Af­ter 33 years the Beech­grove Gar­den’s suc­cess still blooms

Age of aus­ter­ity cred­ited for re­cent pop­u­lar­ity as show set to re­turn for new se­ries


IT is a peren­nial hardy favourite that has in­spired more than three decades of green-fin­gered en­thu­si­asts and, as Beech­grove Gar­den pre­pares to re­turn to our tele­vi­sion screens for a new se­ries next week, there are few signs of the nation’s af­fec­tion wan­ing.

BBC Scot­land has re­ported a 17% rise in au­di­ence fig­ures year-on-year from 2009 to 2010. The most re­cent se­ries gar­nered 280,000 view­ers, its rise in pop­u­lar­ity be­ing cred­ited in part to the cur­rent age of fi­nan­cial aus­ter­ity.

“We are in­cred­i­bly pleased about the con­tin­ued suc­cess of Beech­grove Gar­den,” said Gwyneth Hardy, pro­ducer of the pro­gramme.

“With the dif­fi­cult fi­nan­cial times we live in, it’s no sur­prise peo­ple are in­ter­ested in grow­ing their own fruit and veg­eta­bles – and are also keen to im­prove their sur­round­ings.”

From hum­ble be­gin­nings in 1978, Beech­grove Gar­den has grown into a tele­vi­sion in­sti­tu­tion. The orig­i­nal gar­den fea­tured in the pro­gramme was a small plot of land at­tached to the BBC stu­dios in Aberdeen, lo­cated in the city’s Beech­grove Ter­race.

The show be­came an in­stant hit with gar­den­ers north of the Bor­der be­cause it worked with the grow­ing sea­son in Scot­land, un­like other pro­grammes made hun­dreds of miles to the south.

Much of its early suc­cess was cred­ited to the on-screen chem­istry of pre­sen­ters Jim McColl and the late Ge­orge Bar­ron who, de­spite their starkly dif­fer­ent back­grounds – one a hor­ti­cul­tural aca­demic, the other a son of the soil – com­ple­mented each other per­fectly.

“You can’t man­u­fac­ture these things. It was a pure ac­ci­dent – we just hit it off,” says McColl. “We didn’t com­pete or try to outdo each other, con­scious of the fact that each had some­thing to con­trib­ute. We had some great fun pre­sent­ing to­gether.”

That’s not to say there wasn’t the oc­ca­sional lost in trans­la­tion mo­ment.

“In the North East, where Ge­orge was from, they have a ten­dency to add a ‘y’ or an ‘ie’ to the end of a word,” says McColl. “One day Ge­orge was do­ing a link to the next part of the pro­gramme and said: ‘You’re get­ting on fine with that Jim, I’ll leave you to it. I’ve a wee jobby to do in the pot­ting shed ...’

“Well, the cam­era guys fell off their podi­ums, the sound man dropped his mi­cro­phone and ev­ery­one was in hys­ter­ics.”

Bar­ron re­tired in 1984 and was re­placed by the ap­pro­pri­ately named Dick Gar­diner. Ca­role Bax­ter, who had worked be­hind the scenes as head gar­dener, joined the pre­sent­ing team two years later.

Other faces over the years have in­cluded Bill Tor­rance, Sid Robert­son, Jim McKirdy and Wal­ter Gil­more.

McColl and Bax­ter re­main to­day along­side Carolyn Spray, Les­ley Wat­son and Ge­orge An­der­son.

In the early days, the Beech­grove Gar­den Road Show trav­elled the length and breadth of the coun­try.

On one oc­ca­sion a man brought an en­tire branch from his ail­ing plum tree, while oth­ers trav­elled to Aberdeen from Glas­gow in the hope of hear­ing the se­cret of grow­ing great turnips straight from the horse’s mouth.

Celebrity fans in­clude folk mu­si­cian Phil Cun­ning­ham and ac­tor Gregor Fisher. In the win­ter of 1990, the Beech­grove Gar­den was re­lo­cated to a new site on the out­skirts of Aberdeen – where it re­mains to­day.

The show then made the move from BBC 2 Scot­land to BBC 1 Scot­land in 2007.

Start­ing out few imag­ined the show would achieve such longevity.

“I didn’t think I would be a tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter, never mind be do­ing it all this time,” says Bax­ter. “I orig­i­nally went for a be­hind the scenes role, but it’s been a great op­por­tu­nity and 25 years later I’m still there.”

McColl, 75, has no plans to re­tire any time soon.

“They keep ask­ing me back,” he says. “I sup­pose as long as I’m not for­get­ting things and can stoat from one bit to an­other I’ll keep do­ing it. I of­ten com­pare gar­den­ing to mu­sic: you can be a spec­ta­tor or par­tic­i­pate at any level and get a lot of sat­is­fac­tion from it.”

This year’s se­ries will see the team at­tempt to rem­edy the dam­age to the nation’s gar­dens from the re­cent harsh win­ter and trial a host of or­ganic pes­ti­cides to keep par­a­sites at bay.

“We have been in­spired by a lovely gar­den in Fife which has a mix­ture of or­na­men­tal and edible plants, so we are go­ing to at­tempt to re-cre­ate that in the Beech­grove Gar­den,” says Bax­ter. “We’re look­ing for­ward to get­ting out into the com­mu­nity – and lots of suc­cesses and fail­ures in the gar­den.”

l The new se­ries of Beech­grove Gar­den starts on BBC 1 Scot­land on Mon­day at 7.30pm.

Pic­ture: Derek Iron­side

FLOWER POWER: Jim McColl, Les­ley Wat­son, Ca­role Bax­ter and Carolyn Spray pre­pare for a new se­ries, and McColl, above, and Ge­orge Bar­ron, top, in the early days.

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