The Cotswolds, England
Right now I am reading books about gardens. More specifically, I am reading books about gardeners and garden dreamers. These are books about the intrepid souls who dream about having a garden and their dreams become a passion. In these books the garden lovers go on to create the garden of their dreams. I have written before (you can read it here) that these kind of books seem so hopeful to me because the garden is often a metaphor for discovering meaning and hope in one's own life. Somehow the garden helps the garden dreamer get there. And in the case of English writer Beverley Nichols, there is a healthy dose of humor thrown in to the mix that makes the reading experience so delightful.
I have read several gardening books by Beverley Nichols, but not his very first one "Down the Garden Path," which is considered a true garden classic. I opened this gorgeous book recently (the illustrations are by Rex Whistler) and read the introduction and the foreword. I began to get a sense of what a delicious reading experience this is going to be.
The Cotswolds, England
From the foreword I learned that Beverley Nichols was a prolific writer on subjects ranging from religion to politics and travel. He wrote six novels, five detective mysteries, four children's stories and six plays. He lived in London and was a successful writer and a dapper man about town. In the 1920's he appeared to be the epitome of the Jazz Age playboy, an image he was eager to change. In 1928 he bought a beautiful Tudor cottage built in 1520 in the village of Glatton, England with a garden that had been badly neglected. Working in London on a musical show and other writing projects at the time, he could only get away on the weekends to work on the restoration of the cottage and garden. But his weekend hobby became his passion.
He decided to write a book about his experience and thought his readers would enjoy this tale of a "playboy-turned gardener." He took less than three weeks to finish it. As he said, "It was hardly like writing a book at all, it was more like arranging a bunch of mixed flowers." This book "Down the Garden Path" came out in 1932 and was a huge success.
The book opens with these words:
"I believe in doing things too soon. In striking before the iron is hot, in leaping before one has looked, in loving before one has been introduced. Nearly all the great and exciting things in life have been done by men who did them too soon. It was far, far too soon for Columbus to set out on his crazy trip to the New World. The ether was not ready for Beethoven when he began a symphony on a dominant seventh. Shelley, long before the appointed time, unloosed, with trembling fingers, the starched ribbons which bound the dress of Poetry. 'Too soon...too soon...' it is the snarling sleepy cry which greets all new-born beauty, all flights of the spirit.
I know that unless I write a gardening book now...swiftly, and finish it it before the last bud outside my window has spread its tiny fan...it will be too late to write it at all. For shortly I shall know too much...shall dilate, with tedious prolixity, on the root formation of the winter aconite, instead of trying to catch on paper the glint of its gold through the snow, as I remember it last winter, like a fistful of largesse thrown over a satin quilt. Just as the best school stories are written by boys who have only just left school, so, I feel, the best gardening books should be written by those who still have to search their brains for the honeysuckle's languid Latin name, who still feel awe at the miracle which follows the setting of a geranium cutting in its appointed loam.
That is why I have written this book. You must not look to it for guidance. It will not tell you how to prune a rose-bush...No...I fear that this book holds little practical wisdom. But if any gardeners should honour me by turning its pages, idly, after their day's work is done, I hope that from time to time they may be tempted to smile, not unkindly, at the recollections of their own early follies. And I hope that there may come to them, once more, a faint tremor of that first ecstasy which shook them when they learnt that a garden is the only mistress who never fails, who never fades..."
Have you ever dreamed of starting a garden from scratch? Or redoing your garden? Maybe reading about someone who did it would be enough. Beverley Nichols book "Down the Garden Path" is considered a garden classic. It is a magical place to start your journey.