Each month, Emmy - one of our volunteers on The Gardeners' House Penzance project - will be bringing us a fascinating insight into one of the pieces in our collection.
The Hypatia Trust, home to The Gardeners' House project, is home to an archive of over 2000 volumes documenting the natural history of Cornwall.
We'll be building on this archive to support the creation of new botanical collections and a rare plant registry - but for now, we're excited to bring you Emmy's Finds - a look into some of the great pieces in our collection.
Emmy’s Finds: Discoveries in the Gardener’s House Book Collection -
Down the Garden Path – Beverley Nichols – first published 1932
John Beverley Nichols (9 September 1898 – 15 September 1983) was an English writer, playwright and public speaker. He wrote more than 60 books and plays.
Nichols is best remembered for his books about his homes and gardens, the first of which, Down the Garden Path (1932), was illustrated by Rex Whistler. It went through 32 editions and has remained in print almost continuously.
The trilogy chronicled the difficulties and delights of maintaining a Tudor thatched cottage in Glatton, Cambridgeshire, the village he fictionalised as Allways. The books are written in a poetic, richly creative style, evoking emotional and sensual responses, leavened with humour and irony and were so popular that they led to humorous imitations
Emmy tells us:
"This is a fabulous book. It is so good that, having read it once and planning to skim it for quotes for this, I ended up reading it again. How do you describe a book when you just want to quote the whole thing?
In essence it describes the author’s purchase (“by sending a wireless to Timbuctoo from the Mauretania, at midnight, with a fierce storm lashing the decks”) (see what I mean?) of a cottage – Allways - in Huntingdonshire with a garden which, on taking possession, is “a scene of utter desolation”.
Gradually, with the support of his gardener, S., the gardens - the Front Garden, Antinous’ Garden, the Orchards, the Secret Garden and the Wood – are created. Although this is far from a conventional “gardening book”, there is actually quite a lot of interesting and valuable information in its pages, for example about growing winter flowers, or creating a wood.
But it is the narrative this information is set in which makes the book a delight.
As well as the supremely likeable and wonderfully witty narrator, there are the many characters who appear.
These range from the dreadful Arthur, the initial manservant at the cottage, who had “pale watery eyes and drooping shoulders” and “smelt strongly of gin”, to Mrs M., the neighbour. Mrs M. makes fairly frequent appearances in the book, commenting on progress in the garden, contrasting it with her own garden which is “maddeningly efficient”.
There are also the visits of various friends, including the saintly ‘Miss Hazlitt’ – “an enchanting person” – and the supremely (and hilariously) irritating ‘Undine Wilkins’. On first entering the garden, ‘Undine’ “drew a long drawn sigh…Her eyelids fluttered madly for a moment. Then, like a brave little thing, she forced a smile to her lips, drew my arm through hers, and murmured, ‘show me . . show me . . everything.’”
As you may have noticed, after reading this I am completely in love with Beverley Nichols. He wrote 60 books during his life, and I have just been on a well-known website ordering two more, which are due to be delivered in the next few days. I can’t wait!"
We'll be bringing another blog from Emmy in December - if there's particular areas of interest you'd like us to feature, please do let us know on firstname.lastname@example.org