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The organic principles of good husbandry

Updated: May 12, 2021

The Beechgrove Garden programme on BBC One Scotland was first broadcast in 1978, changing site only once, in 1995/6 when we moved away from the BBC studios in the Rosemount area of Aberdeen to an old council tree nursery due west, 6 miles from the city centre. The area used is 1.5 acres in extent; on a sloping site facing S to SW. One part of the garden was terraced but the rest follows the contours of the site.

We film there on a weekly basis from late March until September highlighting the seasonal work to be done in a garden across the spectrum from intensive glasshouse veg production to fruit and the whole gamut of ornamental gardening styles.

I am often asked if the garden is organic and the answer is 'no'. However, it is run on the organic principles of good husbandry, as is my own garden but I would describe myself as a pragmatic gardener. I don't set myself impossible and embarrassing guidelines because in my mind, I have always been an organic gardener, doing what is best for the soil, the plants and us.

I am able to compromise when necessity dictates and to the best of my accumulated knowledge. For example, when faced with a major weed problem - horse tail, Japanese knotweed, couch grass, bishop weed to name but a few, I will use glyphosate. Other treatments will work - eventually.

In the early days of my career, I did the forking out, blanketing out etc but nowadays I would rather be moving on to the next stage as expeditiously as possible and unlike some, I do have faith in science.

I use man-made fertilisers in conjunction with loads of farmyard manure and garden compost. I also use pesticides, more and more of the organic sort and constantly rail against others who overdo it - that is where many of our present problems have stemmed from.

I can hear you say 'He is a right old curmudgeon rooted in the evils of the past'. You might think that fits and naturally I would disagree! For example, this year at Beechgrove we have not used chemical pesticides in the rose garden or the fruit garden. Crops, plants, flowers are looking fine.

We decided, well, I decided that, following encouraging reports, we ought to try spraying regularly with garlic extract (combined with seaweed extract and citrus) and in my view, it has worked well.

This, in response to the realisation that modern pesticide options are being severely restricted and doing nothing is NOT a option. The only problems we had were an attack of plum aphid, literally nipped in the bud, the same happened with the gooseberries where we also a suffered an attack of gooseberry sawfly, just when we had run out of Nemasys Grow Your Own!


Sod's Law I think you call it. To add a little note of cynicism, I have heard it said that we should move a bird feeder near the fruits and rely on the local budgies to remove the caterpillars. Why do you think we built a fruit cage mate, to keep out the local lions and tigers?

Throughout our history, we have been quite outgoing, taking the programme into the community. Every week in the Beechgrove Garden programme we include two items out of the garden itself. The inserts, referred to as The Problem Corner and Through the Garden Gate are self-explanatory.

On occasion, we will tackle a Community Garden project, devoting the entire programme to it. The regeneration project we tackled recently was to highlight an initiative in Glasgow to help young people.

Based on a former YMCA site, the Y-people organisation have created a wonderful facility for sport, leisure and relaxation in a garden scenario because, as so many people are coming to realise - gardening ticks all the boxes!

Jim McColl MBE presents BBC Scotland's the Beechgrove Garden.

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