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!"

VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
Homer meets Lego Marge in the 25th anniversary episode of The Simpsons, set to air on 4 May
tv
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
Life & Style
Infant child breast-feeding with eyes closed
healthTo stop mummy having any more babies, according to scientists
News
news
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Arts & Entertainment
film
News
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year
news
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey gets the North Korean leader's look
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
Life & Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 63rd anniversary of the Peak District National Park
tech
Property search
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Energy Consultant – Building Management

up to £45,000 + benefits: The Green Recruitment Company: Our Client The Green ...

Senior Industrial Energy Consultant

Up to £45,000 + benefits: The Green Recruitment Company: Our Client The Green ...

Mechanical Building Services Energy Engineer

up to £45K basic + benefits: The Green Recruitment Company: Our Client The Gr...

Building Services Energy Engineer

up to £45K basic + benefits: The Green Recruitment Company: Our Client The Gr...

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal