Dr D G Hessayon Books

About to do some pruning? Read up on safety in the garden first. Photograph:hypertypos/Flickr/Some rights reserved

They look old fashioned, read old fashioned, have pipe-and-slippers coursing through them like a stick of Blackpool rock. But are these good enough reasons to ignore the books of DG Hessayon? I don't think so.

It's half a century since Dr Hessayon published his first 'Expert' guide to gardening, with their trademark tables, simple illustrations and no-nonsense prose. Those that shun them as mere gardening-by-numbers are missing the point. They are the gardening equivalent of the repair manual, belts and braces as opposed to froth, the polar opposite of the glossy coffee table book.

Recently, you might have wondered whether the franchise was running dry as the doctor published books on cats and garden trivia. But now, with the Green Garden Expert, he's back to his roots. Despite the dated appearance, you can't say that Hessayon doesn't move with the times.

The book is ambitious in its breadth. Perhaps overly so. There's everything here from the unfashionable, such as rockery planting and choosing conifers, to the horticulture du jour, vegetables and wildlife gardens. Though a fat volume by his standards, it races through subjects that elsewhere have had whole books devoted to them. Fruit growing, for example, is dealt with briskly in a handful of pages.

In other words, in style at least, it is typical Hessayon (David to his friends, in case you're asking what the D stands for). Hessayon has reduced a large subject to a series of useful lists, diagrams and bullet points - only this time he's looking at it from a green perspective.

In substance, though, you sometimes wonder whether his heart is really in it. Occasionally, even this venerable authority hits a duff note, suggesting he is unconvinced by some of this new age-y nonsense his publishers have forced him to cover. There is a table devoted to companion planting, for example, with the reason many of the plants grown together listed simply as 'unknown'. Later on in the book, we're told that wearing a tie while using the barbecue is not a good idea. And his nods to the use of glyphosate remind us that he once extolled the virtues of chemical fertilisers and weedkillers. His original publishers were Pan Britannica Industries, now part of Bayer, the German chemical company.

But like the majority of his books, there is plenty here that is useful, both for experienced gardeners who need a quick reference, and the novice who has no idea where to start. Meanwhile, Hessayon's forays into uncharted territory deserve some kind of credit. Take the section on the 'People Friendly' garden, with instructions on safety outdoors. It's tempting to snigger at the tips for using a deckchair (I did), but there's nothing funny about falling off a ladder. As for the diagrams on how to lift heavy loads, I wish I'd seen these a long time ago. A green Hessayon might at times be unconvincing, but as the good doctor reminds us, thousands of accidents happen each year in the garden, and 'merely going organic is not the answer'.

- The Green Garden Expert, by Dr DG Hessayon, is published by Transworld, priced £7.99.

The first Garden Expert was published 50 years ago and has taught generations how to garden.It has sold over 5 million copies and has been translated into 27 languages.It is the world's best-selling introduction to gardening.

But the world has changed and so has gardening.We still need to know the basic facts, but there are also new varieties and new techniques such as no-digging and no-weeding.Also we are much more conscious of the environment - safety, pollution, the birds and butterflies and the other wildlife which come into our garden, etc.

The Green Garden Expert sets out what you need to know in order to look after your garden.It also shows you how to care for wildlife, the environment and your own well-being.Whether you decide upon a completely organic approach or prefer to take just a few steps along the environmentally-friendly road, The Green Garden Expert explains the options.It shows you how to choose the right plants for the right place, and how to plant and care for flowers, trees, shrubs, fruit, vegetables and wild flowers. It shows you how to tackle weeds, pests and other problems, how to attract and identify birds and butterflies, and also how to avoid becoming one of the 400,000 garden casualties which occur every year.

"It's not only for organic gardeners - it is for everyone who wants an up-to-date general gardening guide with the environment in mind.There is information on safety as well as sowing, on birds and butterflies as well as beans" - Dr Hessayon

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