Garden Edition, July 2003
The Perfect Vacation Companion for the Gardener: Beverley Nichols
by Linda Coyner
In the best of all worlds, a book worth packing along on vacation is one that invites interruptions without complaint, whether it be gazing at cloud formations, polite conversation, or even dozing off. After all, the whole point is to relax, right? To narrow the definition further, such a book must be amusing and witty at times and, if possible, thoughtful. If I learn something about plants in the meantime, all the better. A practical matter is size, the smaller the better; my beach bag is heavy enough, thank you.
The search for just such books led me to the garden essays of Beverley Nichols. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Nichols, let me introduce you. Nichols (1898-1983) is a British author with some 60 books to his credit. He is most famous for a dozen or so gardening books written in a light and airy style. In them, he reveals a keen observation and sensitivity to nature, whether it be floral, human, or feline. Readers will be delighted with witty musings about his world and the characters who visit it.
Nichols’ work is enjoying a resurgence of interest thanks to the efforts of Timber Press, which began reprinting his work in 1998, and Roy Dicks, whose readings of Nichols’ work are said to be more akin to performances than mere readings. Books now available from Timber Press include the Merry Hall Trilogy, which includes Merry Hall, Laughter on the Stairs, and Sunlight on the Lawn; Garden Open Today; Garden Open Tomorrow; and Cats’ A.B.C.
Roy Dicks is also responsible for the Nichols renaissance. He took up the Nichols crusade after reading Down the Garden Path, which had been recommended by J.C. Raulston (of Raulston Arboretum, Raleigh, NC). The Nichols’ fan, a former librarian, actor, director, and producer is now a music and theater critic for a local newspaper. He collected all 60 of Nichols books and visited the Nichols gardens in England a few years ago. Unfortunately, Dicks points out, none is designated a historic site or public place or even maintained as Nichols had them.
Dicks does readings all over the country. His upcoming performances are listed at the Beverley Nichols Web site. When asked which of Nichols’ books is his favorite, he says without hesitation Merry Hall. It’s also the one he recommends readers pick up first. His second favorite is Down the Garden Path (Antique Collector’s Club, limited availability). Both are beautifully written, full of humor, and consistently, well, “Nichols,” explains Dicks. They are also very quotable.