The Oxford Companion to the Garden

edited by Patrick Taylor (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006): 584pp, £42.06 (hbk), ISBN 0 19 866255 6.

Reviewed by Michèle Clarke

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The blurb mentions the word 'sumptuous' for this book on gardens, gardeners and their ideas. The 1,750 alphabetical entries range from 'Aalto, Alto' (Finnish architect, designer and artist, 1898–1976, known for his work on Villa Mairea, Helsinki University campuses and Muuratsal) to 'Zürichhorn' (a lively park and lake area in Zürich). Sumptuous it is indeed, with beautiful colour photographs and old garden plans, but mainly dense informational text.

Impressive team

The editorial team is impressive, including such luminaries as Sir Roy Strong and Penelope Hobhouse as advisers, and 154 contributors. The book's origins are in the 1986 edition of The Oxford Companion to Gardens. Since then, there has been a small change in title, but mainly an acknowledgement to the passage of 20 years, encompassing change, ease of travel, implications of global weather changes, and genetic modifications.

The indexes and lists are worth mentioning. There is a thematic index that points to the main entries, so we have, for example, a list of biographies of architects, landscape designers, writers, etc., as well as ones for plants, countries, gardens, garden features and styles. There are cross-references within main entries to other main entries; a list of scientific plant names; bibliographies at the end of some references and a select one at the end of the book; and a select index of those subjects appearing within entries but without their own heading.


Geographical coverage is worldwide but entries are concentrated particularly on Italy, Britain, France, China, Japan and the US. Cities are now given more prominence, and there is a four-fold increase in the entries for American gardens. Those in France have been brought right up to date, rather than the previous concentration on 17th-century gardens.

It's a book for reference but also for browsing: I turned to 'Brown, Lancelot "Capability"' quite serendipitously, and found a lovely quote for us as editors:

Now there … I make a comma, and there … where a more decided turn is proper, I make a colon; at another part, where an interruption is desirable to break the view, a parenthesis; now a full stop, and then I begin another subject.

What a choice find!

Monochrome and lush

If you include gardening in your editing, proofreading or indexing CV, I urge you to add this to your shelves, your bedside table (but mind its weight while reading in bed) or your conservatory.

We may not aim for Capability Brown's landscapes, but we can all claim to be influenced by Vita Sackville West's monochrome gardens, and dream of visiting Monticello in Virginia, created by Thomas Jefferson and still looking as lush as when it was visited some years ago.

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