Sunday, June 04, 2006

Review: Garden Open Tomorrow

Review of Garden Open Tomorrow by Beverley Nichols (Copyright 1968; facsimile produced by Timber Press, 2002).

Garden Open Tomorrow, the sequel to Garden Open Today, is the last of Nichols' garden books, and carries with it the faint melancholy air of an author who knows this is, indeed, a "last" of anything. Nichols was no longer the springy young man who composed Down the Garden Path some thirty six years earlier. In 1968, he was 70 years old, and feeling the effects of age as he puttered about the garden of Sudbury cottage. Wind and winter are themes throughout, and Nichols gives advice on which plants to grow for winter blossoms, which will survive deep winter gales, and which plants to grow that will survive on windy heights. He also rails against the growing use of poisons in the garden, and narrates his own experiments with more earth-friendly forms of insect control.

By this time he was willing to admit, as he had not in earlier books, that most of the hard work was done by hired help. Indeed, in his chapter on gardening for the elderly, he advises hiring the heavy work done, and offers other tips for retirees who purchase a cottage in the English countryside, with the vision of turning a wilderness into a garden. Burning the ladder stands out most notably, since Nichols himself had an unfortunate habit of falling off of them. He also advises on plants that give excellent results with little care, particularly vines that will grow quickly but do not require trips up and down ladders to trim and care for them.

But all is not dark with thoughts of winter and death. There are cat ballets to enjoy, as the kittens Anthony and Trollop cavort in the heather, and an aged Five makes a cameo appearance to show them how it is done. There is an entire chapter on growing plants on alkaline soil, since chalk is the bane of many gardens in Britain. And there is a section on garden design, though Nichols' few forays into professional garden advice weren't always the sterling success one might imagine.

What is missing from this volume is the array of characters that sparkled across the pages of his earlier works. The mysterious Marius, whom we suspect of working for the secret service, drifts in and out a few times. Nichols' factotum, Gaskin, puts in a brief appearance, and the gardener, Page, is mentioned, though we know little about him. Page is not the Oldfield of the Merry Hall trilogy.

Instead, Garden Open Tomorrow is a more serious work, filled with gardening advice, as though the author wished he'd put more seriousness in his earlier garden books and so packed it all into his final gardening volume. Yet the humor that readers look forward to is still there, as well as Nichols' very decided opinions regarding plants and garden design.

For more on the author himself, see Beverley Nichols: A Life by Bryan Connon


William said...

Thank you so much for the excellent review of Beverley Nichols’ “Garden Open Tomorrow.” As a former executive past retirement age, I especially appreciated the references to gardening in our golden years. I must get this book, if only for the list of plants that require little care.

I know enough to stay away from ladders. My wife had to go in for a hip replacement, since her bones have become very fragile. I used to feel guilty for farming out the hard work, but no more. Let the young do the sweating. After all, perspiring in the garden was an accepted fact in my younger years.

Britain isn’t the only place with alkaline soil. We live in the Midwest and our soil contains a lot of limestone, thus it’s alkaline. I periodically add a bit of sulfur to neutralize the soil, enabling most of my flowers and vegetables to grow normally.

The focus on winter gardening reminds me of another excellent book, “The All Seasons Gardener” by Mark Cullen. Although he writes about Canadian conditions, we live close enough to our northern border to fit his criteria. He zeroes in on the Virginia Creeper, Winter Honeysuckle, Winter Jasmine, Wintergreen, and Witch Hazel as possible components in your garden that grow well into our coldest season.

A whole section on Christmas plants, discuss Azaleas (they like their soil moist), Christmas Cactus (require 14 hours of total darkness to flower), Cyclamen (don’t mind being mildly pot-bound), and that perennial favorite, Poinsettias (cut them back drastically after they start to fade to encourage new shoots).

Spring is sure to follow winter, and thank goodness, my wife has fully recovered from her operation and she feels like a new person. With her new lease on life, she is a worthy partner in my gardening endeavors. We are planting Daylilies, such as Stella D’Oro, and annuals, such as Heliotrope. The latter requires full sun to grow large clusters of fragrant blue flowers.

Did you know that Hydrangeas change color, depending on the pH of the soil? An alkaline soil produces pink flowers, while an acidic environment grows blue ones. Needless to say, we’ve been growing pink Hydrangeas for a number of years now.

We’ve experimented with a number of products to help us grow our plants, but lately we decided that the Advanced Nutrients company makes the best quality plant foods available on the market. Just like Beverley Nichols, we don’t believe in using poisons in our garden, nor harsh chemicals, so we use 100 % organic nutrients.

The same company also makes products with exotic names like Scorpion and Voodoo Juice, Tarantula, and Piranha. Their use insures a healthy, robust garden, whether you’re growing ornamentals or edible vegetables. The latter two colonize roots systems with beneficial fungi and bacteria, increasing the absorption of both macro and micro nutrients.

Plant science has come a long way since I was young, and the experts at Advanced Nutrients are extremely knowledgeable about every aspect of horticulture. A reliable resource like that is hard to find.

Reading Dirt said...

Thanks for the praise. I do, indeed, know about how hydrangeas are a natural pH meter. My grandmothers both had large hydrangea bushes, which bloomed brilliant blue in our slightly acidic soil.

Here's hoping your wife fully recovers!