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Philip Miller, The gardeners dictionary : containing the methods of cultivating and improving the kitchen, fruit and flower garden. London: Printed for the author, 1731.DeBeer Ee/1731/M
Philip Miller, The gardeners dictionary : containing the methods of cultivating and improving the kitchen, fruit and flower garden. London: Printed for the author, 1731.
DeBeer Ee/1731/M

Garden dictionaries and encyclopaedias

In 1730 Philip Miller was asked by Nathan Bailey, the English lexicographer, to write the botanical entries for the Dictionarium Britannicum. With this prior experience Miller decided to produce his own Gardeners Dictionary (1731), a work that rivalled Bailey's in size, and covered all aspects of gardening (in kitchen- and flower-garden, orchard, greenhouse, and tree plantations), together with descriptions of plants, and essays on horticultural ‘science'. Miller's Gardeners Dictionary (1731) was the first comprehensive garden dictionary in English, and was written just before he became Curator of the Chelsea Physic Garden. It was the most influential gardening book of the 18th century, with readership aimed at the gentry and their head gardeners, clergy, academics and fellow members of the Royal Society. Eight up-dated editions were published before Miller's death in 1771. It weighed nearly 8 kg.

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This sixth edition of Miller's Gardeners Dictionary was the first to integrate the practical advice and plant descriptions in a single alphabetical sequence. Shortly after it appeared, Miller adapted the plant names to the new botanical nomenclature proposed by Carl Linnaeus, with whom he corresponded. The famous Rev. Gilbert White of Selborne paid £1 14s 6d for his copy of the sixth edition. For less wealthy gardeners, an abridged version in smaller format (costing 18s) appeared in 1735, concentrating on the plants and cultivation advice, and another smaller work, The Gardener's Kalendar, was published which sold for 4 shillings. While the first edition of The Gardeners Dictionary was dedicated to Sir Hans Sloane, who had endowed the Chelsea Physic Garden, Miller dedicated this sixth edition to the Earl of Northumberland. The frontispiece shows Britannia receiving the fruits of the earth.

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After Miller's death, the botanist Thomas Martyn spent 22 years updating The Gardeners Dictionary. It finally appeared in four folio volumes between 1803 and 1807, under the title The Gardener's and Botanist's Dictionary. In turn this was revised by George Don as the four volume work A General System of Gardening and Botany…founded upon Miller's Gardener's Dictionary (1831-8). It was not superseded until George Nicholson produced The Illustrated Dictionary of Gardening (1884-8) and its 1901 Century Supplement. In 1936 the Royal Horticultural Society of London commissioned Frederick Chittenden to assemble a replacement. It was finally completed by Patrick Synge and William Stearn in 1951 under the title Dictionary of Gardening; a practical and scientific Encyclopaedia of Horticulture. This second edition appeared in 1956, and a new version came out in 1992.

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It is estimated that John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) published approximately 60 million words on gardening, farming and architecture in encyclopaedias, books and periodicals during his lifetime. After his death (reputedly while he stood, dictating), his wife Jane continued their prolific output. Loudon began his career in 1803 as a landscape gardener, but after extensive travel in Europe (1811-1821), decided there was a market for a comprehensive work on gardening. In his preface to the resulting work An Encyclopaedia of Gardening (1822), he argued that existing garden dictionaries such as Martyn's had ignored ‘the subject of design, taste, and the arrangement of gardens', and neglected the influential writings of Uvedale Price and Humphry Repton, as well as the history of gardening. Loudon boasted that his single volume encyclopaedia contained more material than the four volumes of Miller's dictionary. Little relevant to gardeners or gardening was omitted, including instructions to garden employees on proper behaviour.

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