The Front Garden

Recently I’ve mentioned the front garden, quite a lot, in my six on Saturday posts. However, I rarely feature it or show it off as there isn’t very much happening. It is set up to be low maintenance and requires very little attention. Drought tolerant plants and evergreens have been the order of the day. While it easy it lacks any razzle-dazzle. The current building work is going to change the front. The top half is being rerendered. Then the bottom half is having the windowsills redone and we will be painting the brick again.

The garden itself is North facing and shaded as a result for much of the day. A few doors down to the West there is a house with an overgrown Aucuba Japonica hedge that provides a bit of shelter from that direction and a bit more shade. The small border I believe is fairly shallow. I seem to remember there is a pipe going through both.

I’ve emptied part of the thin border ready for the scaffolding going up. There was a patch of lavender close to the house but this has got a bit scraggly so I removed it. Arum Italicum pops up along this border. I will probably dig it out. While I like the foliage it spreads quickly. The lavender at the other end I will probably relocate. It’s doing alright but it doesn’t really get enough sun to thrive. I quite fancy a few evergreen plants with shade-loving perennials or bulbs to add some excitement. Possibly some evergreen ferns and maybe a few hostas. Alternatively, the bin may end up where the lavender is. I’d like them tidied away behind a screen but can’t decide on the right spot to place them. I’d like the garden to look better but it still needs to be practical.

The opposite border is dominated by two hebes and next doors conifer. I imagine the conifer will go at some point as it is blocking their window now and the house side is starting to brown off. The hebes are evergreen and require little maintenance. I like how they give nice rolling domes of greenery all year. Lamprocapnus Spectabilis, bleeding heart, pokes out through the middle for a few weeks each year. However, the darker of the two hebes is dying off with more browned off patches. They don’t flower much anymore. So, I’m unsure whether to remove the one or both and whether to replace with like for like but smaller and healthier. Or whether to go with something different. The hebes suit the shaded conditions and sea winds but it will have the same issues that it will need replacing every 5-10 years potentially. The hebes don’t prune well so when they outgrow their space it causes an issue. I have the two Ilex Crenata Holly stokes that will also form neat domes but could be pruned back and shaped to form tight evergreen interest for the whole year. While they are getting established I could plant some filler plants in between.

In front of the windows, I’ve got two window boxes. As the wall will have just been redone I don’t want to attach these to the walls so I plan to look for some stone bricks to sit them on. The windows open out at the bottom so I can’t put anything too tall that can’t tolerate being brushed by the window opening in Summer. The window boxes are 50cm long while the window is just over a metre. So they’ll sit under the windowsill centrally. I’m thinking some ophiopogon and small ferns, mini hostas for these. I reckon they’ll only fit 3 or 4 small plants with maybe some bulbs coming through in Spring. Maybe something spilling over the edge but unsure of what yet.

As I’m in doubt of what to plant in the boxes I’m seeking the advice of an expert, the good Dr Hessayon. As ever it’s full of lots of solid food for thought. Then how to window box gives lots of design ideas for different styles.

The stones are full of weeds so this will need to come up. Then I’ll either be replacing the weed matting and stones or turning it into a large planting area. One of the hydrangea limelights is probably going to be in the middle. As it’s a small area I want plants with long seasons of interest and there are few flowering shrubs as good as the hydrangea for this. Even after the flowers go over they can still look attractive. It should also suit the shaded conditions well. The ground ends up covered in weeds and moss. I don’t know whether to try and turn this over to a moss garden Japanese style. Moss is of massive benefit to the environment acting as a big carbon sponge making this an attractive option. Any advice anyone?

I’ve probably got a month or two to make decisions so I can carry on with my daydreaming and rearranging in my head.

So the big decisions are:

  • Where the bins will go?
  • What to do with the hebes?
  • What is going in the windowboxes?
  • What am I going to do with the stones?

Anyone care to offer their thoughts?

Follow on Twitter.

