BiographyExtended biography-Prof. Geoff Dixon
Author: Garden Practices and their Science (ISBN 978-1-138-20906-0 pbk; 978-1-138-48523-5 hbk)
Geoff has a lifetime of practical gardening experience and knowledge. Currently, he cultivates about 0.25acres (0.1ha) of richly fertile, sandy loam in Dorset, one of the UK’s southernmost counties bordering the English Channel. This garden’s soil fertility and health are raised annually by the incorporation of farmyard manure. This results in highly productive crops of vegetables, fruit and ornamentals accompanied by spring flowering bulbs which are one of his specialities. Enjoyment features highly in this garden’s design providing his wife Kathy, Geoff and their family with relaxation and exercise.
Throughout his lifetime Geoff has acquired a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the discipline of horticulture and its integral sciences. This knowledge is directed at increasing food production, environmental conservation, aiding biodiversity and humankind’s social well-being and welfare. Education, teaching, communication and outreach are integral aspects of Geoff’s career. Gardening and horticulture, Geoff believes, are key ingredients for the future of humankind’s health and wealth.
GreenGene International is Geoff’s Advisory and Consultancy Company. Clients include some of the largest national and international producers of horticultural and agricultural foodstuffs and the ancillary industries which supply them with seeds, fertilisers, agrochemicals and machinery. In particular, Geoff’s international reputation for scientific studies of soil biology and environmental stresses results in attention. His unique reputation as a world authority for understanding and combating the soil borne Clubroot Disease of brassica crops (caused by Plasmodiophora brassicae) results in considerable international demand for Geoff’s services. He served as Chairman of the International Clubroot Working Group (ICWG) for many years organising collaboration between researchers and industry. Geoff’s abilities for combining detailed scientific studies with the requirements of businesses resulted in his membership of the Vegetable Consultants Association (VCA). This “invitation-only” consultancy group advises growers, processors and retailers throughout the supply-chain.
Academically, Geoff is appointed as a Visiting Professor and Research Fellow in the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development in the University of Reading. Interactions with staff and students and access into research facilities ensure Geoff’s continued relevance and knowledge of current scientific findings. These appointments continue Geoff’s career pathway which stretches from southern England via Cambridge northwards to Aberdeen and Glasgow and eventually returning southwards.
Since moving to Dorset, as part of Geoff’s chairmanship of the Trustees of the Journal of Horticultural Science and Biotechnology (JHSB) he has guided them towards partnership with the publishers, Taylor and Francis. This immensely beneficial collaboration secured financial stability and raised the Journal’s academic prowess enabling the celebration of 100years of publication. The International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS) honoured Geoff with Life Membership recognising all the voluntary work he has done over many decades promoting its expansion and vitality. Geoff is one of only six Britons who have been honoured in this way over the 150years life of ISHS. Geoff chaired an enquiry into the future development of the School of Horticulture of the Royal Botanic Garden Kew. This was an immensely satisfying and productive task and the School has a new lease of life developing new suites of courses while still maintaining the Kew Diploma in Horticulture, a worldwide emblem of excellence in plantsmanship. The RHS Qualification Master of Horticulture continues thriving with Geoff as its moderator. With a group of longstanding friends in the South West of England they formed the Professional Horticulturist Group South West an immensely successful discussion group which produces a yearly series of meetings without any back-office services.
Previous Track Record
Undergraduate studies in London University’s Faculty of Agriculture and Horticulture at Wye College, Kent, gave Geoff with an ever-deepening appreciation of horticultural science and its technological applications. This was a period of intense intellectual development and academic satisfaction mentored by Geoff’s Head of Department, Professor Herbert Miles. There followed postgraduate studies combining botany, biochemistry and plant pathology enhanced by marriage to Kathy. Wye College and the gardens of rural East Kent, the Garden of England, provided them with colourful, relaxing landscapes and gardens for visits.
Appointment as the Founder Vegetable Crops Plant Pathologist at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB), saw Geoff and Kathy move to Cambridge. Fungal pathogens at that time were in a period of vigorous evolution in their host range and virulence spectrum resulting from hybridisation of the crops and rapidly causing disease epidemics. This provided fertile opportunities for Geoff’s research and the founding of networks with British and overseas researchers many of which have endured throughout his life. Cambridge at that time was a maelstrom of interests in plant and fungal functioning triggered by Crick and Watson’s earlier opening of the genetic book of life. Working at NIAB further opened connections with the horticultural and agricultural industries and gardening across the United Kingdom and internationally. Geoff’s own gardening expertise was tested by the thick gault clay of their Girton garden which also provided essential provision for their children’s recreation.
A substantial and very advantageous career advancement saw Geoff and his young family move northwards to Aberdeen, the rapidly expanding Oil Capital of Europe. The Aberdeen School of Agriculture combining the University’s Department of Agriculture and associated North of Scotland College of Agriculture was his central location. The School’s structure closely resembled the very effective American Land Grant College System. Geoff’s remit combined research, education and consultancy. Posts as Head of the Horticulture Division and Head of Crop Production and Protection Group provided synergies which promoted Geoff’s soil biology research with vast horticultural educational, industrial and consultancy opportunities. He had responsibilities for experimental stations in Aberdeen and Elgin and the provision of out-reach services across the northern land mass including the Western and Northern Isles. Research which promoted the productivity of Scottish horticultural industries ran in parallel with continued investigations into the biology of Clubroot Disease.
Geoff also promoted the needs of gardening in all its forms from hobby gardeners to macro-landscaping enhancing the environments of northern Scotland and ameliorating the impacts of oil exploration and production. Geoff became a very active member of the newly formed Institute of Horticulture, and started serving the International Society for Horticultural Science and he represented the Royal Horticultural Society’s interests in Scotland. Recognising the importance of botanical collections resulted in his development of continuing collaborations with members of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE).
