Patch perfect: How a hitherto unknown horticulturalist has become Britain's greatest allotment authority

Here is a story to silence all those people who complain that the world is full of ignorant celebrities selling fat, illustrated books off the back of a TV series: the number-one position in the gardening-book sales chart on Amazon for months now has belonged to an unknown horticulturalist.

John Harrison is a down-to-earth northerner, and his Vegetable Growing Month by Month has trumped heavyweights from DG Hessayon to Alan Titchmarsh, as well as the sexier wiles of Carol Klein and Andi Clevely. And that's without any posh PR. Published by Constable & Robinson, a strong point is its £5.99 cover price ("No colour pictures," laughs the author).

Harrison's life has been surprisingly exciting: a 20-year career in business raising venture capital all over the world, with a brief moment as a multimillionaire in Spain. ("On paper, thanks to the dotcom boom," he grins.) He now runs one of the world's most popular horticultural websites, allotment.org.uk. Surfing another big trend, I point out. "It wasn't intentional!" he laughs. "I just like growing my own food.

"I always loved gardening, but I'm not a flower person," he adds. "My grandad was a vegetable grower, and I learnt from him, and also from my wife's father. In fact, when the book came out, it was my wife's dad whose opinion I was worried about most."

No doubt his father-in-law is impressed: Harrison's book is crammed with useful information, unencumbered by any trendy graphics. "Newbie allotment holders don't need a huge, beautiful picture of a swede and just three sentences on how to grow it," he laughs. Instead, it's perfect for all those gardeners who just want a book to tell them exactly what to do, and when.

And, for a more advanced query, you can try allotment.org.uk. Its success comes from the fact that it combines Harrison's passion with good old-fashioned advice from an astonishing 5,800 regular posters on the forums. It's a model of what a website can be – people chatting over a virtual garden fence, posting photos of their chickens... Even the money-making bits are coupon-friendly, offering special deals to website users on brands from Harrod Horticultural to Mantis composters.

But if you're any good at growing veg, there's just one real question to ask: where on earth do you put it all once you've grown it? Harrison starts laughing. "Freezers," he chortles. "I've got a tall upright in the garage, a fridge-freezer in the kitchen, a small upright in the back bedroom..."

Plot prompts: John Harrison's top tips

1. Don't get too caught up in the organic

"I don't want to use pesticides," says Harrison. "But if you have a pest problem, sometimes you have to. I also occasionally use herbicide, especially for one-time clearing of an area. For fertiliser, I prefer blood, fish and bone anyway. But if something does badly, I use prilled urea, which isn't organic. Do what's sensible."

2. Do what you're good at

"Sweetcorn I'm really good at, and I just love it. Yet I find it tricky to grow brassicas. Mine always get caterpillars."

3. Get off to a good start

"Get your site cleared. Give it a spray. You can go organic once you've sprayed it; I've seen people just give up trying to dig it over, taking weeds out by hand. Then incorporate organic matter and get the soil in good condition. And read the back of the seed packet!"

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Travel
travel
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
O'Toole as Cornelius Gallus in ‘Katherine of Alexandria’
filmSadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Life and Style
fashion
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior DBA (SQL Server, T-SQL, SSIS, SSAS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior DBA (SQ...

Business Anaylst

£60000 - £75000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: Business Anal...

Senior Project Manager

£60000 - £90000 per annum + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Global leading Energy Tra...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment