Arthur Hellyer was one of the most influential British horticultural authors of the 20th century, with a career in journalism spanning over 65 years. Although he worked for most of his life in Britain, his mother was from Jersey and his connections with the island began with visits in his early childhood, and continued until his death. Not simply an author, but also an active practitioner, with an abiding interest in the history of gardening, he contributed much to gardening in Jersey and introduced many important local gardens to a wider audience overseas.
Arthur George Lee Hellyer was born in Bristol on 16 December 1902, the son of Arthur Lee Hellyer and his wife, Maggie Parlett, the daughter of George William Parlett and Eliza Malzard. He had one sister, Margaret Irene, born in 1899, who died in 1962.
George Parlett, born in 1844, came from a Huguenot family in West Walton, Norfolk. He came to Jersey in the early 1860s, initially working as an assistant master at a school in Beaumont Village, before setting up his own school at Coie House in St Saviour. Renamed Parlett's Academy, it moved to Janvrin Road, St Helier, in about 1874. The school later became Parlett's Collegiate School, and then St James's Collegiate School, under which name it appeared in the Jersey Times Almanac for 1896. By this time, it had moved to Victoria Crescent. It was later run by his daughter, Lily, while one ofhis sons, Harold, also taught there for a short while. A strict disciplinarian, George Parlett is credited with having introduced the game of rugby to Jersey,
On 12 December 1868, George Parlett married Eliza, the daughter of Captain Philippe Malzard, a member of an old Jersey family. Their three sons were Harold (later the diplomat Sir Harold Parlett, C.M.G., born at Coie House in 1869), and who also married a Malzard, Hedley and Frank, the grandfather of the Jersey wildlife artist Nick Parlett. They had five daughters, Lily, who died in infancy, Leah, Maggie, the mother of Arthur George Lee Hellyer, another Lily and the youngest, Ruth.
Arthur Lee Hellyer, Arthur's father, was born in 1872 in Newport, Monmouthshire. The family had originally come from near Ernsworth in Hampshire, where A L Hellyer's grandfather, George, had made money from the grain trade during and just after the Napoleonic Wars, subsequently, according to family legend, losing much of it through gambling and drink. Qualifying as an accountant, A L Hellyer established his own practice of A Lee Hellyer & Co in Newport, in 1895, this merging in 1897 with the Bristol-based practice of Ware & Co to become Ware, Hellyer and Co. The firm eventually established offices in London, Bristol, Exeter and Newport.
Moving to Bristol, he met Maggie Parlett, whom he married in 1899. The reason for her presence in England, while the rest of her family were in Jersey, has not been ascertained. The marriage marked the beginning of Hellyer's own links with the island, which he began to visit on holiday, along with his wife and children, and staying with his parents-in-law. In 1908, hearing that the post of Auditeur-Comptable (Accountant-Auditor) of the States of Jersey had become available, he applied for the position. The part-time post, which required only occasional visits to the island, had been created in 1905, and its first holder, Arthur Whinney, had retired.
In his application letter to Walter Duret Aubin, Chairman of the States Finance Committee, he noted that: 'I have no business connections in the Channel Islands, but having had the good fortune to marry a Jersey lady, am well acquainted with local conditions, and generally spend my holidays in your island," This connection perhaps helped the States to make its choice. At any rate, he was appointed to the post at the States session of 18 July 1908.
Following the appointment, Arthur Lee Hellyer moved from Bristol to Clapham, South London, setting up a new accountancy practice in his own name, although initially retaining a connection with Ware, Hellyer and Co. In 1916, he severed his links with the firm, which became Ware, Ward and Co.
Following his appointment as States Auditor, the Hellyers became even more frequent visitors to the island, coming four times a year. They rented a house at Samares, Sans Ennui, from 1912 until the outbreak of the First World War. The younger Arthur later remembered, with pleasure, the experience of taking the Jersey Eastern Railway train into St Helier from the Samares stop.
Early interest in plants
Young Arthur developed an interest in plants and gardens early. 'One of my earliest gardening memories,' he told a meeting of The Jersey Society in London in 1968 , 'is of my mother's cousin, Mr Malzard of Prospect House, St Peter's, growing the most marvellous double flowered begonias and turning the flowers of his hydrangeas blue by burying quantities of rusty nails around them. Maybe his begonias might not seem so wonderful today, but to my childish eyes they were the most luxurious blooms I had ever seen," That childhood interest continued into his teens, when, thanks to the First World War, it took on a practical approach. At the time, the family were living in Rodenhurst Road, Clapham, in south London.
