How did you get in to gardening?
That’s simple; it must have been in my genes. My father was a gardener all his working life and as you will find if you ask most professionals, he gardened in his spare time too.
One of his sisters was a market gardener, a brother was a forester and another a farmer. My paternal grandfather looked after horses. My maternal grandfather was a steam engine driver and his hobby was his allotment. I actually spent a lot of my holidays on the farm and when it came to ‘decision time’ it was a toss-up between agriculture and horticulture.
Whatever it was to be, I wanted to be outdoors because these early influences relating to the cultivation of plants, the infinite variability of the seasons, seedtime and harvest and all that jazz, had a great appeal.
What are your gardening likes and dislikes?
Don’t know what you mean!
I love ordinary things like chrysanthemums, dahlias and sweet peas. I love well-manicured lawns and tidy borders. Yesterday, I prepared and planted some brassicas and before covering up with fleece, I stood back to have a look at a job well done, with a sense of satisfaction. That was followed with planting up the last of the tomatoes in the greenhouse – they looked great. Now it is incumbent on me to look after these plants to be able to taste the outcome in due course, baby, that’s what I like!
Dislikes are few. I dislike ‘instant experts’ and chancers. Nowadays you can learn about anything on earth using one of the appropriate search engines available to us. You can then sound quite knowledgeable by reciting parrot-fashion what you have just read, lets say, about white rot of onions or clubroot of brassicas but you have never actually seen them let alone know how to deal with the consequences.
I hate serious subjects being aired and debated in ‘sound bites’. This is a common fault of modern media reporting and results in ‘ordinary folk’ getting all fired up to support/oppose things that they basically know little about. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the subject (any subject) but the whole GM crop debate is a classic example. The peat substitute debate has been completely de-railed by politicians seeking votes!
What are your most/least favourite plants?
I love trees, whether they are in open parkland, mountainsides, on the banks of a river or lining a fine boulevard. I love them in every season for their shape, flower, leaf, fruit, bark. Some are remarkably successful as garden specimens where they may be entirely on their own. My deciduous favourites include rowan, cherry, laburnum, birch, whitebeam, crab apple, there are so many. The top of my list for all year round interest is the Rowan. I am also extremely fond of conifers. Planted in groups or as single specimens, I don’t much mind. They are there 365 days of the year, a vital ingredient of any garden style. Their variety of shape, size and colour is quite stunning.
Plants outdoors, indoors, it doesn’t matter, I just love ‘em all. Well no, I have to confess, I can’t get enthusiastic about cacti!
What is your home garden like?
We have recently moved to a house with a much smaller garden – more hard landscaped areas, less grass, a significant portion in permanent planting and a small area for fruit and vegetables, in fact the latter are grown in raised beds. We still have a Garden Room and one partitioned lean-to greenhouse.
The planted areas contain some herbaceous plants and lots of bulbs, but they are mainly shrubs and trees. We have a good spring garden with quite a few rhododendrons and associated species. No hedges!
What do you do outside of The Beechgrove Garden?
I play golf occasionally. A good walk spoiled would describe my time on the course.
I am a junkie for Scottish music and since 1993, I have been compere for the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra concerts at home and abroad. In our younger days, my wife and I were very keen Scottish country dancers having learned the rudiments at school.
In my early teens, I started to have piano lessons but when I finally left home, realising that I couldn’t take the instrument with me, I bought a piano accordion and I have footered with that ever since – it’s a bit like my golf, I know what I am supposed to do but don’t always get it right!
Being a member of Rotary, I do get an opportunity to join in many of their activities, especially serving the local community. In particular, a group of us visit local care homes to entertain the residents. Donations are channelled into Rotary’s Foundation charity.
In recent times, with others, I have been spearheading a project to create a National Garden for the people of Scotland along the lines of the RHS gardens in England. The project is now called ‘The Calyx’. As I write, we are somewhat in limbo – the project is very much alive but we are still looking for an appropriate site.