Dg Hessayon

About to do some pruning? Read up on safety in the garden first. Photograph:hypertypos/Flickr/Some rights reserved

They look old fashioned, read old fashioned, have pipe-and-slippers coursing through them like a stick of Blackpool rock. But are these good enough reasons to ignore the books of DG Hessayon? I don't think so.

It's half a century since Dr Hessayon published his first 'Expert' guide to gardening, with their trademark tables, simple illustrations and no-nonsense prose. Those that shun them as mere gardening-by-numbers are missing the point. They are the gardening equivalent of the repair manual, belts and braces as opposed to froth, the polar opposite of the glossy coffee table book.

Recently, you might have wondered whether the franchise was running dry as the doctor published books on cats and garden trivia. But now, with the Green Garden Expert, he's back to his roots. Despite the dated appearance, you can't say that Hessayon doesn't move with the times.

The book is ambitious in its breadth. Perhaps overly so. There's everything here from the unfashionable, such as rockery planting and choosing conifers, to the horticulture du jour, vegetables and wildlife gardens. Though a fat volume by his standards, it races through subjects that elsewhere have had whole books devoted to them. Fruit growing, for example, is dealt with briskly in a handful of pages.

In other words, in style at least, it is typical Hessayon (David to his friends, in case you're asking what the D stands for). Hessayon has reduced a large subject to a series of useful lists, diagrams and bullet points - only this time he's looking at it from a green perspective.

In substance, though, you sometimes wonder whether his heart is really in it. Occasionally, even this venerable authority hits a duff note, suggesting he is unconvinced by some of this new age-y nonsense his publishers have forced him to cover. There is a table devoted to companion planting, for example, with the reason many of the plants grown together listed simply as 'unknown'. Later on in the book, we're told that wearing a tie while using the barbecue is not a good idea. And his nods to the use of glyphosate remind us that he once extolled the virtues of chemical fertilisers and weedkillers. His original publishers were Pan Britannica Industries, now part of Bayer, the German chemical company.

But like the majority of his books, there is plenty here that is useful, both for experienced gardeners who need a quick reference, and the novice who has no idea where to start. Meanwhile, Hessayon's forays into uncharted territory deserve some kind of credit. Take the section on the 'People Friendly' garden, with instructions on safety outdoors. It's tempting to snigger at the tips for using a deckchair (I did), but there's nothing funny about falling off a ladder. As for the diagrams on how to lift heavy loads, I wish I'd seen these a long time ago. A green Hessayon might at times be unconvincing, but as the good doctor reminds us, thousands of accidents happen each year in the garden, and 'merely going organic is not the answer'.

- The Green Garden Expert, by Dr DG Hessayon, is published by Transworld, priced £7.99.

D. G. Hessayon
BornDavid Gerald Hessayon
1928 (age 89–90)
NationalityBritish
OccupationAuthor, botanist
Known for"Expert Guides"

David Gerald Hessayon (born 1928) is a British author and botanist of Cypriot descent who is known for a best-selling series of gardening manuals known as the "Expert Guides" under his title Dr. D. G. Hessayon. The series started in 1958 with Be Your Own Gardening Expert and in 2008 it celebrated its 50th anniversary and the 50 millionth copy in print.[1] They have become the best selling gardening books in history.[2]

Early life[edit]

Hessayon is the son of a Cypriot landowner and grew up in Salford, Lancashire, England. He gained a Bachelor of Science degree in botany from Leeds University. In 1950, he travelled to the United States where he worked as the editor of a small town newspaper. In 1953, he went to the Gold Coast as a Research Fellow at the University College before returning to Manchester to obtain his doctorate in soil ecology. In 1955, he accepted a position as chief scientist with Pan Britannica Industries Ltd (PBI),[3] becoming chairman in 1972. It was whilst working for PBI that Dr. Hessayon formulated the idea for his "Expert" guides to gardening.

The "Expert" guides[edit]

A steady stream of publications followed the initial Be Your Own Gardening Expert, each maintaining the basic formula of down-to-earth writing with pictures, charts, and photographs. On the British bestsellers list for the 1980s, two Experts were in the Top 10. There are (as of 2009[update]) over 20 "Expert" titles in 22 languages and in Britain their sales continue to dominate the gardening paperback lists.[4]The Vegetable & Herb Expert[5] continues to be the best seller.

I would say that the Expert Books have been the biggest innovation in gardening publications since the death of William Robinson in 1938

— Dr. Brent Elliott, Librarian, Royal Horticultural Society, [6]

Recognition[edit]

In 1993, he received the first-ever Lifetime Achievement award at the British Book Awards. He was also awarded the Veitch Memorial Medal of the Royal Horticultural Society in 1992 for his contribution to the advancement and improvement of the science and practice of horticulture. In 1999, he was awarded a Guinness World Records certificate for being Britain’s "bestselling non-fiction author of the 1990s".[7]

Despite a resolve to stay out of the limelight,[8] he has received further awards- a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Garden Media Guild,[9] three honorary doctorates[10] and, in 2007, an OBE. In 2012 he was included in the Daily Mail list of "60 truly great Elizabethans" for "teaching millions of us how to garden".[11]

Notes[edit]

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