'I still recollect vividly my introduction to gardening,' he wrote later. 'It was in 1915 or 1916, when I was no more than a small boy. My family, in common with tens of thousands of others, started to dig up the lawn and grow vegetables as our own small answer to the U-boat menace.We were endowed with much enthusiasm and a complete lack of knowledge, and I do not think that our efforts were crowned with much success. But I do remember in the intervals of struggling with the unkindly London clay spending happy hours poring over the pages of Cousins' Chemistry of the Garden and H. H. Thomas' Complete Gardener and finding a new world of delight that has remained with me ever since,"
In London,Arthur George Lee Hellyer was educated at Manor House School, Clapham, until 1915, and then at Dulwich College. At this early age, he was already showing promise as a writer, winning several prizes at both schools for English literature. He left Dulwich at the end of 1917, having been diagnosed with tuberculosis. Doctors advised that he should adopt an open air occupation, to improve his health, and, shortly after he left Dulwich College, Arthur moved to Guernsey, where he spent a few months working on a tomato farm, the main result of which was a lifelong dislike of eating the fresh fruit, although he was quite happy eating fried tomatoes.
Move to Jersey
During 1918, his family moved to Jersey, taking a house in La Rocque, where he joined them. Having enjoyed the experience of working out of doors, Arthur conceived the idea of becoming a Jersey farmer. He worked briefly at the States of Jersey Experimental Farm at Trinity, and then for a local farmer, Philip Bree, at La Sente, La Rocque. The Bree family had an important herd of Jersey cows, and when, after the Second World War, Arthur and his wife wanted a couple of cows for their Sussex garden and smallholding, they chose, naturally, two of La Sente stock, 'Princess' and 'Dinah.' Hellyer's family were Plymouth Brethren, but, there being no congregation in Samares, while working at La Sente, he attended the local Wesleyan chapel.
In 1920, suffering from ill-health and depression, Arthur's father, Arthur Lee Hellyer, retired as States Auditor, the post being taken over by his younger brother, Ernest Palmer Hellyer, MBE, who had moved to Jersey in 1919 to work with him. Already associated with the English accountancy firm of Blackburn, Barton, Mayhew, with whom he had worked in London, Ernest then persuaded the firm to establish themselves in Jersey, with him as resident partner. This is believed to have been the first 'foreign' accountancy practice to establish itself in the island, marking one of the earliest steps in the development of the international scope of Jersey's finance industry.
Ernest remained a partner in Blackburn, Barton, Mayhew (from 1929 Barton, Mayhew) until his retirement in 1957, also concurrently remaining States Auditor until 1952, when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. The post of States Auditor then ceased to be an individual appointment.
In 1921, Arthur Lee Hellyer died suddenly and young Arthur was obliged to give up the idea of trying to obtain a small Jersey farm of his own. His mother did not much enjoy being in Jersey, perhaps because of an unhappy relationship with her father, George Parlett. Her brother, Sir Harold, later described his own unhappy childhood with a domineering father. George had gone to England shortly before the First World War, but had returned afterwards and, in his old age, may well have been rather of a tiresome burden for his children. Maggie, at any rate, decided to return to Bristol, and Arthur and his sister went with her.
Arthur continued throughout the 1920s, however, to spend his holidays in Jersey, sometimes with his mother, and sometimes staying with his aunt, Lily Parlett, and her friend Mrs Pearce, a well-known dressmaker.
'It was at this period,' he told The Jersey Society in London in 1968, 'that I became fascinated by the wild flowers of the island. Usually we stayed at Corbiere or L'Etacq, and so it was St Ouen's Bay that particularly engaged my attention," His fascination with the wild flora of this part of the island continued until his death, with the plant he found most interesting being the prostrate dwarf broom of Les Landes.
Back in England, Arthur found that opportunities in farming were few and far between, but he managed to obtain a post at the nursery firm of Isaac House and Sons, of Bristol, at the princely salary of 12s 6d (62.5 pence) a week, a marked reduction from the £3 a week he had been earning at La Sente. After a week, though, he got a rise to 15 shillings (75 pence), although it took three years to climb back to £3 a week. He later spent a winter with a firm in Reading, and then returned to Bristol as nursery manager for the firm Luke Rogers and Sons.
