Friday, July 10, 2009

Freshly Discovering An Old Gardening Classic

Lately, I sometimes feel like I'm back in grade school, writing book reports - but these books are so good that I really want to share them with anyone else who might enjoy them! So, please, bear with me.

My latest discovery was actually written in 1951, then reprinted (along with its 2 siblings) by Timber Press in 1998. It's called Merry Hall, by Beverley Nichols.

I actually discovered its siblings...eerrrr, I mean its sequels, Laughter on the Stairs (1953) and Sunlight on the Lawn (1956), as used books for sale amongst more normal, new gardening books at Crosby Arboretum in Mississipii, when I visited there with the Mobile County Master Gardeners in May. They looked different, potentially interesting, and their price was quite low, so I picked them up on a whim. Once I got them home, I decided that it was unfair to read the sequels without reading the book that led the way, so I ordered Merry Hall, the first of the trilogy, from Amazon. When it arrived, I dug into it.

I loved it. While this book is about gardens and gardening rather than about animals and animal collecting, it nonetheless reminds me of the books by Gerald Durrell that I was introduced to in my early teens and that I've loved ever since. It's charming, in a very British-dry-sarcastic-wit-with-lots-of-good-plant-knowledge sort of way. Nichols flits from repeatedly skewering a couple nosy, neighborhood women who take rather too much interest in his newly acquired garden (Miss Emily and Our Rose), to opinionated statements about how cut flowers should (and, most emphatically, should not) be arranged, to how he came to design his garden (wishing he were back in the womb plays a not-insignificant part), to flights of fancy about the best height to be (mentally, that is) when exploring a rock garden.

I could include quotes, but small snippets can't possibly capture the richness and humor of the tales that Nichols tells. Apparently lots of others have quoted from this book, though, and the most popular quote is said to be, "It is only to the gardener that Time is a friend, giving each year more than he steals." I certainly found that a great thought to turn over in my mind as I watered this afternoon, one of many gifts that I'm taking with me from having read Merry Hall.

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