"Some fall in love with women; some fall in love with art; some fall in love
with death. I fall in love with gardens, which is much the same as falling in love with all three at
"Flowers in winter is another of my King Charles's heads, to give a
comfortable name to an obsessional neurosis, and I find it difficult to write a book without mentioning
"A drawback to having too many lilies is that they insist on a party being
given for them, and since they are so grand and elegant you have to try to be grand and elegant too,
and that means dinner jackets, and hiring masses of very ugly silver, and it is all inclined to be
"An 'encore' in a garden, unlike an 'encore' in a concert hall, is almost
always more exciting than the original performance; to do something for the second time in a garden
is always better than doing it for the first, and the third time is better still, and the fourth and
fifth, ad infinitum."
"You do not have to be a specially religious man to feel cleansed by
Palestine; it is a country where sky and earth seem to meet; the heavens brood so closely over the
hills that you feel you could stretch up your hands and just manage to touch the golden gates. In the
year of Munich I wanted that sort of inspiration. And I wanted the flowers."
"There comes a time, or there should come a time, in the life of every
civilized man, when he realizes that the eighteenth century said the last word worth saying in
absolutely everything connected with the domestic arts. Sometimes this realization comes by chance;
he may be standing in a Georgian doorway, and the sun may shine in it, and he may look up and suddenly
perceive that he is standing in a frame that is as perfect as a melody by Mozart."
Excerpts from Merry Hall
is scarcely a month in the year when you need be without some form of lily
in your rooms, if you
can manage to provide just a little heat for them. (You could, you know, if you would only stop roasting
yourself in front of enormous fires, and carry the coal to the conservatory, where it would be much better
You begin with the arums, which, for some reason best known to themselves, the botanists have insisted
on renaming Richardias. (In America they are called Zantedeschias aethiopica, which is really
an insult.) If you can keep the conservatory ten degrees above freezing point, you can pick arums soon
after Christmas, with great benefit to your spiritual life. With even one arum in the room it is
impossible to think wicked thoughts; it would be like swearing in front of a nun; and if you do have a
wicked thought, in spite of the arum, you must go out and have it in the hall, closing the door gently
After the arums come the exciting varieties of amaryllis, which are not so good for your spiritual
side; indeed, with their flaming hues of orange and tango they might well put ideas into your head if
you sat with them too long. However, since they come on in March, when it is beginning to get pleasant
out of doors, you can always hurry away from them and go for a brisk walk round the crocuses, which are
a cure for most mental distempers.
In April, the long and lustrous pageant of the lilies begins to muster in the open garden,
the lilies-of-the-valley, who play the role of heralds in their dainty coats of green. I often think
that lilies-of-the-valley were specially designed for a bachelor; he cannot hold a bunch in his hand
without feeling paternal and protective.
It was a lovely morning in early September when Miss Emily first came into my
life. I was lying back on
the one and only sofa, watching 'One' and 'Four', who were prowling in and out of the packing cases, when
Gaskin entered with a note. 'This was pushed through the letter-box,' he said. 'And if those cats don't
keep away from those cases I shall have to Hoover the whole place for the third time.' With which,
abruptly, he departed. Gaskin was evidently beginning to feel the strain. I opened the note. This was
what I read:
Dear Mr. Nichols,
I hope you will forgive a total stranger for writing to wish you a very warm welcome to 'Merry Hall'.
Such a pretty name, I have always thought, and I have no doubt that you will make sure that it lives up
to that name.
To me, the old house used to feel like a second home, for I often stayed there in the days of dear
Mr. Stebbing — such a gentleman, of the real old school, and such perfect taste. And always so patient
with poor Mrs. Stebbing, who was an invalid, as I expect you know (Heart). I often think that her
illness really shortened his life, for she was able to do very little in the garden, and was exhausted
after lifting heavy weights.
What a joy it will be for you to carry on Mr. Stebbing's tradition! And how fortunate you are to step
into a house and garden where no alterations are necessary, particularly in these days when everything
is so difficult! If you will allow me, I should so like to call, as you as you are settled, and if
there are any of Mr. Stebbing's ideas which you would like to hear about, I shall be so happy to tell
you of them.
And now I come to the real point of my letter. I am a vegetarian, with only a quite small garden,
which is entirely given over to flowers. (One must have one's flowers — but I am sure I need not
remind you of that!) This means that I am at the mercy of my local green-grocer, who is most
exhorbitant, and not always fresh. Might I therefore ask if we could come to a little arrangement?
I happened to be passing Merry Hall the other day and ventured to peep through the hedge, and I noticed
that the kitchen garden was brimming with the most wonderful vegetables. (Dear Oldfield — I am so glad
you are keeping him on). Might I be allowed to purchase some from you? It would be most convenient
to me, and I dare hope that it might also be helpful to you. One cannot afford to neglect any source
of income nowadays, can one?
I trust you will forgive me for writing so informally, but I am sure you will understand.
P.S. I am afraid that I should not be able to fetch the vegetables myself, so I hope it would not be
too inconvenient to you to deliver them — preferable on Saturdays, between three and four? I took the
liberty, when I was passing, of walking up the dear old drive, and I saw that you are running your
car. Such a luxury, nowadays! My own, alas, is soon to be laid up, or I would not have troubled you
with this request.
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