While working for them, he encountered the gardening writer, A J Macself, then assistant editor of the weekly Amateur Gardening. This first contact with horticultural journalism led to nothing, but shortly after, while visiting an uncle in Dublin, he met a young lady who, although a gardener like him, also contributed articles to the Dublin papers. This prompted him to think of taking up the same sideline, 'I'd never met anyone who wrote before and I thought 'This is extraordinary; she doesn't know as much about gardening as I do, and if she can write, why can't I?'
Returning to Bristol, he submitted his first piece, to the monthly Gardening Illustrated, and received his fIrst rejection slip. A couple of decades later, he became editor of the magazine, until it was merged with Gardeners' Chronicle in 1954. He had at this time, though, little hope of a full-time career in horticultural journalism. Back in May 1923, on a visit to Jersey, he had met the venerable editor of Amateur Gardening, T W Sanders, and had asked whether there were any prospects.
'None whatever, young man,' he was told. 'I have one assistant editor, and he has been with me for 30 years. When he retires, I shall want one replacement. Those are the prospects." Sanders died the next year, and Macself took over, accepting Hellyer's first published piece in 1927, for which he received the princely fee of 15 shillings (75 pence). He continued to submit occasional articles for the next couple of years.
In February 1929 Macself wrote to him to ask if he knew of someone who would like to take up a job on a gardening magazine. It was a long and hard winter, and Hellyer promptly wired back, saying 'I would'. The post was that of assistant editor for a new magazine, Commercial Horticulture. That, however, folded after six months, and he then became Macself's assistant editor at Amateur Gardening, beginning an association of over 35 years with the magazine. For the first 16 years, he also worked with Sanders' assistant, H A Smith.
In the next year, 1930, his first book appeared, Simple Rose Growing, described as being 'a Book of Practical Instruction in the Art of Rose Culture' and based upon his years of experience as a nurseryman. His love of roses lasted throughout his life and he served for many years after his official retirement in 1967 as an elected member of the Council of the Royal National Rose Society, writing many articles for its journal.
Another early task was contributing to a major revision of Sander's Encyclopaedia of Gardening, which had first appeared in serialised form in Amateur Gardening in the closing years of the 19th century. This subsequently passed through many further revisions, first being renamed the Collingridge Encyclopaedia of Gardening (after the publishers). He worked hard on a complete revision of the book at the beginning of the 1990s and, shortly after his death in 1993, it was republished as Hellyer's Encyclopaedia of Gardening.
Simple Rose Growing and the new edition of Sanders' Encyclopaedia were swiftly followed by other books, initially at a rate of one a year, including Practical Gardening for Amateurs, Your New Garden and Your Garden Week by Week. By the time of his death, he had had over 40 published, although some of these were overseas editions, slightly adapted for the local market, of titles originally published in England. He also was ghost writer for a number of other books, including at least one by his fellow gardening writer, Percy Thrower, who was always more of a plantsman than an author.
On 18 January 1933 Hellyer married Grace Charlotte (Gay) Bolt, born in Ilford, Essex. A graduate in botany and zoology from Bedford College, London University and a teacher, she was also later the author of two gardening books and numerous articles. Her family, like his, were Plymouth Brethren, although Gay's family were much stricter, indeed intolerant, in their interpretation of the scriptures, than were the Hellyers. For the Bolts, going to the cinema or even becoming a member of organisations like the Automobile Association were beyond the pale. Arthur and Gay, both being of a scientific and enquiring bent, found this fundamentalist approach impossible to accept and they left the sect shortly after their marriage.
The ostracism they encountered from Gay's family, with two of her three sisters refusing thereafter to eat at the same table as her, contributed to their common decision to become first agnostic, then atheist. Gay died in February 1977, after a fruitful partnership in horticultural journalism of nearly forty five years. The horticultural writer, Alan Titchmarsh, in an obituary of Arthur, described them as somewhat of 'an unlikely couple, he rather patrician, she more earthy'.