The Plant Based Podcast review

Today a new gardening podcast came on the air. I was excited for the release of this as the two presenters Michael “Mr Plantgeek” Perry and Ellen Mary have always come across as knowledgeable and likeable people through their various outputs. Both push the boundaries of gardening in exciting directions. I’m also confident between them they will have many interesting connections to get guests on the show. It sounds like they’ll be looking to try and cover different ground to existing media and I reckon they will have a few surprises in store.

My love of gardening podcasts has been discussed on the blog before. It’s a format which surprisingly works well for something people would associate as being very visual.

The first three podcasts have all been launched together. In the first podcast, the duo interviewed Beverley Glover of Cambridge Botanic Garden. There was a good discussion on how we can help bees. I was reminded of the need to stick to single forms of most flowers to help bees. I generally don’t select double forms and do try to choose pollinator friendly forms. It was this desire to help wildlife that led to me having mass ox-eye daisies in the garden this year. They ended up spilling all over the border but I was rewarded with many visitors.

The second podcast was with vegan bodybuilder Paul Kerton. While I’m not about to go vegan with my low blood pressure and dietary problems a lot of interesting points were made. Most of all the need for people to see other peoples points of view.

The third podcast with Liz Browne from Urban Jungle Nursery. This covered a lot of topics that have been done to death in the gardening media recently. The return of the houseplant is all over the place. But the three of them together made for good listening. There was a nice shout out for Will Giles known for his exotic garden and books on the subject.

They went on a tangent to discuss how much of the gardening media is out of touch with younger gardeners. While I enjoy watching much of the traditional gardening shows. We aren’t all Monty with space for multiple garden areas. In the words of the Smiths, “Because the music that they constantly play. It says nothing to me about my life“.

Then a little discussion about taking houseplants outside in Summer to use as an alternative to traditional bedding plants. This is just what I’ve been planning to do with several spider pups and string of hearts cuttings destined for outside. I want to try a few more adventurous options on the patio. The aspidistra can have its Summer vacation as well.

All in all a very good start for a new podcast. Three episodes with very interesting podcasts. They kept my attention while I listened back to back cooking dinner. Three different but engaging guests. My only criticism is the volume went up and down during interviews but this is a common podcast problem.

The podcast is available through iPlayer and podcast player. There were quite a few named plant-based podcast but a search for plant-based podcast and Perry brought it up. Though I’m sure it will go up the rankings fast with popularity. Well worth checking out and I’m looking forward to seeing who else they interview.

Link to site.

Follow me on Twitter.

Six on Saturday: Big Garden Birdwatch

This weekend is the weekend of the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. The Birdwatch is held over one weekend in January each year. The results from this little piece of citizen science that gives valuable data on the ups and downs of birds in the UK. In preparation for doing my hour watch I have been working for the last few months to have the garden ready and as bird-friendly as possible.

1. Cleaning the feeders

Bird feeders should be cleaned regularly to cut down the spread of infection from birds visiting. In preparation for the birdwatch, I got a new long-handled feeder brush and spray to give my feeders a good clean. I find the birds seem to like this and I often see an increase in bird numbers after feeding.

2. Increasing the feeders

During Winter I increase my number of feeders to help support the birds who may be struggling. During warmer months there is plenty of readily available food for the birds.

3. Increasing the variety

Different birds like different food. Some eat on the ground, some can hang from feeders, others need a solid stand. In order to accommodate this, I put out a variety of feeders and types of food.

Suet seems to be a good all-round choice. It gives a solid energy burst without the birds having to spend much effort.

A good quality seed mix is popular among many of the birds visiting.

Nyger is popular with the finches.

Sunflower seeds are again popular with the finches and many of the smaller birds.

The ground feeders are good for pigeons and blackbirds.

Meat brings in the corvids.

Just about anything brings in the gulls.

4. Water

While many people feed the birds not as many supply a drink. I’ve been having to crack the surface each day. A ball in the bowl can stop freezing but the gulls round mine fling them out.

5. The kit

No good doing a count without being able to see and identify. I’ve got my binoculars ready.

