22 October 2009

Book review: Merry Hall

I'm a great lover of used book stores, and a while back I picked up a copy of Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols.

Now I'm totally entrance, and shall have to track down all his other gardening books.

This isn't a gardening book in the sense of a book of facts and information about gardens, rather it is a rambling, gossipy story of one man's garden. Nichols was a celebrity author of post-war Britian, and his enthusiatic account of creating his garden at Merry Hall is a delightful romp through the joys and frustrations of gardening, complete with stories of his crusty gardener Oldfield, his miraculously efficient valet Gaskin (think Lord Peter Wimsey's Bunter or Bertie Wooster's Jeeves and you get the idea), his prying neighbors Emily and Rose who object to every change he makes to the garden.

Anyone who gardens will love his accounts of returning from vacations with luggage stuffed with plants and his hilarious account of trying to pocket the huge, sticky seed of an avocado at a formal dinner without anyone noticing. Other stories will have you jumping up to buy plants.

"That was the moment when I first saw the lilies. They stood in rows of glistening white down the whole length of one side of the kitchen garden. A faint breeze was stirring, and as they nodded their heads there drifted towards us the most exquisite fragrance. Never before, in any garden of the world, have I seen such lilies; their loveliness was literally dazzling; the massed array of the white blossom was like sunlite show."

Running out to buy lily bulbs yet?

How about these two quotes on planting bulbs:

"Every Autumn, when the new bulbs arrive, a proportion of them are handed out to any friends who may be around so that they may plant them in some secret place, where I can have the fun of discovering them in the spring."
"As we all know, the only way to plant daffodils is to pile them on to a tray, and then run to the orchard and hurl the tray into the air, planting them exactly where they fall. There may be other, less orthodox methods; if so they should be spurned. The tray, the ecstatic gesture... that is the only sure road to success."

I'm going to have to go buy more bulbs! I love the idea of hidden troves of spring flowers to be discovered, and the joyful image of hurling daffodils into the air and planting them where they fall! How have I never done this before?

All of which points to the very great truth of this final quote from the book:
"An important truth about the gardener's life as opposed to the lives of other people: the fact that each new year is, ipso facto, most startling and more rich in beauty than the one that preceded it."

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