“It is only to the gardener that time is a friend, giving each year more than he steals.”
Beverley Nichols, Merry Hall
Just finished this famed garden memoir by Beverley Nichols, which falls on many people’s lists of favorite garden books of all time. This Zelig-like writer flitted in and out of politics, celebrity, and journalism during pre/postwar Great Britain, and somehow found time and money to garden like a crazed Johnny Appleseed in series of homes in the English countryside. Merry Hall is an account of the years he lived in a run-down Georgian manse surrounded by five acres where he torched unwanted shrubs, felled mature trees he deemed ugly—and then replanted forests of trees, lilies, roses, and more trees. He apparently did no work himself, preferring to direct gangs of workers and his fulltime gardener, a man of almost mythical horticultural skills named Oldfield. To read the book is to take an amiable meander through the garden with this interesting man, stopping for a moment in the greenhouse, witnessing hilarious drop-ins by eccentric neighbors and the antics of his two cats, and listening to Nichols natter on about his love for lilies. There’s a terrible poignancy about the whole book as well, embodying as it does a world now vanished, where infallible gardeners, faithful valets, and unimaginable real estate economies existed.