At home in Aberdeen Geoff served with the Royal Horticultural Society of Aberdeen as a show judge and as a very active member and exhibitor in the local Branch of the Scottish Rock Garden Club. His own Aberdeen City garden was extensively planted with alpines and other calcifuges not least a vivid autumnal display of Gentiana sino-ornata. Kathy, their children and he enjoyed roaming the hills and glens of northern Scotland.
Further career advancement beckoned again for Geoff with an offer of the Chair in Horticulture at Strathclyde University, Glasgow in association with the West of Scotland College’s Headship of Horticulture and Biological Sciences. Changing administrative structures resulted in Geoff’s acceptance of very senior management roles with responsibilities for horticulture and plant sciences for Scotland in teaching, research and consultancy and as Director of the Scottish Horticultural Advisory Service.
A suite of coherent educational programmes delivering progression from basic levels to postgraduate qualifications was developed which resulted in increasing student numbers. Geoff’s research laboratory burgeoned with continuing studies including Clubroot Disease, the impact of environmental stresses particularly low temperatures, foliar pathogens of Rhododendron and several projects funded by industry. The first International Symposium on Horticultural Education under the aegis of the International Society for Horticultural Science was staged by Geoff’s Department and typified its increasing internationality. Joining the EU’s Erasmus programme opened opportunities for student placements in the universities of six European countries. Geoff taught regularly in Berlin, Germany, and at Mansoura University, Egypt. Always having admired the Dutch system of progressive horticultural education Geoff developed joint courses with the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh which produced horticultural science graduates skilled in plantsmanship. The content and procedures of all the horticultural degree courses were reviewed biennially by an industry-academia group thereby maintaining relevance and employability for graduates. Kathy and Geoff took some time away during a sabbatical at the University of Madison, Wisconsin, USA where Geoff worked with his longstanding friend Professor Paul Williams who devised a micro-means for culturing rapidly growing Brassica seedlings for research and educational purposes.
Active participation in the organisation and administration of the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (MAFF) Postgraduate Scholarship Scheme resulted in Geoff raising the profile of the needs of horticulture for a supply of well-trained postgraduate entrants. Also, during this period Geoff was appointed to the Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) Qualifications Board and onto Scottish organisations structuring and guiding further educational courses.
Close liaison with the business communities in Glasgow resulted in Geoff joining the ancient City Guild of the Incorporation of Gardeners of Glasgow, one of the constituent members of the Trades Hall. As a result, he holds the Freedom of the City of Glasgow. Geoff supported in particular their “Let Glasgow Flourish” scheme which rewards those businesses actively striving for the extensive use of living floral decorations throughout the City.
Geoff and Kathy’s leisure time was mostly spent cultivating two acres of garden at their home, Helenton Mote, in Ayrshire. Their garden contained a Scheduled Celtic Hill Fort, the remains of a medieval mill and an associated burn. In a woodland landscape they planted and tended an expanding collection of species and hybrid Rhododendron (mostly obtained from his friend Peter Cox of Glendoick Nursery in the Carse of Gowrie, Perthshire), cherries. magnolias, roses and eventually with in excess of 30,000 daffodils growing amongst horse-chestnut, oak and field maple trees.
Eventually Geoff formed, GreenGene International which satisfied more adequately requests from industry for his consultancy and advisory services resulting in national and international contracts and travel. In collaboration with colleagues they formed the HorTips (Horticultural Technology into Practice) consortium which demonstrated how research knowledge could be more effectively disseminated into industry; identified how the cost-efficiency of government contacts could be quantified and evaluated the value-for-money achieved by the levy board. He co-ordinated this with developing his own Stress Biology Research Group within Strathclyde University greatly supported by the Head of Biosciences Department, Professor John Watson and the Science Faculty Officer, Mr Stewart Roy. This research recognised the similarities in cellular terms of biochemical events happening in both biotic and abiotic stresses in plants. Geoff also lectured at Wye College in ornamental and environmental horticulture; joined a group of horticulturists commissioned for advice on the development of RHS Qualifications.
The resultant Barrett Report preserved their Master of Horticulture which now thrives as a distance learning vehicle.
Over many years Geoff advised in and moderated course and research at Myerscough College, Preston Lancashire, for this work they awarded him an Honorary College Fellowship. Strathclyde University honoured Geoff with a Life Time Membership of their retreat at Ross Priory on the banks of Loch Lomond recognising his long-time service conserving the garden and its environment.
Geoff also joined the Board of Trustees of the horticultural charity, Perennial (Royal Gardeners Benevolent Society, RGBS) and the Board of Trustees of the Journal of Horticultural Science and Biotechnology (JHSB). He was elected President of the Institute of Horticulture (now the Chartered Institute of Horticulture) and appointed Vice-President of the now Royal Society of Biology, and served as Deacon of the Incorporation of Gardeners of Glasgow. Geoff became a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers of the City of London gaining also Freedom of the City of his birth. During this time Geoff contributed substantially towards the activities and effectiveness of the International Society for Horticultural Science by staging events, editing publications and publishing research findings at Symposia and Congresses.
Geoff has an immensely impressive publications record in peer review papers, popular articles and as solo-author, editor and contributor to over 20 books.
Areas of Research / Professional Expertise
soil borne microbes especially Plasmodiophora brassicae the cause of Clubroot disease in brassicas, brassica biology and husbandry, environment and stress disorders, horticulture as a means for food production, environmental conservation and biodiversity retention creation of human health and welfare, climate change mitigation
gardening in all its aspects, environment, history, international travel, society and its problems