Thursday, January 15, 2015

Causing offense to garden-lovers, dog-lovers, baby-lovers, and Burns-lovers

My current book is Garden Open Tomorrow by Beverley Nichols. I'm in the midst of a chapter in which he compares gardens to the works of great composers (almost every day is Chopin) and in which, in explaining why he doesn't like hybrid tea roses, he "presumably forfeits the sympathy of millions of garden-lovers, dog-lovers, baby-lovers and Burns-lovers all over the world." I think this is the ninth gardening book of Mr. Nichols that I've read and while I do truly enjoy his rhapsodies about his gardens, it's when he gets a good rant going that I find him particularly irresistible.  So I share the following excerpt:

...There are psychological reasons behind this aversion; these roses were the background to the gardens of my childhood, if a period of such violent storm and stress can be called a 'childhood' at all. (I have often wondered, with genuine curiosity, how it must feel for a child who can actually walk into his home without a feeling of terror, almost of panic, at he thought of what may be awaiting him inside.)
     But this psychological complex is only the half of it; the aesthetic aversion is equally strong, and it is obviously so uncommon, and so unpopular, that I shall need a page or two to explain it. For to whisper a word against roses, in England or America, is simply not 'done.' When one suggests that we can have too many of them and that the role they are able to play in the  garden is limited, one's remarks are received with the same sort of horrified incredulity as if one had observed, en passant, that all dogs were not necessarily the noblest creatures in the animal kingdom nor all babies the most beautiful examples of God's handiwork. This is the established legend among 'decent' people, and one cannot fight the establishment, even though a moment's honest reflection must reveal the fact that many dogs are not noticeably noble, and that most babies, to the impartial eye, are of considerable hideousness, with bald pates and lunatic expressions. Though obviously to be treated with kindness, they should be removed from the view of all but their parents for the first few months of their lives and kept, if possible, behind screens.
      To the vast majority of the public, roses are above criticism. We are besotted by roses. We can no longer see them straight because of all the mist of sentimental tradition that has gathered round them. The rose has become a sort of moral status symbol. 'My love is like a red, red rose,' sang Burns, and for all the 100,000 members of the Rose Society this fits in very nicely with their personal predilections, evoking, as it does, a picture of a full-bosomed young lady with parted lips waiting to be wooed--but one hopes not too painfully scratched--against a background of Dorothy Perkins. If your adoration of roses is even slightly qualified there must be something morally wrong with you. For that matter, if your adoration of Burns is not whole-hearted you are equally suspect. Well, I never have much cared for that greatly overrated poet and since reading the luridly scabrous verse which he scribbled for his private delectation I have cared even less.
      Are there any other large groups of the public whom we can outrage, while we are about it? In the past few sentences we have presumably forfeited the sympathy of millions of garden-lovers, dog-lovers, baby-lovers and Burns-lovers all over the world. Perhaps that is enough to be going on with, for the moment.

--from pages 154-155 of Garden Open Tomorrow by Beverley Nichols

Need I add that I'm loving this book?

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