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Dr. D. G. Hessayon, I presume?

What's your favourite?

Do you remember the first ever gardening book you brought? I can vividly recall mine. It was The Indoor Plant Spotter by Dr. D.G. Hessayon, which I acquired from Reg Taylor’s Garden Centre, Southwell, Nottinghamshire in 1985. Back then I was a teenage house plant fanatic wanting help to identify plants and this newly published book, which was packed full of pics, illustrations, bite-sized bits of copy and sexy botanical names was just what I was looking for.

The simple formula of THAT title really appealed to me, so I snapped up The Bedding Plant Expert, followed by The Tree & Shrub Expert and then many others. Today, 17 sit on a shelf in my office, along with several earlier ‘flatties’ (slim volumes that were stapled together) that I‘ve unearthed in second hand book shops. This includes a 1967 edition of Be Your Own Houseplant Expert and the Vegetable Plotter from 1977.

Despite falling under the spell of the Expert series, I doubted the existence of the man himself. For many years I thought that Dr. D.G. Hessayon was a name made up by the publishing company or a nom de plume for a ghost writer. After all, Dr.D.G. Hessayon never appeared on television or in magazines, the name simply appeared on those instantly recognisable books. However, any doubts were extinguished when I worked for Amateur Gardening back in the late 1990s – I spoke to the Dr or Dave (as he signs his name) on the telephone for a story I was putting together about him landing a Guinness World Record for becoming the best-selling living author of the 1990s.

Anyway, why am I waxing lyrical about the enigmatic Dr H? Well, at the weekend his latest book, The Best of Experts, landed on my doormat. Essentially a ‘Greatest Hits’, this compilation is jam-packed with his favourite bits chosen from all of the books published over the years (I’m not sure how many that is, but there’s a whopping 23 titles still in print).

Flicking through the book I noticed that my favourite item hasn’t been included. This appears in the 2000 version of The Vegetable and Fruit Expert. Back then garlic was relegated to a short paragraph in the herb section, with the good Doctor warning the faint hearted: ‘If you are a beginner with garlic, you must use it very sparingly or you will be put off for ever’. Blimey. Gord knows what the Doc would have made of chilli peppers. Well, as luck would have it, the answer is provided in the very same volume. ‘Take care – these hot peppers can make your throat burn, eyes water and skin sting if you’re not used to eating or handling them’…What??? Were chilli peppers really considered such an exotic veg just a decade ago?

Despite nannying like this a little too often for my liking and still making use of pictures taken in the 1970s (those in The House Plant Expert Book Two, published in 2005, are sooo dated, featuring homes with swirling paisley carpets), I love the Expert books. They are dependable, honest and a constant in a rapidly changing world.

Over to you…

What was the first Dr. D.G. Hessayon book you ever brought? Do you have a favourite bit from an Expert book? Is garlic dangerous? Have you ever met Dr. D.G Hessayon? Please share your thoughts by posting a comment below.

20 comments to Dr. D. G. Hessayon, I presume?

  • We were looking at one of the veg ones at the weekend. My partner relies on it. I always feel disappointed at the quality of the illustrations – they seem abit faded.

  • T’was the Tree and Shrub Expert pour moi – always carried it in the van for a quick.

    I also had another rather more detailed encyclopaedia (name escapes me) for the advanced plant names.

  • I got 3 of them and the RHS encyclopedia with book tokens I got for winning a prize at college, – think they were Tree and Shrub, the Lawn expert and the houseplant expert. – Now have about 8 of them. Still think they are great

  • I think my first DGH was the Container Expert: I member studying the “don’t do this” images of unattractive containers. Agreed that the images are often dated in those volumes, but the advice is absolutely, brilliantly practical and memorable. My all-time favorites are the Rose Expert, which I’ve just about memorized, and the Garden Revival expert. The man knows how to write.

    Sheila Averbuch — Stopwatch Gardener

  • I’ve got three of them. Tree and Shrub expert was my first too. I seem to think that I had the idea that the new Alan Titchmarsh series looked suspiciously like them.

  • I have the houseplant guide and I use it all the time!

  • My first was the Veg and Herb Expert. It is invaluable for spacings and depths of planting and for identifying problems, although I can’t look at some of the pictures, they are so horrible! I read other gardening books for inspiration and for enjoyment, but when I want hard information it is Dr D.G.H. every time.

  • Hi Martyn,

    The first Hessayon book that I bought was ‘The House Plant Expert’ which I picked up from a charity shop. It’s an edition from 1980 with the original price sticker of £2.95 still intact. It’s pretty horrid in terms of the illustrations but a good intro and starting point for gardeners.

    Are you not cautious with your Garlic Martyn? You must live life on the edge!


  • Helen – I really like the Veg Expert – it was my bible down at the allotment one summer.
    Phil – Tree and Shrub Expert was my first book on that subject, followed by the Hillier manual.
    Claire- You can never have too many Expert books.
    Sheila- Dr DGH is a genius. I’d have loved to have come up with the idea for the books.
    Arabella-No, I’m sure they’re nothing like them.
    Liza-the Houseplant Expert is the book that keeps on giving for life.
    Gilly-I couldn’t agree more.
    Ryan-I live life so on the edge here that I even leave whole crushed garlic cloves in my food, rather than fish them out before serving.

