Gardening should be about respecting and working with nature, learning and understanding what makes a garden tick, and enjoying to the full all it has to offer.

So I was delighted to visit Dave du Feu in Linlithgow and see a garden run along these lines. Thirty years ago, his new garden had been a rough patch used for storage by a local distillery.

By regularly applying compost and other organic materials, du Feu gradually transformed this unlikely spot into one of the most productive gardens I’ve seen for a long time. He happily gives away his surplus fruit and veg to lucky friends and neighbours.

This harvest depends first and foremost on soil fertility. As well as providing generous amounts of home-made compost, du Feu mulches extensively, spreading grass on thick layers of newspaper, preferably broadsheets, like The Herald. This conserves moisture and virtually eliminates weeding.

In autumn, he sows the green manure, Hungarian grazing rye, on vacant soil and rather than buying expensive seed every year, du Feu saves his own. He lets 5 or 6 small rows grow to their full 1 metre, before harvesting the grain. And to avoid tedious winnowing, he lays whole ears end to end along a shallow trench which he then covers.

Du Feu applies this money-saving approach to most of his gardening. Even though the bamboo canes he bought 20 years ago are showing their age, they’re still put to work. Why throw something out before it actually breaks? And to protect his crops against pest attack, he uses long-lasting Enviromesh, spurning wasteful, single-use fleece. And what looks like old washing line posts support a burgeoning crop of runner beans.

Although many of his materials are pretty functional, his living hazel arches are a thing of beauty. Du Fe skillfully trains several different hazel varieties, Kentish Cob, Cosford Cob and Pearson’ Prolific, as well as our native Corylus avellana.

He’s developed some unusual but very effective gardening techniques, not least a watering method that more than stood its own during this long dry spell. Against the odds, the huge marrows I saw broke all the rules and only needed watering once, even if Marketmore and Burpless Tasty Green cucumbers needed a little more.

Five litre plastic bottles were sunk neck down in nearby trenches, the bottoms were cut off and the resulting ‘reservoir’ was filled with water. By acting like tomato halos, the lower soil was kept good and moist. Another method is to scoop out a trench, soak and then fill with dry soil. The rich organic ground sitting on clay retains the water beautifully.

As well as growing an impressive selection of winter brassicas, du Feu ensures a goodly supply of carrots and beetroot by leaving them in the ground. To keep the crop frost-free, he covers the row with a thick mound of soil topped with 2 or 3 layers of Enviromesh.

Though not completely organic, du Feu values the natural environment, planting a wide selection of flowers for pollinators. I could see the likes of Phacelia, Liatris spicata, Echium, and quite a few Coltness Hybrid Dahlias attractively placed at the end of veg rows.

But the compost heap provided the icing on the cake. When lifting the cover on his New Zealand box, the ecstatic gardener revealed an off-duty toad.

Since the outset of this 30 year garden venture, Dave du Feu has kept a meticulous and thorough record of sowing, planting and harvesting dates, together with an assessment of varieties and techniques. This has to be an invaluable historical record.

Plant of the week

Hylotelephium ‘Herbstfreude' , Stonecrop ‘Herbstfreude’. Greenish pink buds open to pale pink flowers that quickly deepen to bright pink, eventually turning dark and dusky. This Sedum’s flowering reflects the changing palette of colours as summer slips into autumn.