Purchase of plot
They lived initially in a rented semi-detached house in Wimbledon, south-west London, and Arthur's visits to Jersey became fewer. The delights of city life, such as they were, like weekly visits to the cinema, soon palled, and they began to look for some land south of London, yet close to a main-line railway station to permit Arthur to commute to work. In the mid-1930s, they managed to fmd a plot at Rowfant, in East (now West) Sussex, near Crawley (and Three Bridges station). Up a narrow and un-metalled farm lane, the plot was a six-acre field which had not been cultivated for around fifty years and was, not surprisingly, rather overgrown. Nineteenth century ceramic field-drains continued to be dug up for many years later. Writing in 1975 about the creation of his garden at Rowfant, he recalled:
- "The land was purchased many years ago at what was even in those days a ridiculously low price (£180) but the snag was that the whole plot had to be taken, like it or lump it. I had been looking for half an acre and ended up with six acres, which a few years later grew to eight with the acquisition of an adjacent field that separated me from the farm lane which is still, 40 years later, our only means of access.
- "For the first few years, we did little with the field, beyond planting a few trees and building a little house that has grown with the years. Then came the war, and orchards became a smallholding managed by my wife and a couple of Land Girls and supporting an ever-growing stock of goats, chickens, ducks, rabbits and eventually a couple of cows (with grazing in a neighbour's field), plus all manner of fruits and vegetables."
This description, characteristically, understated the effort he and his wife put into both house and garden. The 'few trees' eventually became three apple orchards, which continued to be harvested commercially, along with black, red and white currants, until 1967, as well as many others, such as pines, cedars, beeches and birches, while the 'little house' was a six-room cedar structure modelled on a Canadian outback design, which they painstakingly, and sometimes painfully, put together over many weekends and occasional holidays. It cost £450 to build, and was still not quite complete when the Second World War broke out, though Gay soon moved down to spend most of her time there.
Arthur had been too young to serve in the First World War and in the Second World War, he was too old to be called up for active service. His occupation as a horticultural journalist, helping to tell the nation how to grow food, also meant that he was in a reserved occupation. He promptly, however, joined the Local Defence Volunteers, LDV; later the Home Guard, when they were established in 1940, and, commissioned as a second lieutenant, served until 1944 as commander of the Home Guard detachment in one of the neighbouring villages, Copthorne, Rowfant being too small to have its own.
During the War, Arthur commuted back and forth to London, sometimes staying overnight, particularly during periods of heavy bombing, while Gay stayed at home to run the smallholding. One of the books of which he was most proud, the Amateur Gardening Pocket Guide, was published in 1941, a slim and small volume designed to slip into the pocket, which was intended to provide basic construction for gardeners, and others, trying to grow food to help the war effort. It went into nine reprints during and after the War, before being enlarged to hip-pocket size for a second edition in 1956.
Other books produced during the war years included War-time gardening for home needs, published in around 1940.
In 1946, Hellyer became editor of Amateur Gardening, a post he held until his formal retirement in 1967. He was also concurrently, from 1947 to 1954, the editor of Gardening Illustrated. His professional career flourished, with the regular flow of articles in the two magazines he edited and elsewhere being accompanied by a steady stream of books, including one of his most widely-sold works, The Amateur Gardener, first published in 1948, which went into several editions over the next 25 years.
During those early years as editor of Amateur Gardening, and perhaps much earlier, his one minor obeisance towards formality on his daily train journeys to and from London was the wearing of a hat. A former junior colleague noted much later: 'I can see him now, coming into Tavistock Street (in which the Amateur Gardening offices were then located, opposite the old Covent Garden flower market), wearing a pork-pie hat and always with a rather high colour'. By the mid-1950s, though, that habit had been discarded; the author can never remember, as a child, having seen him wear anything but the very occasional homburg. The minor vice of smoking a pipe had been abandoned many years before.
Increasing recognition from his peers, rather than any ambition to seek preferment, was reflected in his decision to become a freemason. He joined the Hortus Lodge No 2469, in London, whose members primarily had a relationship with gardening, in 1946, and became Master in 1959, also joining the Royal Arch in the Hortus Chapter in 1956 and becoming First Principal in 1967. He resigned from both in 1991 and 1990 respectively, and never joined any of the Jersey Lodges. Gay regarded this involvement with masonry with tolerant amusement.
He also became an active member of the Gardeners' Royal Benevolent Society, (now Perennial), a charity raising funds for retired gardeners.
In 1957, together with three friends, all nurserymen or horticultural authors, or both, he became a founder-member of the Hardy Plant Society, which was dedicated, among other objectives, to the need to preserve lesser-known hardy perennials that had become unfashionable and were being lost to cultivation. Conceived at a meeting at his house in Sussex, Orchards, the society was a successor to the National Hardy Plant Society, founded in 1910, but which has ceased to exist shortly after the First World War. Its last chairman was A J Macself, who had first introduced Arthur to horticultural journalism 30 years earlier and whom he had succeeded as editor of Amateur Gardening. With over 35 years experience by this time, Arthur was one of the few who could remember the popular plants of the past. Thirty five years later, with 70 years of gardening upon which he could draw, there was no-one else alive who had his depth of knowledge of the evolution of British gardens and gardening fashions during the 20th century.
