

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