Author Spotlight: Beverley Nichols

Where I live, it sometimes feels like summer will never arrive. It's often not until the middle of May that the weather is consistently warm enough that I start thinking about days spent outdoors enjoying blue skies, green grass, and beautiful flowers. My mother and I usually plant the garden around Memorial Day weekend, and the variety of flowers varies from year to year since our garden is composed primarily of annuals. In order to get inspired for what floral display we'll create, I often turn to the books of one of my all-time favorite authors: Beverley Nichols.

It's difficult to describe Nichols' books about gardening and home life to someone who has never read them. They're something of a unique blend of memoirs based on real experiences and humorous fiction in the style of P. G. Wodehouse, with only the merest hint of real, practical advice thrown in. The first book in the Allways trilogy, Down the Garden Path, follows Nichols as he purchases a cottage in the country and attempts to create a magnificent garden without having any real gardening experience. What really makes the book special, however, is the cast of characters Nichols encounters in his quest. Mrs. M., his nosy gardening rival; Undine Wilkins, a neighbor who always has an act for everything; and the wise old Professor are all endearing characters that I was happy to meet again in A Thatched Roof (which focuses on Nichols' interior decorating) and A Village in a Valley (a tribute to the neighborhood surrounding Nichols' cottage).

As much as I love the Allways trilogy, though, I think that I love Nichols' follow-up series even more. The Merry Hall books follow roughly the same pattern as the Allways series: Nichols buys a new house (this time a stately Georgian residence) and attempts to make something of the garden. Merry Hall focuses on Nichols' efforts to beautify the outdoors, Laughter on the Stairs on his interior designing, and Sunlight on the Lawn on the people and places around Merry Hall. Even the characters of the Allways books are back, albeit in slightly different guises: Undine is re-imagined as "Our Rose," an avant-garde florist; Mrs. M. is back in the form of Miss Emily; and the Professor returns as Marius. Even though both series are very similar, I do think that the writing in the Merry Hall books is more sophisticated and mature than in the Allways series.

Fans of Nichols' first two trilogies can pick up his stand-alone Green Grows the City, which gives advice for making the most out of urban and suburban gardens, and the Sudbrook books, Garden Open Today and Garden Open Tomorrow. These last two works were Nichols' response to criticism that his earlier gardening books didn't contain enough practical advice, so the amount of character interaction and plot is curtailed. However, both books have enough of Nichols' characteristic wit and sparkle that they make enjoyable reads even if one isn't looking for concrete advice. If you just can't get enough Beverley Nichols, you may want to seek out Down the Kitchen Sink, a hilarious memoir detailing Nichols' various culinary adventures and experiences, and Cats A.B.C., a funny little book about Nichols' favorite pets. All have been released in beautiful editions by Timber Press.