Alice has been out the last few weekends practising. After a year she has started holding them the right way round.

The cameras telephoto lens is ready. Then the trail camera is set up closer to the action.

6. The snacks

Time to put my feet up to enjoy a cuppa and snacks and see how many birds I can count.

Hope you have enjoyed my six. If you fancy taking part you can find details on the RSPB website. My results will follow later. Wish me luck!

Follow me on Twitter.

 

Alice is already making notes and drawing what she’s seen.

 

Six on Saturday: 12.1.19

The days are getting longer now. I’ve travelled home during daylight a few days this week. The first day back at work with the children has been nice, though we now have building work in the classroom and at home. No escaping. Good to be the weekend now and have some time to check over the garden.

1. Primulas

I’m not a massive fan of primulas. I mainly see them in Council bedding schemes with a lurid range of colours. But I’ve kept a few yellow and white varieties close to the wilder varieties. I considered removing them last year, but blog readers encouraged me to divide them and leave them in. I still can’t say they excite me, but it is a few flowers at a point where little is happening.


2. Crocus

With the building work going on I’d moved a few pots off the patio and onto the border. I’ve a suspicion that I may have crushed some of my existing croci. So I’ve added a few cheap ones from the local florist.


3. Fern-Dryopteris Affinis

Another purchase from the florist, I found this fern discounted as it has browned a bit. But once new fronds come along it will be fine. I currently have one patch of ferns under the Acre. I want to add some in the opposite border along with a few hostas. This will add some cohesion to the borders. Then with the planned ferns and hostas on the patio, this will hopefully tie the two layers together a bit. I won’t plant this yet though. I’ll let the weather warm up a bit first. Golden shield fern has the traditional look of ferns fronds and grows about a metre long. An attractive foliage plant that should look good combined with the hostas wider leaves.


4. Camellia buds

The established camellia is awash with buds. This is a white-flowered variety. It suffered from frost last year and many of the flowers had rather unsightly brown edges. It probably needs protecting with fleece, but I don’t really want large plants that aren’t hardy enough. We’ll see how it goes this year and decide it if gets the chop.

The less established I think was called Christmas Rose. It has red flowers. But it hasn’t produced any yet. It is looking a bit scruffy, but it does have buds this year. Again, I’m looking to see if it pays its way or whether it also faces the chop. I’m not a massive fan of them, so wouldn’t miss them much.


5. Lychnis Coronaria-Rose campion

Having cleared some ground over the last few weeks I can see the mass number of self-seeded Lychnis. Luckily, I like this plant but I will need to move some around the border. The mass of pink flowers kept going for a long period through last Summer and attracted lots of insects.

They are pretty well covered in dust from the render coming off, but a bit of wind and rain I’m sure will remove some of this. Once they put on new growth I’m confident they will look a bit healthier.


6. Dahlias-Naomi Slade

It’s time to rest now and dream of Summer. In preparation for that, I am reading Naomi Slade’s beautiful book. With lots of stunning photos it acts as a catalogue of dahlias to buy. But on top of the eye candy it has lots of information to go alongside. I’ve never grown dahlias before so this will be my first year. I’ve got a collection Sarah Raven sells to grow in pots on preorder. They are shorter varieties that don’t need as much staking land and can handle the confines of the pot to go on the patio. After reading this I’m sure I’ll want to add some to the borders as well. What dahlias are you planning this year?

So now it’s just patience of waiting for the weather to warm up to get started on the dahlias and other seed sowings. So enjoy your weekends and good gardening!

Follow on Twitter.

7 Days of Wild Christmas: Day 7 Wildflower Hunt

Today is the last day of the Wildlife Trusts 7 days of Wild Christmas. It has been fun blogging daily again about our wildlife experiences, but it is time consuming blogging each day. So while my engagement with nature won’t stop the daily blogs will.

Moon Gazing

The day started early with Alice up at six. She is sleeping through on her own now most night so while it was an early start at least we’re not being woken up several times a night. As soon as Alice got downstairs she checked out the window. She is currently a bit obsessed with looking for the moon but lately, it has been too cloudy. So she was very excited to see stars and the moon this morning. We’ll have to spend a bit more time on astronomy rather than our usual biology studies.