The years that followed the Second World War also brought major changes in his private life. He and Gay had decided not to have their own children, owing to childhood illness and to a history of mental illness in Arthur's family. They chose, instead, to adopt, first Edward and Peter, both born, five and a half months apart, in 1947, and then Penelope Susan, born in late 1948. The house at Orchards was enlarged to accommodate the additions to the family.
With the arrival of the children, the links with Jersey that had languished in the years immediately after his marriage and then during the War, were promptly re-established. From the beginning of the 1950s, the whole family were frequent visitors during the summer holidays, staying at Les Creux, then a hotel, in St Brelade's Bay, and visiting Arthur's Uncle Ernest and Aunt Ellina at their house at Rockwood, Mont Cochon, and his Parlett relations at Fauvic. Buses were often their main mode of transport, and Arthur and Gay ensured that their children were introduced to the scenic beauties of the island, with long walks not only from St Brelade to La Corbière, but also at Les Landes and along the North Coast.
In 1967 Arthur retired as editor of Amateur Gardening; Gay had retired the previous year from her post as a biology teacher at East Grinstead Grammar School. Freed from the constraints of a weekly magazine printing schedule and of school timetables, and with their three children now respectively working, at university and married, they embarked on an active decade of travel, despite Gay being increasingly handicapped by hip problems, both within the United Kingdom and overseas, including visits to the United States, Europe, Southern Africa and the Soviet Union. A number of new books ensued, written in collaboration, though under Arthur's name, with the exception of one on indoor plants by Gay. By this time, they had already established a Jersey base. In 1952, Arthur's Uncle Ernest had retired as States Auditor, although he continued as Senior Partner of the local branch of the accountancy practice Barton, Mayhew & Co, which he had established in 1921. He finally retired completely in early 1957, dying a few weeks later. His widow Ellina died in 1961, leaving Rockwood to Arthur, her only surviving nephew.
With a home again in Jersey, Arthur and Gay promptly became more regular visitors, particularly following their retirement. Rockwood was divided into two flats, which were rented out, and the garage was converted into a small bed-sitter, this then being enlarged into a six-room flat, which was used as a family home, although he and his wife maintained their main home in Sussex.
Rockwood had been built in 1933 in an abandoned slate quarry on the lower slopes of Mont Cochon, just above St Andrew's Park, with a view westwards across St Aubin's Bay. Said to have been used at the beginning of the 20th century as a source for some of the rock used to construct the Victoria Esplanade, its steep slopes meant that rainfall drained quickly, penetrating through the shale beneath.
With Jersey's climate being a little warmer than that of Sussex, Arthur and Gay took the opportunity to create a very different kind of garden from that at Orchards. Often dry, it was ideally suited for plants from hot climates, and it was stocked to a large extent with species collected, often somewhat surreptitiously, during their travels, with bulbs and seeds acquired in Southern Africa being particularly suitable. Gay later explained the reason to retain the inherited property thus: 'When my husband inherited two thirds of an acre within sight of the sea in Jersey, we were both working in England, but we decided that we must keep it, for it broadened beyond our wildest dreams the range of plants we could try to grow.'
Although a well was drilled to perrnit the installation of an intricate irrigation system, Arthur was not one to seek to go against nature. As talk of global warming grew in the 1980s and Jersey endured several summers of drought, he cut down on the watering, saying that if some of the plants couldn't survive the heat and drought, they would simply have to go.
They also became actively involved in horticultural aspects of island life. Arthur brought his skills as a judge at the Royal Horticultural Society's annual Chelsea Flower Show to the island, serving as a judge on several occasions at the Early Summer Show of the Royal Jersey Agricultural and Horticultural Society, and was also for a time in the early 1970s a member of the committee of the local branch of the Men of the Trees (now Jersey Trees for Life).
