Jim McColl

The gar­dener re­flects on four decades in charge of Beech­grove Gar­den, his love of Scot­tish mu­sic, his ha­tred of one un­for­tu­nate veg­etable, and what’s turn­ing him into a grumpy old man

Scottish Field - - CREDO -

I was al­ways des­tined to be a gar­dener, if there’s any truth in the ru­mour that the genes have a story to tell. My fa­ther had a sis­ter and two broth­ers who were in­volved in hor­ti­cul­ture, and my fa­ther was a gar­dener all his days. My ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther was a rail­way­man. He drove puffer trains from Glas­gow to Carlisle, and like so many of them he had an al­lot­ment. Dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, when my fa­ther was away for King and Coun­try, I spent a lot of time with him scrab­bling about in the soil. My chil­dren haven’t in­her­ited green fin­gers. My son lives in Cam­bo­dia – he mar­ried an Aus­tralian girl and they have a ho­tel. I wouldn’t like to gar­den in that cli­mate – it’s very hot and steamy. My daugh­ter is a sports fa­natic. She’s got to that Iron Man – or Iron Woman – stage. I never thought Beech­grove would go for so long. When we started in ’78 we were chuffed to be asked back. We were as­ton­ished by how well it was re­ceived. It was on at ten o’clock on a Fri­day night. The boys were com­ing back from the pub at that time, but when they were in they sat down and got a re­minder of what they should be do­ing the next morn­ing. I’ve al­ways been into Scot­tish mu­sic. Since I was a boy I’ve lis­tened to it on the ra­dio, then I was for­tu­nate to be com­père of the Scot­tish Phil­har­monic Orches­tra con­certs for 20 years. Some of those peo­ple re­main firm friends. I play a pi­ano ac­cor­dion – badly. Mind you, I find I’m re­ally quite good af­ter mid­night, when peo­ple be­come less per­cep­tive. So of­ten, be­ing able to play an in­stru­ment breaks the ice. You can be some­where that has a pi­ano, and some­body will say, can any­body knock out a tune on it? And, be­fore you know where you are, there’s a rag­ing singsong. I can’t stand cel­ery. There were chores that you be­came in­ured to, es­pe­cially in the early days. There were jobs you had to do by hand and they were bor­ing as hell. Wash­ing clay pots on a cold morn­ing was one, and plant­ing cel­ery for hours on end was an­other. I hate the bloody stuff. My skin smelled of cel­ery for days af­ter­wards; it put me right off eat­ing it. I can be your clas­sic grumpy old man, es­pe­cially when I see peo­ple teach­ing oth­ers in a way that makes me won­der if they were ever taught prop­erly them­selves. That gets ir­ri­tat­ing. When I’m grumpy, I say I can’t be po­lite any longer, I’m run­ning out of time! One of my favourite places is Loch Fin­lag­gan on Is­lay, the seat of the Lords of the Isles. There’s a cou­ple of is­lands in the mid­dle of the loch. There’s a boat there now, but at one time you had to walk across a cause­way that’s hid­den by the wa­ter. That was how they de­fended them­selves – if you didn’t know the code, you were go­ing to get drookit. You can get your­self out on that loch and just sit. You can al­most hear the peo­ple of the past go­ing about their busi­ness. It’s sub­lime. I’m a mem­ber of the Ro­tary Club in In­verurie, and we have a Glee Club. There’s a fid­dle player, a cou­ple of gui­tar play­ers, a squeeze box and a pi­anist. We go and en­ter­tain the old folk, but given our av­er­age age must be about 75, all of us could just as eas­ily be in the au­di­ence. I was aw­ful at his­tory at school but I en­joy his­tor­i­cal nov­els. I’m on a Nigel Tran­ter at the mo­ment, set in the 12th cen­tury. I like any­thing that’s not too in­tel­lec­tual. I’m a great fan of Re­bus and Bernard Corn­well – I love Sharpe, he’s a real rogue. At heart I’m just an or­di­nary bloke do­ing an or­di­nary job, but do­ing it in pub­lic. The con­se­quences are peo­ple can stop you in the street, or phone you up to ask about things. For­tu­nately, I like peo­ple. Life is hec­tic but if you don’t have time for peo­ple, you must find life aw­ful dif­fi­cult. Beech­grove Gar­den is on Thursdays at 7.30pm on BBC2 Scot­land

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