Graham Rose, for 17 years gardening correspondent of the Sunday Times, had a glorious political incorrectness that made his company a delight. Wherever the laughter was most uproarious at a gathering of gardening writers, you could be sure that Rose would be at the centre of the noise.
He was a striking figure, tall, dark, slightly Bohemian in his dress, forthright in his language. I read him long before I met him. His column took you more often than anyone else's into uncharted gardening territory. He was not one to toe the line, to trot out the expected coverage, the received opinion. That was one of his great strengths. He ploughed his own furrow and did not much care whether other people approved or not.
After taking a degree at King's College, Durham, he became an entomologist, working first with ICI in India and then for Universal Crop Protection. He made himself an expert in methods of spraying and for more than 10 years was a consultant to Micron, who pioneered spinning disc sprayers which regulated the size of droplet needed for any particular target.
In the late Sixties, he joined the Sunday Times, working for 10 years as the paper's agricultural correspondent. Later, he moved on from silage making to meadow gardening with scarcely a hiccup. In more impecunious times he had used his powerful voice to good effect as an uncredited voice- over in horror films. It was this perhaps that earned him the nickname "Boomer".
He was a prolific author, producing books on a wide range of horticultural subjects. Landscape with Weeds, published in 1980, gave a high- spirited account of his attempt to establish a new garden round his country home in Oxfordshire (he also had a roof garden in London). The Sunday Times Book of Woodland and Wildflower Gardening grew out of the paper's acclaimed Chelsea Flower Show garden in 1988. His most recent success was The Good Gardens Guide, which he edited with Peter King. Controversy surrounded the guide's first appearance in 1990, because the editors ranked gardens on a star system, rather as if the book were a restaurant guide. Rose relished the ensuing altercations and was, as always, forthright in defence of his decisions.
His introduction to the 1996 guide shows how his delight in human subterfuge never diminished. Owners, he writes,
will go to considerable lengths to obtain star rating; this year one threatened to favour a competitive publication if a star was not forthcoming. Since we do not believe we have any competition, this did not work.
Many people in the gardening world have reason to be grateful to Graham Rose, for he was generous in helping those at the beginning of their careers. It was often he who dropped the necessary word in the right quarter. Geoff Hamilton first met him 21 years ago and remembers how Rose recommended him for his first big job in journalism, which was gardening correspondent on the Mail on Sunday.
He also remembers taking a load of plants from Hilliers out to Rose's house near Carcassonne in France. There was some muddle about the correct papers for the consignment and a customs inspector called at the house. Hamilton watched in awe as Rose, who spoke liquid, emphatic French, "charmed the man out of his socks". The problem over the papers dissipated in a haze of cognac.