“Even the smallest garden should have room for an acre of rhododendrons” is the apocryphal quote attributed to that doyen of English horticulturists, Sir Harold Hillier. The Oxford Companion to the Garden is redolent with these warm overtones that would give smug satisfaction to a post-modem critic (Patrick Taylor even refers to his wife lurking in the background and describes the Eden Project’s botanical interpretations as hectoring and gung-ho). However, Taylor’s achievement in producing a new Oxford Companion is a fine one. The book is immensely useful as a reference for garden history, style and biography, and as an introduction to the world’s famous parks and gardens for actual and vicarious travel. Indeed, this new edition addresses some of the interesting inconsistencies between authors in the 1986 Oxford Companion to Gardens. For example, John Harvey’s and Nigel Hepper’s divergent views of botanic gardens in to Gardens are reconciled with a scholarly entry by Patrick himself in to the Garden!
This worldwide companion is no substitute for Richard Aitken’s and Michael Looker’s 2002 Oxford Companion to Australian Gardens. While Christine Reid’s entries for Australia are sound, it appears that more was written – and then discarded – through a curious editing process. In dealing with the role of botanic gardens in literally planting the Australian colonies, why would the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, deserve a separate entry while the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, is subsumed into a generic Sydney entry? Why would Adelaide be overlooked altogether beyond John and Walter Bagot’s marvelous Forest Lodge?
The answer is, of course, that this is a single-volume work rather than a comprehensive encyclopedia and Patrick Taylor and his collaborators have indeed achieved what they have set out to achieve.
The Oxford Companion To The Garden (2006), Patrick Taylor, Oxford University Press.
Originally published in The Adelaide Review on 16 February 2007.