New Years Plant Hunt

Today Alice and I got out for a walk to leave Amy to get on with some of her teacher prep. I haven’t done my New Year Plant Hunt for the BSBI so I thought today was the day. Last year we were up at Robin Hood’s Bay, so we saw no end of gorse. We headed out through the local park initially.

Alice was in a cheeky mood.

In the park, we found daisies, groundsel, and a small white flower I need to check up.

Alice told me the birds were singing and we managed to find the source of the singing.

We walked through town spotting a good spread of Winter heliotrope, a form of forget-me-not, and Herb Robert. I’m going to have to dig out the wildflower key to check it up.

Then we headed for home back along the seafront spotting another patch of winter heliotrope.

Not a massive number of species, but not bad for a walk just through town. Before I took part in 30 days wild I wouldn’t have known the names of most of these or even probably noticed them. So the fact that I can now name some of them shows some progress. It’s a simple joy spotting and being able to name elements of our natural world. Then by submitting my sightings I help contribute to the BBSI knowledge of seasonal shifts.

#WaveofWhales

The author Nicola Davies has called for a protest on Japan’s decision to resume whaling. She is requesting people send pictures, paintings and drawings to the Japanese ambassador to show opposition to this backwards step. I talked to Alice about the news story that whales would be killed and her answer was “Why?” A question I can’t really answer. Should you want an activity to do during the holiday this seems like a good activity to do with children and teach them responsibility for our world. Alternatively a good task for teachers when we return to school.

Post to be sent to Ambassador Koji Tsuruoka, Embassy of Japan 101-104 Piccadilly London W1J 7JT

Alice reading the snail and the whale

I was considering making seedballs today as got all the components ready, but after our walk, Alice just wants to colour and watch some Fireman Sam. As ever, Norman Price caused havoc. It really is time to look at pre-empting the trouble and look at getting Norman into a young offenders institute. At the very least Dilys should be getting monitored by social services for irresponsible parenting. I may get round to making seedballs later in the week but for anyone who fancies it here is a guide.

I hope you’ve all enjoyed my return to taking part in the acts of wild. The Wildlife Trusts 30 Days wild will return in June. While I won’t be blogging the same quantity enjoying the natural world will still continue. From taking part in 30 days wild taking joy from nature has become pretty ingrained in my daily practice.

Follow me on Twitter.

7 Days of Wild Christmas: Day 6 Field Guide to Fantastic Beasts

The seven days are going quickly. After writing about cutting down my environmental impact I saw this article on people who have gone that extra mile. While I don’t think Amy is ready to part with her electric toothbrush it is inspiring to read how other people have made the shift to reducing their waste.

Inspired by Alice’s love of stickman I thought I’d look at some other sources of mystical creatures outside. While the actual wildlife outside brings me a lot of joy I don’t mind adding a fantasy element to journeys outside. After the holiday I am going to be sharing the story Zog by Julia Donaldson. This is the story of a young dragon learning its school lessons. Alongside this, I have plans for setting up a few fantasy elements outside.

Here are three books I’ve found make for excellent inspiration for children’s imagination with the intention of searching for magic outside.

  • Fantastic Beasts and where to find them-J.K. Rowling
  • Arthur Spiderwick’s field guide- Tony DiTerlizzi & Holly Black
  • The Lost Words-Robert MacFarlane & Jackie Morris

J.K. Rowling’s books are probably a bit above Alice’s level at 2 years old but for the five-year-olds at school, the odd entry will inspire some hunting outside I hope. The children have been finding lots of trolls under the bridge (climbing frame) and their interest in unicorns is still high. Hopefully introducing them to a few more beasts may develop their plots a bit further.

