Book Review: “A Thatched Roof” and “A Village in the Valley”

picture-2     “A Thatched Roof ” and “A Village in the Valley ” (Timber Press, 2005) are the most recent releases of the second and third reprints of the Allways Trilogy by Beverley Nichols. The first in the trilogy, Down the Garden Path (Timber Press, 2004 ), was primarily about Nichols’ garden in the fictitious village of Allways in  Huntingdonshire, England. The newest releases are about the cottage that is central to that garden and the unforgettable neighbors who live nearby. But, somehow, Nichols manages to infuse his love of gardens and gardening throughout books two and three. It’s pretty obvious that his heart lies in his love of gardening.

Beverly Nichols

Beverly Nichols

     First of all, Nichols has a clever way of including you in his stories. In “showbiz” they call it “breaking the third wall”. It basically means that the spectator participates because the actor talks directly to his audience. The actor doesn’t pretend that the audience is only watching. That’s what Nichols manages to do with his writing. You don’t just read the book; you participate in the story. He writes in first person but he draws you in willingly. He even apologizes for getting “carried away” with descriptions. asks for your opinions and warns you when he is about to end a  chapter.  He is as observant as Jane Austen, as witty as Oscar Wilde and as sentimental as James Herriott.  He also happens to be as funny , timely and un-PC as Jon Stewart. It’s hard to believe that the books were written in the early 1930’s. When reading about his “concerns” in the 1930’s in this tiny village, the one phrase that keeps popping into mind is “some things never change”.
     Everything takes place in the village of Allways. I guess you could say “the names have been changed to protect the author”.  Nichols is the main character, a bachelor who observes, complains and waxes poetic about his fellow eccentric neighbors. He has a faithful dog named Whoops (a surprise cross between  a poodle and a Chow). He deals with droughts, dry wells, gentrification, new technology and the onslaught of progress. Sound familiar? 
      Nichols’ village residents are hilarious. Characters like Mrs. Wrench, the housekeeper who was forever “having five minutes” and Mrs. M. whose practice of insulting people developed into high art are only two of the village’s many eccentrics. Add to that a 16 year old “modern” student who visits during vacations spouting new fangled speech and modern ideas and you have an endless supply of British humor.
     At first glance, the books might appear sweet and a little cute but don’t be fooled. Nichols knows how to throw out a few “zingers” and reveal his true feelings with a good dose of sarcasm. He doesn’t hold back. “Dry British  wit” is an understatement.
     Beverley Nichols is one of those authors whose books you can’t help wanting to share. He is funny, clever, irreverent, sarcastic and smart. Because many of his books revolve around Nichols himself, he makes you hunger for more information. And, of course, a website is devoted to him,



Why Did My Plant Die?

Why Did My Plant Die?

by Geoffrey B. Charlesworth

You walked too close.

You trod on it.

You dropped a piece of sod on it.

You hoed it down. You weeded it.

You planted it the wrong way up.

You grew it in a yogurt cup

But you forgot to make a hole;

The soggy compost took its toll.

September storm.

November drought.

It heaved in March, the roots popped out.

You watered it with herbicide.

You scattered bonemeal far and wide.

Attracting local omnivores,

Who ate your plant and stayed for more.

You left it baking in the sun

While you departed at a run

To find a spade, perhaps a trowel,

Meanwhile the plant threw in the towel.

You planted it with crown too high;

The soil washed off, that explains why.

Too high pH.

It hated lime.

Alas it needs a gentler clime.

You left the root ball wrapped in plastic.

You broke the roots.

They’re not elastic.

You walked too close.

You trod on it.

You dropped a piece of sod on it.

You splashed the plant with mower oil.

You should do something to your soil.

Too rich.

Too poor.

Such wretched tilth.

Your soil is clay.

Your soil is filth.

Your plant was eaten by a slug.

The growing point contained a bug.

These aphids are controlled by ants,

Who milk the juice,

it kills the plants.

In early spring your garden’s mud.

You walked around!

That’s not much good.

With heat and light you hurried it.

You worried it.

You buried it.

The poor plant missed the mountain air:

No heat, no summer muggs up there.

You overfed it 10-10-10.

Forgot to water it again.

You hit it sharply with the hose.

You used a can without a rose.

Perhaps you sprinkled from above.

You should have talked to it with love.

The nursery mailed it without roots.

You killed it with those gardening boots.

You walked too close.

You trod on it.

You dropped a piece of sod on it.

Book Review: “Cuttings Through the Year”

picture-21 Locally grown books come and go but this one that has been in publication since 1959.  “Cuttings Through the Year”, in its fifth printing, is published by the Washington Park Arboretum Foundation. The only thing that has changed about “Cuttings” in  nearly fifty years is an occasional cover update and a slight raise in price. Right now, it sells for a whopping $4.95. It’s about the best five bucks a gardener can spend.

     Pick a month…any month…and the book lists plants and methods of propagation for cuttings during that month. How about October? According the “Cuttings Through the Year”, there are more than eighty plants that can be propagated with softwood and hardwood cuttings.

     The beginning of the reference book is filled with basic step by step and how to information about softwood, hardwood, heel, stem and node cuttings but the heart of  “Cuttings” is the indispensable month-by-month list of plants. Natives are included and the fifty one page book also touches on grafting.  It’s short, it’s simple, it saves a lot of trial and error time. The Washington Park Arboretum did the experimenting and we benefit from their experience.

Available through Washington Park Arboretum at and www.gardenshoponline.

Article reprinted with permission Premier Media Group, South Sound Magazine, Dirty Dan Column