A little book of zingers, bon mots, and other amusing snippets of garden persiflage



Beverley Nichols really knows how to insult a plant. How about this:

…it reminds me of a clump of laurels on which someone has hung the weekly washing.

Or this:

… as embarrassing as a middle-aged lady standing on the steps of a provincial town hall, disguised as Cleopatra for the annual fancy dress ball at the Rotary Club.

Or this:

…gaunt, gawky, and deliberately deformed by man, with its tortured, amputated limb sticking out in all directions, demanding pity rather than praise.

I have deliberately not included the names of the plants being humiliated, not because I’m protecting them, but because I’d like to hear your best guesses as to which they might be. Yes. It’s a contest, and the prize is a new collection of Nichols’s best: Rhapsody in Green: The Garden Wit and Wisdom of Beverley Nichols (Timber Press). Nichols (1898–1983) was a British journalist, essayist, and novelist who may now be best known for his garden writing, most of it personal books about his many gardens (urban and rural). If you have all of his books already, I suppose you don’t need this. But on the other hand, it’s fun to flip through and enjoy excerpts of the most memorable bits from such books as Down the Garden Path, Garden Open Today, the Merry Hall trilogy, and Green Grows the City, among others. It’s impossible to randomly open it without finding something that will make you smile, like this:

In a mad moment I once made a Polythene pond. And the reason I developed a ferce hatred of it before it was even finished can be summed up in two words—damp underwear.

Nichols’s travails with water features are among his funniest writing. And I have a polythene pond (I think).

So, for the giveway, simply make your guess as to ONE of the plants he might be referring to in the excerpts above (you can do all three if you like), and I will draw from them tomorrow (Thursday) at 9 a.m. EST. You need not be correct, obviously. But good for you if you can guess. Even googling wouldn’t be that easy.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. I think my underwear got damp just reading this stuff… how is it that I miss out on so much?? I’ve just got to read more.

  2. In the part of North Carolina where I live, the third quote would be about certain crape myrtles . . . a fate I wouldn’t even wish on pigweed.

  3. #1 has got to be the hankerchief tree – aka
    davidia involucrata.
    That kind of writing is for true plant nerds!
    Thx for the smiles.

  4. Shucks! I have all of Beverley Nichols books (except this one) at home in Mpls. but here I am in a Northeastern snow storm, 1200 miles from home. (Not that I would cheat anyway.) I can’t remember those excerpts in particular, and don’t need the book, but just want to put in a plug for Nichols’ gardening books. They are wonderful, not just gardening, but the whole wonderful cast of characters he assembles. It was great that Timber Press reissued these books.

  5. While her descriptions are amusing, it sounds like she was looking for something insulting to say. Plant lovers can always find something nice to say about a plant, can’t we? Well, maybe not. I was up to my ankles in gum balls this morning and wishing that I had a lot fewer of this native tree. And I’m still incredulous that they are under serious consideration for planting at the World Trade Center gardens. I don’t have any guesses on her insulting descriptions, though.

  6. I’m at a loss for #1 – but #2 has got to be Wisteria – OMG, how gaudy! And I vote for any and all topped trees for your third quote. I hope I win!

  7. I think #3 is an elder.

    I enjoyed the last Beverley Nichols book I won here. I think it was supposed to be about food, but it was really about his manservant and living the high life.

  8. I don’t have this book, but I have several of Nichols’ books about his cats, and they too are hysterically funny. I thinnk I’ll be hunting this book down very soon.

  9. OH, and I forgot to offer a guess; the third plant has to be some sort of tree that has undergone Arbortorture, sometimes known as tree sculpturing, pruning, coppicing, espalier….;-)

  10. I’m appalled — The Seattle Public Library system doesn’t have any of her books. I think I need to chat with my local branch about this!

    oh…clump of laurels with washing…how about a southern magnolia weighted with snow?

  11. HI all,

    I did not correct the first instance of this, but just wanted to make it clear: Beverley is a man. (I did say “his” a couple times, but I guess it was easy to miss.)

  12. Ooh — I think I met Cleopatra while leafing through a summer bulb catalogue the other day. She has to be Olina, a tango asiatic lily. The catalogue describes her colour as red and auburn, but she’s doused with badly-painted purple eyeshadow.

    Definitely not making a fashion statement.

    Thankfully, the catalogue was redeemed by the martagons on the next page.

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