Story: Taylor, Edgar
Horticulturist, landscape architect
This biography was written by Rupert Tipples and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 3, 1996
Edgar Taylor was born at London, England, on 10 October 1886, the son of Ambrose Lloyd Taylor, a surveyor and landscape gardener, and his second wife, Sarah Tomkinson. Taylor was descended on his father's side from gardeners and land stewards in the service of the dukes of Bedford at Woburn Abbey. His father had trained at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and had had a distinguished gardening career.
The Taylor family arrived at Lyttelton, New Zealand, on the Ruapehu in May 1889. In October that year Ambrose Taylor was appointed head gardener at the Government Domain, Christchurch. Consequently Edgar Taylor grew up on the domain, which was renamed the Botanic Gardens in 1913. The family lived in the head gardener's house and Edgar helped his father in the gardens from an early age. He was educated at St Michael and All Angels School and at Christchurch West and Christchurch Normal School; he regularly won prizes for his art work.
About 1905 Taylor was working at the Hanmer Springs Nursery and Plantation, and in 1906 he began work for A. W. Buxton Limited, a firm of nurserymen and landscape gardeners; he was to stay with the firm for 20 years. From 1909 to 1912 he studied part-time at the Canterbury College School of Art under George Hart, culminating in his being awarded a diploma in landscape design from the Canterbury Society of Arts in 1912. That year, on 12 February, he married Edith Mathieson at Christchurch; they were to have one son.
This combination of design skills and a wide experience in gardening saw Taylor employed as Buxton's landscape draughtsman. In the following years he designed in conjunction with the firm's founder and principal shareholder, Alfred Buxton. Taylor tended to provide the design detail while Buxton secured the contracts and outlined the landscape plans. He prepared the first landscape plans for the parks and gardens at Caroline Bay, Timaru, in 1912 and for other public parks such as Masterton Park (Queen Elizabeth Park), Temuka Domain and Carterton's Memorial Square. He also designed many private gardens, both town and country. His early designs reflected the gardenesque style of J. C. Loudon, which favoured formal gravel paths and low box-hedging to emphasise complex flower beds. Taylor was influenced, too, by C. E. Mallows and Thomas Mawson, the English landscape architects, particularly in the designs for Panikau sheep station north of Gisborne in 1918 and in the varied pergolas he designed.
From 1916 to 1921 Taylor was based in Masterton for five months of each year working as the firm's North Island landscape manager. He became nursery manager in Christchurch in 1921. In 1926 A. W. Buxton Limited went into liquidation and from then until 1935 Taylor worked as an independent landscape designer, employing up to six men. He was awarded the national diploma in horticulture in 1927 and in 1933 began his first factory garden for the Sanitarium Health Food Company at Papanui, Christchurch. He was elected to the management committee of the Canterbury Horticultural Society in 1935 and in the same year designed an extension to the garden at the Edmonds baking powder factory. There was little demand for landscape designing during the depression, however, and although he continued to design part time he took a job as grounds supervisor at St Andrew's College in 1935.
In 1942 Taylor was employed by the Christchurch City Council as the first city landscape architect. He laid out a large number of grounds, parks and reserves, the most prominent being the banks of the Avon River; the New Brighton and Sumner foreshores; the Christchurch International Airport grounds; Ruru lawn cemetery; Woolston, St Albans and English parks; Redcliffs (Barnett Park) and Cuthbert's Green recreation reserves. Above all, his contribution to Christchurch was the trees he had planted in different parts of the city.
Taylor was a quiet, retiring man of medium height and slight build. Where landscaping and horticulture were concerned he was a perfectionist: his plans had to be carried out as specified and fools were never suffered gladly. He was very energetic and worked long hours, but working with him was considered a privilege. In addition to his horticultural interests, he painted landscapes and drew.
Taylor retired at the end of 1965 aged 79, but he continued to give his services to the Canterbury Horticultural Society as a judge of street and flower competitions. He was a committee member of the society for many years, a contribution that was acknowledged when he was made an associate of honour of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture in 1953. Edgar Taylor died in Christchurch on 22 July 1979 in his 93rd year. He was survived by his son. Edith Taylor had died in 1973.