cloth, 258 p., with drawings by William McLaren, $24.95
Imagine Noel Coward as a garden writer, and you have some idea of what reading Beverley Nichols is like. Garden Open Today is a sophisticated and often scathingly funny collection of gardening essays, observations and advice first published in England in 1963.
Mr. Nichols (1898-1983) was a prolific British author who wrote on a wide range of subjects from religion to politics and travel. His fictional work included detective mysteries, novels and plays, as well as children's stories. His garden writing, however, has remained his most popular work.
Do not mistake this for a practical "how-to" book, although there are lessons on practical matters along the way. It is first and foremost a glimpse into British garden matters, taste and style, with some rather eccentric characters (not the least of which might be Mr. Nichols himself) along the way. An example: A famous gardening diva of the day claimed psychic soil testing powers. "She smiled in her most sphinx-like manner, and murmured 'Clay! I knew it.'"
Although it was first published in 1963, this book includes many topics that are all the rage now: garden rooms ("Dividing a space can make it seem larger"), water features and the special joys of smaller plants (an entire chapter is titled "The Anti-Brobdingnag").
This is one of a series of Mr. Nichols' garden books recently reissued by Timber Press. Perhaps best-known are his Merry Hall trilogy, written between 1951-1953, which describe in wickedly satiric fashion his gardening renovation efforts at a ruined Georgian mansion. Down the Garden Path (1935), tells of the transformation of his first house's pie-shaped, rubble-strewn lot into a tasteful city garden — all of this carried out under the watchful, prying eye of a female neighbor whom he delighted in twitting at every possible opportunity.
All make for entertaining reading and also provide some solid gardening insights.
— Lorrie Burrows, Master Gardener and Volunteer, Chicago Botanic Garden