Book Review Heading


Gentlemen in my Garden

Deities in my Garden

Handbook for the Baffled Gardener

A trilogy by Fay Clayton
Published by GP Print, Wellington, New Zealand, 1996

Reviewed by Steve Benham, Records Officer, Auckland Regional Botanic Gardens.

The book titles 'Gentlemen in my Garden', 'Deities in my Garden' and 'Handbook for the Baffled Gardener' aroused my curiosity to such a pitch that just had to read this trilogy from cover to cover.

Fay Clayton is obviously a brilliantly accomplished writer, linguist, researcher and gardener with a deep love of plants and how they earned their names.

These little soft covered volumes have been attractively produced and enhanced by numerous pencil sketches by Phillip Hart.

In this age of voguish books and magazines awash with colour I found these books in monochrome delightfully refreshing.

Gentlemen in my Garden'Gentleman in my Garden' explains the derivation of generic plant names associated with people - be they botanists, physicians or ancient Greek scholars. They are all to be found in this treatise.

Fay muses in an opening chapter titled 'On Exotica' how one rarely encounters familiar indigenous floral icons on arriving in foreign parts. Unfortunately this passion for exotics appears to be a worldwide trait!

The genus Leschenaultia has often been rather a misnomer as it often appears in the most respected of references as Lechenaultia. Fay informs her readers that the genus honours Louis Theodore Leschenault de la Tour, 18-19th century French botanist.

Deities in my GardenThe second in the trilogy is 'Deities in my Garden' whereby Fay recalls personalities from old mythology used in the naming of generic taxa. Nomenclature is once again brought to life by Fays colourful and lively use of words. She delves into the dynamic mythology of those ancient Greek civilisations and recalls how Hebe was the goddess of youth, a daughter of Zeus and cup-bearer to the gods on Olympus. Her most special ability was to rejuvenate the heroes!

Fay convinces me that Greek mythology is by far the richest of the worlds mythology, the most precise and all embracing available to modern man.

Handbook For the Baffled GardenerThe third and final in this review 'Handbook for the Baffled Gardener' again deals with the origins of generic names commemorated by using Greek derivatives describing the flower, seed, tree, leaf, fruit, scent, colour etcetera.

I was intrigued by the derivation of the generic name Cyclamen. I had always thought it was from the Greek kyklos, a circle alluding to the peduncle of the flower as it sets seeds and coils downwards. Fay refers to the circular shape of the corm.

The genus Aloe is mentioned as being a tropical genus. In fact 150 species occur in the temperate regions of South Africa (E. van Jaarsveld pers. comm., 1996). According to 'Families of Monocotyledons' by Dahlgren et al. the rengarenga, Arthropodium has been placed in the family Anthericaceae and not Asphodelaceae.

Fay Clayton has most certainly succeeded in making what can often be a rather dry and heavy subject into one that is both informative and a joy to read. This trilogy is overflowing with fascinating facts, stories and is scholarly accurate.

I wholeheartedly recommend fellow gardeners and botanists to browse through them if you have the chance.

New Zealand Garden Journal: Journal of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture 1996 1(3): 30

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