Both he and Gay were recruited in the late 1960s as members of the Parks and Gardens Committee of the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust (later renamed the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust), helping in the original design of and planting of the trust's gardens at Augres Manor and also donating plants. They served on the committee for several years. The Chairman of the Committee was Vi Lort-Phillips, herself a gardener of considerable note, who had first met Arthur and Gay in 1960, when they were researching and renaming the trees and shrubs at Trinity Manor which had survived the German Occupation of Jersey. In an appreciation of Arthur written for the Jersey Evening Post after his death, she wrote that Arthur and his wife "gave generously of their time, knowledge and plants; planting their rare gifts themselves ... He remained a very modest man, with a wonderful gift of making you feel he was consulting you, and yet his discerning eye for a good plant never left him ... He was a true gentleman and really a 'gardening angel."
Despite their increasing involvement in the island, however, they chose not to move on a full-time basis to Jersey. Quite apart from their affection for their Sussex garden, now, after 30 years, beginning to come to maturity, consultations with the Inland Revenue in Britain after Arthur had retired from Amateur Gardening had elicited the advice that if he wished to avoid liability for British taxation and inheritance tax by moving permanently to Jersey, he would have to abandon virtually all of his connections with Britain. This, he felt, was a sacrifice that he was not prepared to make. Besides his journalism, he had long been active in a number of professional bodies and other organisations related to horticulture, and had increased this involvement following his formal retirement.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, for example, he was on committees of the Royal Horticultural Society, of which he became a Vice President, the Royal National Rose Society and the National Gardens Scheme, while maintaining his links with Perennial (formerly the Gardeners' Royal Benevolent Society), the Hardy Plant Society and the Garden History Society, where, again, he had been a founder-member. He was also a regular, and much-valued judge at the annual Chelsea Flower Show.
Besides continuing to write articles for the journals of the societies with which he was involved, as well as for Amateur Gardening, Country Life, Homes and Gardens and other magazines, he was also gardening correspondent of the Financial Times, a post requiring a weekly article, to which he had been appointed in 1959, was producing books almost annually and was also an adviser to the garden centre firm, Cramphorn's.
In 1975, he was amused to be chosen by the British Tourism Authority, along with two others, one his fellow Financial Times gardening writer, Robin Lane Fox, to select the winner of a competition for recently-created gardens in Britain that might attract foreign tourists. The winner was one at Didcot Power Station, described by Lane Fox later as 'the unopposable choice of Russell Page', a wildly-popular garden designer who was the third member of the team." Abandoning all of that to move permanently to Jersey would have made no sense. Arthur and his wife chose, instead, to make regular visits to the island, usually once a month, for a few days at a time.
On such visits, Arthur spent much of his time working in the garden at Rockwood, scrambling up the rockeries until the passage of years began increasingly to affect his mobility, at which time he could be found kneeling amid the flower-beds, getting on with the weeding. Spring was a favourite time, not just because of the glorious display of bulbs in his own garden, many bought during his trips overseas with his wife in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but also because of the renewed opportunity to wander around St Ouen's Bay to study the fortunes of that area's unique flora.
The bay, too, held other attractions for him. A long-time fan, like his son Edward, of the St Ouen's sand-racing (as well as of Bouley Bay hill-climbs), he continued to swim in the surf until late in life.
Arthur was keenly interested not only in gardening but also in garden history. A leading light in the Garden History Society in London, he devoted much time after his retirement to visiting major gardens throughout the British Isles, with the results including several books as well as numerous articles in Country Life and other publications.
History of gardens
Delving into the history of gardening in Jersey, he introduced the gardens of several local manor houses and other private houses to a broader public. Among gardens thus profiled in Country Life articles were those of Trinity Manor, Rozel Manor, Samares Manor, Radier Manor, Le Clos du Chemin and La Moye Manor, as well as that of Les Vaux, which he described as 'a pastel-coloured amphitheatre'.
One of his many Country Life articles, published in the late 1960s, drew attention to the importance of the mid-19th Century garden created by Samuel Curtis, founder of Curtis's Botanical Magazine, at Chateau La Chaire, in Rozel, over 30 years before it was 'discovered' and widely¬publicised a decade or so after his death. He continued to visit it frequently until shortly before he died (the author remembers, with pleasure, a highly-informative guided historical tour in the mid-1980s) and would have been amused by the subsequent fuss over the garden's 'discovery' in 2002.
Hellyer also helped to create some of Jersey's best gardens of today. Ever-willing to share his own expertise with fellow gardeners, he not only helped, with his wife, to lay out and plant the Zoo gardens, but also advised on the choice of rhododendrons and camellias, and bought many of them, for the Les Vaux, Rozel garden of Sir Giles and Lady (Rhona) Guthrie, the latter a colleague of his on the Parks and Gardens Committee of the Zoo.
