Gardening: Chief among the elders: Arthur Hellyer, the eminence grise of gardening writers, died last week. Anna Pavord pays tribute to him

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The Independent Online
ARTHUR HELLYER was a generous writer. Whatever the topic in hand - a new nursery, a garden, an unusual plant - his delight in it was infectious.

Familiarity with his subject never dimmed his enthusiasm for it. 'Hideous colour,' you might mutter, glancing quickly at some newly bred annual on a trial ground. 'But look at the splendid way the petals hold themselves,' he would offer in reply. And you looked. And you learnt.

Much of his profesional life was spent on the magazine Amateur Gardening, where he started as assistant editor in 1929. In 1946, he became editor and occupied the post for the next 21 years. He always pronounced the word 'amateur' exquisitely, never slipping into the 'amacher' trap of a later, lazier generation.

He retired from the magazine in 1967, the year he was awarded the MBE, but he continued to work up until his last illness, just before Christmas. There was his column in the Financial Times to fill each week, articles for Country Life to prepare, books to write. At least 16 titles have appeared since his retirement, and he published just as many before.

Garden Pest Control, published by Collingridge in 1944 'in complete conformity with the authorised economy standards', demonstrates his strengths as a writer.

He identified strongly with his reader. His style was easy and clear. He had a natural sense of the most logical way to present his material, as Garden Pest Control reveals: Section 1 The Situation Reviewed, Section 2 The Foes, Section 3 The Victims, Section 4 The Weapons, Section 5 The Plan. We all know where we stand and what we have to do to achieve success.

There will be few gardeners who do not have one of his books on their shelves, perhaps one of his encyclopaedias of plants, his book on the greenhouse or his Shell Guide to Gardens, published in 1977.

Huge changes took place in horticulture between the publication of his first book and his last. For Arthur Hellyer, this was not an obstacle but an excitement. His views were never set in aspic.

In a profession noted for its longevity, he was the chief of the horticultural elders, but he did not encourage hero worship. He was self-contained, amused, infinitely courteous. Part of the courtesy was seeming to be keener to listen than to talk. He was always curious to know where you had been, what you had seen. His face was that of a man who seemed to find the world diverting.

If you asked for his advice or opinion on some matter, as you always did, for it was invariably worth having, he was generous with his knowledge and kind enough never to make you feel a fool for asking. His own anecdotes showed a delight in the vagaries of human nature.

Towards the end of his life he took regular winter breaks in Florida and would describe with enormous relish the peculiarities and charms of the motels he had stayed in. He was as intrigued by them as by the gardens he saw. Because his mind was always so open to new experience, he never seemed old, even though he was almost 80 when I first met him.

His industry was astonishing, his knowledge immense, his benevolence unparalleled. Arthur Hellyer set the highest possible standards for our whippersnapper generation of gardening correspondents.

(Photograph omitted)

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