The lost words is a beautiful book for encouraging people to get out into nature. While this one doesn’t have the fantasy element the poems work as spells to summon the various entries. If you want to encourage writing in slightly older children this is an excellent source of inspiration. But for the younger children, there is plenty of enjoyment to be found in the gorgeous illustrations. Alongside this, I plan to use Jackie Morris Tell me a dragon for some furth inspiration. This, again, has beautiful illustrations for inspiration.

For parents and teachers wanting further ideas look on the John Muir Trust website.

The last of the three books, the field guide, is based on the Spiderwick Chronicles series of books. The field guide is another beautifully illustrated book with sketches and paintings of beasts to find and notes on where to look.

Then on top of the books, you need your beast hunting kit. A notebook for field notes. Binoculars and magnifying glasses come in use. Then a pocket wand is always useful. If you don’t own a pocket wand sticks are often available outside. Alice reminded me we need a camera as well to record our sightings.

We’ve got family visiting today but hopefully get out later to look for signs of beasts. Equipped with knowledge of what to look for and kitted up who knows what we’ll find. Hope you all enjoy the last few days of 2018.

Follow on Twitter.

beast kit

7 Days of Wild Christmas: day 5 cutting the damage

Not all the wild acts involved in the Wild Life Trusts initiative involve getting outside. Some encourage looking closer to home at our impact on the environment.

One of the wild acts I started on back as part of 30 days wild was to start using more eco-friendly products. We use Tesco’s own brand Eco-Active products to cut down the harmful chemicals we are washing down the drains.

Amy attended an Norwex cleaning party earlier in the year and shifted to an alternative wash powder. A bit like an old-fashioned tupaware party women are encouraged into a pyramid scheme of selling eco products. The enviro cloth is supposed to cut down the need for surface sprays and the need for kitchen roll that adds to landfill. The silver it contains is supposed to act as a microbial agent and reduce the smell of the cloth. They claim to remove 99.9% of bacteria. These claims are clearly nonsense as is their faith in silver. However, it does wipe well and we have no werewolves in the kitchen as a bonus.

Also from Norwex, we changed to their laundry detergent. This doesn’t contain as many bulking agents or harmful chemicals as normal detergents. The Norwex speel is that normal wash powders contain unnecessary chemicals designed just to make bubbles to convince you they are doing their jobs. Norwex has no scent which was the biggest change using it. We add a few drops of essential oils to it so the washing comes out with that fresh wash smell. It does do the job though. Clothes come out feeling clean and we haven’t had any issues of allergies.

In the bathroom, we started to use eco-friendly spray and toilet cleaner. The toilet cleaner isn’t really as powerful as standard bleach. But it isn’t supposed to be causing as much damage polluting our waterways.

Amy made the shift back to bars of soap for washing with in the shower. Though we haven’t been as good with this one as other steps we took. These soap bars came in cardboard packaging with paper wrapping rather than the plastic liquid soaps come in of the plastic wrap many soap bars have. So right down to the packaging, it pushes better eco credentials.

Then the must-have eco product of 2018, the water bottle. I’ve never really bought mineral water in one use bottles. I’ve used reusable bottles for a long time as a tight fisted Yorkshire resident. At work, I try to keep my self hydrated through the day and this has lasted me a good while.

Within the gardening industry, there is a lot of plastic waste. This has been examined well within Gardener’s World this year with Monty cutting down the waste at Longmeadow. One product I’ve bought to cut this back is a Burgon & Ball pot maker. These make paper pots to start my seedlings in.

It doesn’t look exactly like the product photos as the photos from the site show a metal cap on the top, which this doesn’t have. This won’t affect the functionality of it though. The reason I bought this one over several of the competitors was that it makes 3 different sizes while many just do one.

These might only be little steps in cutting my damage to the world, but every step helps. The more people buy eco-products, the more it sends a message that people want to make a difference. Then they become more readily available until they become the norm. If you’ve bought a real Christmas tree this year here is an interesting article on how these trees could be put to use after the Christmas period.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-46647790

Follow me on Twitter.

