Lawrence D. Hills
Lawrence Donegan Hills (1911–1991) was a British horticulturalist, journalist, and writer, founder of the Henry Doubleday Research Association (HDRA) Bocking, near Braintree, Essex in 1954, now Garden Organic. By the time he retired in 1986, HDRA was the largest body of organic gardeners in the world and had moved to Ryton-on-Dunsmore, near Coventry.
Whilst researching a book called Russian Comfrey Comfrey, Hills discovered that this common plant was introduced in the nineteenth century by Henry Doubleday (1810–1902) a Quaker smallholder who was so intrigued by its possibilities that he devoted the rest of his life to popularising it. Hills took up this crusade, finally naming his fledgling society in Doubleday's memory.
Hills suffered from coeliac disease, which left him in a wheelchair until introduced to a wheat-free diet by Hilda Cherry Hills (d. 1989), a fellow author and noted nutritionist who became his wife. They had no children, but he once said he considered 'the ever-increasing membership of the Henry Doubleday Research Association is family enough for anyone'.
He started his long career in practical horticulture when he was sixteen and wrote his first book mainly in RAF hospitals before being invalided out on D-Day. He was one of Britain's best-known writers on organic gardening. Gardening correspondent of the Observer for eight years, then of Punch and The Countryman. He was Associate Editor of the Ecologist and Compost Science (USA).
His many publications included Fertility Without Fertilisers, Down to Earth Gardening, and Organic Gardening but he was best known for Grow Your Own Fruit and Vegetables published by Faber & Faber in 1971. It rapidly became a bible for gardeners, self-sufficiency enthusiasts and commercial organic growers. His autobiography was Fighting Like the Flowers (1989).
In 1973, his concern about a piece of European Union legislation outlawing historic varieties of vegetables, would lead to massive loss of genetic bio-diversity led to the setting up of HDRA’s vegetable seed library. Persistent lobbying of government eventually resulted in the world’s first vegetable gene bank where seed was deep frozen and stored forever.
Lawrence D Hills appeared on television, lectured and broadcast on the radio in Great Britain, the USA, South Africa, Belgium, France, Australia and New Zealand. HDRA hosted the 1987 television series on organic gardening All Muck and Magic which became so popular that it was one of Channel 4's top five programmes, attracting 3.5 million viewers a week.
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