Arthur Hellyer was never one to seek recognition, and was, indeed, embarrassed by public attention. When, in the 1950s, he was asked to appear on a regular radio show about gardening, he declined, and later also refused an invitation to appear regularly on television. As a result, he never gained the fame afforded to colleagues like Percy Thrower and to younger horticultural authors like Alan Titchmarsh.
Victoria Medal of Honour
He was satisfied with obtaining the recognition that came, in profusion, from his peers. A Fellow of the Linnean Society for nearly half a century, in 1953 he became an Associate of Honour of the Royal Horticultural Society, whose annual shows he judged for many years. On his retirement, the RHS presented him with its highest medal, the Victoria Medal of Honour. The same year, he was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire for his services to horticulture. On his 90th birthday, he was much amused to be awarded the rare accolade of having a photograph of him used as the frontispiece of Country Life, of which he had been a director for many years. The frontispiece is usually reserved for elegant and, often, eligible, young ladies of good family.
He was always happy to share his knowledge with others. When he was at home in Jersey, casual passers-by who climbed up the steep drive into Rockwood to seek answers to their gardening questions could be sure of a courteous answer to even the most uninformed of horticultural queries.
He was, too, always keen to help those starting out on careers in journalism or horticulture.
Asked in 1981 by Country Life to review the revised and updated Balleine's History if Jersey produced by Margaret Syvret and Joan Stevens, he kindly told the magazine's Reviews Editor that I, his son, then just starting out as a journalist and writer, really knew much more about the island than he did, which was somewhat of an over-statement. His cousin, Nick Parlett, the grandson of his mother's brother, owed his start as a professional painter and illustrator to a private commission given to him by Arthur to produce nearly 80 illustrations of plants for his book Garden Shrubs, published in 1982.
Liberal in views, and voting Liberal at every British general election from 1924 until his death, he was a quietly tolerant man, slow to anger, but was deeply irritated by what he saw as the onset of selfishness in British politics in the 1980s, believing that society had a duty to help the less fortunate. He had no liking, however, for an over-powerful state either.
Towards the end of his life, he commented, with satisfaction, that he was pleased to have lived through most of a century that had first seen the devastation of the First World War, then the rise of fascism and Communism, followed by the Second World War, this then being followed by the defeat of fascism and Nazism and, shortly before his death, the collapse of the Soviet Union. The future, he believed, would be brighter with the passing of ideologically-based dictatorships.
Arthur Hellyer continued to write regularly until shortly before his death, and, indeed, complained after the onset of illness in late 1992 that he didn't feel up to meeting the deadline for his regular Saturday column for the Financial Times, asking the author of this paper if he thought it would be all right if he took a few weeks off. He had, by that stage, delivered a weekly column without fail for over 33 years.
The FT's obituarist stated that that he 'was never a man for unpunctual copy or a week off'.
He belonged to a veteran school where the standards demanded professionalism without a fuss. Another obituary in The Daily Telegraph stated that 'he was never heard to utter an unkind world about a person, and rarely about a flower,' while a lengthy obituary by Alan Titchmarsh in The Garden, Journal of the RHS, began by saying: 'Anyone who knew Arthur Hellyer will tell you two things about him. First that he was one of life's gentlemen, and second that he had an all-round knowledge of gardening that few could rival,' concluding 'his articles continued to be enquiring and erudite to the end ... a man who must rank as one of the busiest gardening writers ever, but who was never too busy to be nice.'
Another author, in a book published in 2004, long after his death, described him as 'a great gardener whose books inspired me ... possibly the greatest gardening author of all time.'
Lady (Rhona) Guthrie, whom he came to know well in Jersey, recalling her old friend in 2003, commented that she thought he 'was the most courteous man I have ever met. He was a real gentleman in the real sense of the word, and never had a harsh word for anyone.'
Arthur Hellyer died on 28 January 1993 at Henfield, East Sussex, in a hospice of the Gardeners' Royal Benevolent Society, a horticultural charity with which he had been involved for over 40 years. Upon his death, his Rockwood property was taken over by his sons, Edward and Peter. Their sister, Penelope, stayed in Sussex where, with help from her husband, she ran a nursery garden business, trading under the name Hellyer's Garden Plants, until she sold the property and moved to Italy in 2005.