Six on Saturday: 15.12.18 lily love

Having claimed several times I was done with bulb planting the bulb sales begun. At up to 50% off who could resist. I’ve already got a lot of tulips in, a number of alliums, crocus, daffodils, irises, so it’s time for some new lilies. These are all going in pots for the patio. The advantage being they can be moved to prominent positions as they come into flower. While I probably shouldn’t be creating more pots while the building work goes on who can resist a bargain?

“Remember the most beautiful things in this world are the most useless; peacocks and lilies for instance.”

John Ruskin

1. Lily martagon Arabian knights

The first of two varieties of martagon lilies. Orange isn’t a colour I have much of in the garden. I have a bright orange Asiatic lily that was as neon bright as anything in the garden this year. Then a few yellow plants. The rose is the finest.

I’d considered keeping a limited colour palette but that’s frankly a bit boring. Sometimes referred to as Turk’s cap lily because of the reflexed shape of the petals. They’ll offer a bit of variety to the mix.

2. Lily martagon pink morning

Continuing with a second martagon lily these can grow quite tall so they’ve been given fairly large pots for a single bulb. Martagon lilies were amongst the first grown in British gardens going back as far as the 1500s. They grow happily between shrubs and woodland, so will hopefully be happy surrounded by other pots of ferns and hostas with a few shrubs in pots. The dappled pink will provide a nice colour burst amongst the foliage. Both of these martagon lilies are recommended for fragrance. The scent is important close to the house where it’s more likely to be encountered.

3. Sarah Raven scented lily collection

I’d forgotten I’d ordered these. They were a cheap offer with another order. The set contains a lily regale, Casa Blanca and Muscadet. These are all white varieties. The Casa Blanca is a large highly scented lily. The regale has a trumpet-shaped white flower with a yellow centre. The Muscadet is white with pink speckles. It looks similar to the lily solution I grew this year.

Lily solution

4. Alliums nigrum

Moving away from the lilies these alliums were reduced. A nice dome shaped flower head. It has quite a wild look. They can naturalise as part of meadow planting. I’ve planted them into the border.

5. Niwaki snips

I treated myself to some better snips. I’ve asked for Niwaki secateurs for Christmas. I’m gradually working to get the best tools I can afford. Good quality sharp tools like these make jobs easier and hopefully will last longer. I’ve only had a chance to do a few quick jobs but happy so far. Cut through stems with ease. They feel comfortable and the locking strap seems good.

6. Fuchsia cuttings

I had space in the propagator as my climbing hydrangea cuttings didn’t take. So I’ve put my new snips to work on fuchsia cuttings. They apparently root easily. While not a massive fuchsia fan this has flowered well in its pot well into December. The other two pots are a small leaved honeysuckle variety with delicate flowers I took from my parents garden. They seem to have rooted well now and I’m now pricking out to keep the size down until Spring when they can go outside.

Hope you enjoy your weekends and good gardening to all of you.

Follow on Twitter

Six on Saturday: 8.12.18 Chaos in the garden

The work on the house has begun. The rendering is being redone. This will be followed by the patio being paved. It should improve the area no end. The patio was cleared last week leaving chaos all over.

1. The pots

I needed to move the pots off, so these are now spread around. I got a lot around the bench. Then some have been put in the border.

2. The lawn

I couldn’t avoid having to put some things on the lawn. The builders in and out in this weather will churn it up but it can’t be helped. One corner I was planning to dig out to put the small round table from the patio on. Then we’ll look at a bigger table on the new patio. The lawn will recover quickly enough though I’m sure.

3. The walls

Much of the rendering is off. The builders have been very neat packing up so far.

4. More hostas

After saying I’d picked up bargain hostas last week I ended up buying more this week. I have enough now to put a few in the border and some in pots on the patio to tie it all together.

5. Alliums

I’ve got two of these Tesco allium pots. They’ll add a bit of Summer colour amongst the planned foliage of hostas and ferns.

6. The view from above

The view from above shows the mess of the patio being cleared and the state of the concrete. I’m looking forward to completion and getting it all back in order.

