Every year, the National Gardens Scheme Charitable Trust ([...]) in the UK issues the "yellow book" listing details (dates, locations, composition of garden, entrance fee, etc.) about private gardens of England and Wales open to the public on special occasions when a sign will be posted saying "Garden Open Today." The 500+ page yellow book is a county by county guide to these gardens of "quality, character, and interest."
Beverly Nichols book GARDEN OPEN TODAY (first published in 1963) is the next best thing, a narrative tour describing his garden which before his death he opened occasionally to the public. The book is lovingly illustrated with `whimsical' drawings by William McLaren (one photograph of Nichols and his friend Reginald Gaskin collecting money for charity at the entrance to the Nichols' grounds).
Nichols was a "real gardener" who worked side-by-side with several hired gardeners described in his earlier books, including MERRY HALL, LAUGHTER ON THE STAIR, and SUNLIGHT ON THE LAWN. If you haven't discovered Beverly Nichols and you love gardening and/or visiting gardens, you are in for a treat. His books are humorous and instructive, and definitely for cat lovers. (He wrote several books about cats). In GARDEN OPEN TODAY, he takes you step by step through his current garden (he moved a few times and wrote books about several gardens) pointing out some of the more interesting flowers and features.
As usual, the best bits of Nichols' book are anecdotal. His chapter on flower arrangers (apparently the bane of his existence) is hilarious. Nichols was a "loose bunch" kind of guy who detested those who "tortured" flowers in order to twist them into unnatural shapes. He often said that flowers were best left in the garden or picked for a loose and natural arrangement reflecting the perennial border. I suppose I get a big kick out his anti-arranger diatribes because I come from a family of garden club members and garden club founders and have had many encounters with the similar characters. However, almost anyone can appreciate Chapter 18. `A matter of arrangement'
Nichols is a product of his times so his not-quite-politically-correct comments about women gardeners may rankle some, but those of us who grew up in less privileged times will be able to look past the semi-misogynist tone (and hopefully younger women too) and appreciated the interesting and informative material he includes. Besides, he spends more time on cats than women. I recommend this book for bedtime reading.