"I am all for abiding by the rules, and it is foolish not to read the directions on the packet, but if ever there was a place where rules were made to be broken, it is in the garden."

"And if ever there was an 'unnatural' thing, God wot, it is a garden. The only 'natural' gardens are those which are covered with weeds and choked with brambles. Learn from Nature, by all means, commune with Nature, take Nature for long and earnest walks down the garden path, but do for heaven's sake keep the blessed creature under control."

"It would be untrue to suggest that the best gardeners are widely traveled; there are many humble but brilliant gardeners, working away in obscurity all over the country, who have never been able to afford even to cross the Channel."

Excerpts from Garden Open Today

It is time that we describe the design of the garden, which is not only severely practical but quite exceptionally pretty. Perhaps I should not say this, as I was responsible for it — not forgetting many admirable suggestions from Mr Page. However, everybody else says it, and apparently means it, so we will let it pass. It is one of those gardens which has developed like a piece of music, in a series of melodic lines.

But when I took possession, in the summer of 1958, there was nothing in the least melodic about it. On the contrary we had to start from scratch. I was faced by a gaunt rectangle so planned that its gauntness was accentuated, and so planted that almost everything in the beds had to be torn up and thrown on the rubbish heap. Round the walls there were straight rows of shocking pink phlox fighting it out with triangles of diseased golden rod. Across the lawn there was a sharp ugly line of aubretia clambering over dreadful little speckly rocks. Most of the fruit trees were dying, most of the roses were dead, and to crown the melancholy spectacle was a giant topiary bird bang in the middle of the lawn; it was the size of a motor-car, hacked out of a box. The removal of the bird was like exorcizing an evil spirit. We gave it to an eccentric friend, who took it away in a lorry. The bird fell out, striking terror into the hearts of passing motorists, and causing a traffic block for miles around.

Our first few months, therefore, were spent in scraping the canvas clean, creating a blank space on which to impose a pattern. Not for the first time in my life! And this makes me think that here might be a fitting place to say a few words on the general principle of garden design.

I have been designing gardens for over thirty years. Perhaps the best measure of their success — here you must be prepared for a quite shameless piece of trumpet blowing — is that those who have come after me have left them precisely as they found them, for the simple reason that they could not think of any way of improving them. This does not imply that one is a God-given genius who has only to walk into a garden and wave a magic wand in order to create beauty out of chaos. Nothing so tiresome. It merely implies that one has perhaps given more thought to the problems of design than most of one's contemporaries, even the professionals. By 'thought' I mean hard unremitting thought, day after day, night after night, tramping up and down the lawn, standing in corners and staring till the shadows fall, making little dummy paths with bamboo sticks, taking them up again, and again, and again, drawing, painting, even building temporary walls of loose brick — all in the search of a perfection that will not only delight the eye but take into account the hard facts of soil and shelter and climate. For the analogy of the 'clean canvas' was perhaps a false one; no gardener has so simple a substance on which to draw. The design he imposes must be constantly modified and sometimes totally transformed by a hand strong than his own — the hand of Nature. Maybe the art of gardening is simply the knowledge of how to hold that hand, and how to clasp it in friendship.

Back to the main excerpts page

The official Beverley Nichols Web site

Home, Chronology, Bibliography,
Photographs, Events, Excerpts & Quotes,
Books from Timber Press

©2017 by Timber Press, Inc. All rights reserved.