Just a quick one form me. I hope you all have good gardening. I’ve got a few more lilies to plant in pots now the bulb sales have begun. We’re up to 50% off. So may end with a few more bargains.

Follow on Twitter.

Dr Hessayon: the most famous writer nobody knows

This blog is prompted by a discussion on who did the illustrations for the expert series. The expert series is a series of books written by Dr David Hessayon. They are best sellers. It has been estimated that one in two households own one of his gardening books. It has been estimated that one in two households own one of his gardening books. The Guinness book of records listed him as the best selling non-fiction writer of all time. I’ve tried using the power of the internet to find out about the illustrations with no success.

Right in the middle of the in-laws gardening shelf-an expert guide

The illustrations in the books are clear and demonstrate exactly what you need to know. Many more modern styles don’t communicate their meaning in the way these books do. The houseplant expert is still regarded as the houseplant “bible” by many. Commissioning illustrations for books like this is costly. The illustrator either has to have a good knowledge of the subject or be directed in what is required. Sadly, I have got no further with discovering what work went into these books, but I have read a lot of stories on Hessayon. For one of the most successful garden writers of all time, there is little information about the man. He is, apparently, famously reclusive. I’ve managed to connect a few dots together from the internet. I can’t speak to the accuracy of some of the sources, but interesting nevertheless.

My copy of the houseplant “bible”

I was vaguely aware that he had made a fortune, but little beyond that. The story is engaging but tinted with sadness at what may have been lost with his retirement from writing.

David Gerald Hessayon was born on February 13th 1928 in Manchester. His Cypriot father, Jack, was a watchmaker. He lost his mother, Lena, when he was six. A fact he attributes to part of his success.

A kid says in his mind, “It’s a bloody unfair world and if I’m not smart, things could turn out even worse”. I think that’s true for me. I knew that things do happen, that it’s not a bed of roses and that you’re going to have to fight to survive. Life has got a cruel edge.

David describes the garden as just a little plot with four square beds, some lilies and a hydrangea. As his father’s health wasn’t too good he helped. It wasn’t so much for a love of gardening, but for a love of his father. Which, as a father I certainly know Alice comes to help me for the positive attention she gains in that time.

He attended Salford Grammar School. The school which amongst others has given us: Albert Finney, Peter Hook, Mike Leigh and David Quinn. He grew up helping look after his fathers small garden.

“I was blessed by being poor,” said Dr Hessayon, who prefers to be called Dave. “We had no money, but my father’s great love was this little garden in front of the house. I gardened from five years old to please him.

“Each plant was a green pet and I got to know everyone. It sounds mad, but having so few and not having money to start again, you appreciated each plant.”

David studied Botany and Chemistry at Leeds University, graduating in 1950. He worked as an assistant lecturer in Manchester and then gained his PhD in soil ecology at Manchester University. The PhD document was one of the reasons for becoming an author.

‘It was green with gold letters on it…. I thought, “This is what I want to do”.

In 1949 he met his U.S. born future wife Joan. He went to work for her father in a Missouri newspaper. They married April 2nd 1951. Over the years they have had two daughters: Angelina and Jacqueline.

In 1955 he began work at Pan Brittanica Industries (PBI). Here he made agrochemicals. The company is best known for Baby Bio, a product familiar to almost all gardeners. In 1959 he bought out his first book, through PBI, “Be your own gardening expert”. The basic idea of these books was “easy to follow advice and information you can trust.

“The real secret of my work is that people feel at ease with them. People say they are the kind of books which they could have written themselves, which is really the best compliment.”

Over the years I believe 28 books have been published covering pretty much any aspect of gardening you could want information on. As already said, the houseplant expert is considered a definitive text. The books don’t suffer from fashions. There are mentions of rock gardens, gravel gardens, houseplants and other styles that have gone in and out of fashion. If there is something you fancy doing with your garden chances are Hessayon wrote about it. The presentation of the books is probably seen as quite old-fashioned. But, the illustrations and text give you exactly the information needed.

