Obituary: Anthony Huxley

Anthony Julian Huxley, horticulturist, botanist, writer and photographer, born 2 December 1920, editor Amateur Gardening 1967-71, general editor Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary of Gardening 1988-92, Vice-President Royal Horticultural Society 1991, books include Flowers in Greece: an outline of the Flora 1964, Mountain Flowers 1967, House Plants, Cacti and Succulents 1972, married 1943 Ann Taylor (three daughters; marriage dissolved 1974), 1974 Alyson Archibald (one daughter), died Surbiton Surrey 26 December 1992.

WITH ANTHONY HUXLEY's death the garden world has lost one of its most distinguished and knowledgeable servants, who earned his reputation more by his pen than his spade.

Born in 1920, Anthony Huxley spent much of his childhood at London Zoo in Regent's Park where his father, Sir Julian Huxley, was secretary. He was educated at Dauntsey's School and Trinity College, Cambridge, spending 10 post-Cambridge years as a 'boffin' with the RAF and the Ministry of Aircraft, and a short spell with BOAC. In 1949 he began a 22-year association with the mass-selling weekly Amateur Gardening, resigning as its editor in 1971 in order to concentrate more on his own writing.

Huxley's name is synonymous with erudition and correctness. His books reflect an unquenchable interest in travel (as much for plants as for nature) although at home he remained a devoted committee man, journalist, editor, lecturer and general horticultural factotum - talents fully recognised by the Royal Horticultural Society's highest awards. He brought a botanist's mind to the garden and indulged himself in the encyclopaedic world of plants. Seeking directions to his house in suburban London several years ago, I was told to 'proceed along Villiers Avenue until you come across a front garden resembling a Douanier Rousseau painting'. There was no mistaking the jungle of tropical-looking Gunnera manicata - never commonplace in Surbiton.

Huxley wrote, co-wrote or compiled almost 40 books. In 1978 he published Plant and Planet, an immensely readable exposition of the botanical kingdom and its essential bearing on all human activity. This was exactly the sort of text, an equivalent perhaps to David Attenborough's television programmes - scientific in approach yet accessible to the layman - which has done so much to highlight global problems and focus necessary attention on them. He was in the vanguard of the conservation movement, being quick, for instance, to discourage the plunder of wild bulbs in the wild. An article he wrote for an early issue of Hortus entitled 'Leave the Trowel at Home (take camera instead)' sounded a timely warning in the acquisitive 1980s when 'botanical tours' were becoming abundant: 'Patience is what needs exercising, and it is a pity that a handful of growers, mostly cactus and orchid fanciers, should find themselves lacking in this, continuing to create a demand for plants taken from the wild.'

Wild flowers (with cacti and what we have come to call house plants) were a passion with Huxley. He enjoyed writing about them as much as he wrote about cultivated plants. With his friend Oleg Polunin he wrote Flowers of the Mediterranean (1965), with Dr William Taylor there was Flowers of Greece and the Aegean (1977), and with Paul and Jenne Davies he brought out Wild Orchids of Britain and Europe (1983).

Above all, I think, it was Huxley's spirit of friendship which made him the success he was. By enthusiasm alone he could sometimes persuade people to take on certain jobs, and curiously - for it seldom works in reverse - he could be just as easily motivated by other people's enthusiastic approach when they sought some task from him.

There is no doubting that his last great publishing commission, as general editor of the massive four-volume New Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary of Gardening, sapped a great deal of Anthony's energy during his last illness. Although he did live to see its publication this year he made no secret of the angst its preparation caused him. Two years ago I asked him if he would write for Hortus an account of this remarkable book's genesis. His reply, dated December 1990, says, 'A discourse on how the job was achieved might be refreshing but probably libellous . . .'

Despite the dictionary's flaws (he was exasperated by errors which could have been corrected), it stands as a permanent memorial to a man whose marshalling of people and plants was seemingly easy and equally efficient.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment & HR Administrator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Business Partner

£55 - 65k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A HR Manager / HR Business Partner i...

Recruitment Genius: Senior HR Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company's vision is to be t...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most