  • I think it was the houseplant expert for me. Not a huge fan, but yes dependable, I suppose, and prob due a revival of some sort.
    I did once though, entirely unsolicited, receive a copy of one of them through the post signed ‘To Lia, from Dave x’. Had me stumped for a while – who on earth is this Dave? Really rather over familiar for a first contact and not at all fitting with my image of the man. It may even say ‘love from Dave’ or I may have imagined this…will check and get back to you.

  • Jane Powers

    I think he used to sign them “regards, Dave”, although maybe Lia occupied a special place in his heart, and merited an “x”. The first one I acquired had belonged to my sister’s boyfriend, who worked for the Beeb. His was inscribed “to Paul…” The thing is that the Paul in question wasn’t a gardener, far from it. So Dr H must have signed dozens (hundreds) of press copies every time he published a book. I knew I had arrived as a journalist when my own arrived: “to Jane…”

  • Ah yes. There were always a few Hessayons around the house as I was growing up – affordable and useful; my first Hessayon was the Indoor Plant expert, which I still have. I used to buy them at Woolworths. The first gardening book I bought, however, was one on growing herbs. It really grabbed my attention and for a couple of my teenage years I was really into growing herbs, and planned to become a herb-selling multi-millionaire. Ahhhh, the dreams of youth. I don’t suppose there are any multi-millionaires who made their money growing herbs.

  • I think that Flowers was mine but I am so crushed by the fact that swirling Paisley carpets are apparently dated!

  • Never knowingly bought one, but sometimes refer to the review copies I get, always, as you say, signed ‘Dave.’
    They are excellent and deserve their amazing success. But in my youth, I was besotted with the works of W. Shewell Cooper, Frances Perry and top TV guru Percy Thrower. It was the pipe and tweeds that gave Percy the gravitas, plus his ability to broadcast about yer actual gardening, rather than cavorting about doing silly things to camera.
    Christo Lloyd and Graham Stuart Thomas were later discoveries.

  • I have just checked and I have 10 of ‘Dave’s Books’. They were an invaluable help when I did my RHS general exam many moons ago and my all time favroute is the Garden DIY Expert. Not only is is full of some of the most hideous garden ‘features’ ever seen but also has a photo of a lady tending to some plants in her greenhouse whilst wearing high heels, a hat and a rather full-skirted daydress circa 1955.

  • Martyn, are you my long-lost twin? I think I may have got The Indoor Plant Spotter shortly after the Houseplant Expert, but it’s close. I thought I was the only teenage houseplant fanatic in the 1980s, but clearly I was wrong! If I can find it, and if my ego can bear it, I’ll post a pic of me and my houseplants circa 1988 on my blog at some point soon.

    I’ve got a soft spot for “Dr DG”‘s no-nonsense style, but always wondered who was responsible for the horrid illustrations.

  • Sounds fabulous… I’ll have to check them out.

  • Lia-strangely enough I have a book signed by him, ‘To Graham, kind regards, Dave H’. Who the hell is Graham?
    Jane-it’s a nice touch to personalise books for journos.
    Happy M-The most successful herb grower I know is Jekka – not sure if she’s on the Rich List?
    Ms B – I’m sorry.
    Nigel – Percy did wonders for the pipe industry-it badly needs another champion.
    Dawn-10 books! That’s a collection
    Jane – Do post the pic. Houseplants were so my thing back then. I used to compete with the mum of a girlfriend at the time to see who could collect the most.
    Dirty Girl – Let Dave enter your life.

  • I finally got round to checking and find that I imagined the whole thing. It says, just as JP suggests, ‘To Lia, Kind Regards, Dave’. No kisses, no love *sniff*.

  • Dr D G Hessayon

    I enjoyed reading all your comments and thank you for the complimentary remarks. I was interested because you are the people I write for, not for my agent (haven’t got one), not for my planning or editorial team (haven’t got one) and certainly not for the critics or reviewers (although they do say nice things).

    Perhaps I can put in my two-bits-worth on handling my first Expert. It was exactly 52 years ago and Be Your Own Gardening Expert had just come hot off the press. I remember it well – you always remember your first book, your first girlfriend, your first kiss …. I won’t go on.

    It had been prepared during the previous year. I had roughed out the design with coloured pencils and had written all the copy with a fountain pen. I was amused by Martyn’s note that he once thought I had a ghost writer. After all, that’s how many celebrity books are produced. Not for me – the next one will follow the 52 year old pattern …. coloured pencils, a pen, and no ghost writers.

    Of course things have changed. The pens are a damn sight more expensive and the design does change with the times – see The Orchid Expert (my favourite). Many celebrities are knowledgeable and some write their own books or make a sizeable contribution, but I really don’t like the ones where the author just gets a mention somewhere inside the book. Of course doing it my way means I can only produce one book a year, and even that’s damn hard. Just think how many I could produce in a year if I employed people to write some or all of the text! But I think the man who holds the brush is the painter, and the man who puts the words on the paper is the author. Naïve, huh?

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