Some of the book push gardening techniques that are unpopular now. As an employee of an agrochemical company and later managing director (1964-91) and then chairman of the board (973-1993), the book often push weed killers that are no longer legal or considered good gardening practice. That said, you can still read and choose the techniques you want to use.

In 1993 a legal case was made against the company claiming the chemicals potentially caused cancer. It’s interesting looking back on the case in light of the recent Monsanto case. In this case, Monsanto is paying out despite no conclusive direct link being made to cancer. While I do garden without the use of weedkiller I’ve found the case interesting for its success and changing attitudes. The case against PBI, however, was dropped.

Many of the chemicals PBI produced have been banned by EU regulations. Hessayon has been outspoken about the regulations on these chemicals. Time will tell whether the agrochemical companies can create more products that conform to regulations. Or will we see more biological controls such as nematodes?

Charity shop bargain find

The irony of Hessayon writing the “green garden” in 2009 was commented on by many reviewers (thinking gardens review). In 2010 B&Q withdrew the expert series from their shelves in favour of Alan Titchmarsh’s how to garden series, despite significantly fewer sales. The Titchmarsh books covered the same subjects, had similar covers, but sold for £1 cheaper. I own a few and they are nice introductions to the subjects, but sadly don’t contain as much detail as Hessayon expert books.

David has criticised some of the TV garden makeover shows for the damage they have done to gardening. Which I have to say shows like ground force presented a fairly unrealistic version of gardening. A step away from the unrealism of a Chelsea show garden. One of the few shows of that style I’ve enjoyed was Monty Don’s Big dreams, small space. But this revisited gardens over a good period, so the gardens had time to develop. It also gave us Jack Wallington’s wonderful fern wall.

“People were expected to make a garden in less than 48 hours ‘before your wife gets back’. But in that time you could do nothing. You couldn’t even get the soil ready for a lawn. So I didn’t think much of that. The gameshow makeover garden in 48 hours was not very amusing.”

In 2013 he announced his retirement from writing. He listed the internet as one of the reasons for the demise of the gardening book. If people want to look something up they no longer need a book, they can look it up online. Sad, but probably true. If you look at the best selling garden books they are largely either TV gardeners or coffee table books of the Instagram kind. The actual content is often lacking. Not always, I refer to Carol Klein’s book on propagation regularly and Monty’s down to earth had lots of useful information. But many releases are now style over content. Plants being placed in the wrong places to create a good photo. His statement that to sell a book it needs to be something you can’t find on google is probably true. But, it saddens me that new gardeners may miss out on book knowledge gained from books like the expert series. Advice online differs massively in quality (my own included). Whereas Hesssayon is a qualified expert. While there are many sources of excellent information online it feels like something has been lost.

“Now it’s look at my garden or look at other people’s gardens. To write a bestseller now you need to choose something you can’t look up on Google.”

Davids contributions to gardening have been well recognised with the RHS Veitch memorial wedding in 1993. This is awarded to people who have made outstanding contributions to science and horticulture. Also in 1993, he received the National Book Awards lifetime achievement award. Then in 2007, he received an OBE.

“At 80 you run out of ambitions. I never had great ambitions. But I’ve been damn lucky. When you’ve been at the top of the bestseller lists for 50 years, you run out of ambitions.”

So having spent an afternoon reading through the various online sources I still don’t feel like I’ve even scratched the surface of this gardening legend. I apologise for any inaccuracies. I can only go off the limited information on this reclusive man available online. If anyone has any further information I will happily correct any mistakes. For now, I would like to thank David for the information he shared with many of us over the years. For those of you who have never encountered them check your charity shops and used and new on Amazon. For those of you familiar with the books what’s your favourite?

Follow on twitter.
Competition

I have one copy of the expert guide to houseplants. If you are interested check my Twitter and retweet and like the pinned post. Running until the end of Geo-Fleur’s Kickstarter campaign. It’s all or nothing with Kickstarter. The campaign is still off target, so please share. Even if you don’t want to pledge to Geo-Fleur, you have the chance to win a very useful book.