Stuart McKenzie, plotholder at Inverleith Allotments, Edinburgh

How did you fall in love with gardening?

As a child I planted some sprouting potatoes in the garden to see what would happen. I was so pleased that they grew, then one day I returned home from school to find my sister had dug them up rather early because we’d run out of potatoes. The harvest was tiny, but my interest was awakened.

What kind of fruit, vegetables or herbs do you grow in your allotment?

I grow anything that tastes better fresh out of the ground or off the tree. The first of the new potatoes, sweetcorn cooked straight after it’s been picked, ripe plums off the tree or strawberries before the slugs find them. There is nothing better.

What makes it so special?

As well as growing food, an allotment supports a huge amount of biodiversity. From bees that pollinate fruit trees, ground beetles that eat pests, frogs to keep the slug population down and even foxes that keep mice and voles in check. We even have a heron that stands on top of sheds looking for mice to pounce on. I read recently that the most successful place for urban biodiversity was an allotment site.

What are the biggest challenges?

These days it must be the unpredictable weather. Warm springs followed by snow, then storms, then drought. I do wonder what climate change will bring next.

What do you enjoy most?

Trying different varieties, especially potatoes. I’m delighted to know a supplier of old and unusual varieties that lets me grow them myself. This year I have planted a variety from 1891 named Sharpe’s Pink Seedling. You don’t find those in the shops.

Any top tips you would give to aspiring gardeners?

Learn a bit first. Sit down with a good book written by someone who knows what they are doing. My encouragement many years ago was Geoffrey Smith and his TV series. The accompanying book had a photo of Geoffrey with a wheelbarrow full of his vegetables. His proud look and broad grin were inspirational.

What are the common mistakes people make when starting gardening?

Watching garden make-over programmes, expecting instant results and ending up with a back injury. Take it easy; little but often will get much better results.

Best gardening advice you have been given?

This sounds ridiculous; but how to dig. If you dig out the first trench, or “spit”, into a wheelbarrow, then dig the second spit into the first and so on. Finally empty the wheelbarrow into the last one. It’s loads easier, especially when planting potatoes.

What trends have you noticed in gardening recently?

Compost heaps are essential to replace soil fertility, yet I see perfectly good green waste being either thrown away or burnt, apparently to keep an allotment “tidy”. Why throw away your allotment?

I have two heaps; one being filled, the other from last year happily rotting down, feeding invertebrates and generating a bit of heat to help the squash plants on top growing through black plastic from old compost bags.

The following year the compost gets dug into my potato trenches; any weed seeds left simply can’t germinate that deep down. Oh, and the squashes make soup.

Any gardening disasters over the years?

No disasters but a huge challenge was my first allotment. The council had rotovated the entire plot and it looked great to me; freshly dug and all set to plant up. Not at all. It had been covered in couch grass that spreads like wildfire along underground stems.

All those roots had been chopped up and ready to grow into a blanket of weeds. Fortunately, I had good friends who helped take all the roots out by sieving with a garden fork. It took us two months.

How do you keep plants free of pests?

I’m pleased that organic gardening has become the norm, but pests do still cause problems. My advice is that healthy plants don’t seem to have problems and if they do suffer then they seem to recover much better.

If possible, grow your own plants from seed rather than buying garden centre plants that look perfect but seem to struggle once you plant them out. Don’t forget to harden off plants.

Choose a fruit, vegetable or herb: why would you grow it and what is your key tip?

Tomatoes. The contrast between supermarket specimens and homegrown is incredible. I've grown old varieties from Garden Organic's Heritage Seed Library and even found unusual packets of seeds on my holidays; a small plum tomato in Jordan, a beef tomato in Athens and one bigger than your fist in Barcelona.

The seeds germinate well on top of my fridge where it is slightly warmer. I've rigged up a light box that really brings them on in early March ready to be planted into my greenhouse in April. Fingers crossed they taste as good as they look on the packets. This is allowed but check the rules if you are outside the EU where only five packets are allowed into the UK.

Pop along to the Scottish Allotments stand in the Garden 4 Life section at Gardening Scotland 2019, Royal Highland Centre, Ingliston, Edinburgh, from May 31 to June 2. Visit

Louise Arnot, head gardener at Culross Palace, Fife

How do you choose what to grow at Culross Palace?

The theory is that the plants in the garden should have been introduced into cultivation by the time George Bruce was trading and building the palace, roughly 1550-1620. There are some ornamental exceptions which, along with some of the varieties of apples, date from the 1800s or early 1900s.

What makes it so special?

It’s a representation of a husbandry plot rather than a garden as such. “Husband” in this case being the person who tends the plant growing area which was something quite valuable as it helped provide food for the house dweller.

Garden, as we use the term, is something coined later and with a slightly different meaning and what is displayed here is at odds with that expectation. Today many of the plants growing here are considered weeds or unpalatable. However, in times past they would have been used for flavouring meals, in medicine, brewing and dyeing.

People recognise the familiar herbs like parsley or fennel but are surprised if they get a chance to taste garlic mustard or sorrel.

The garden is organic. Can you explain what this means?

A guiding principle rather than a hard line. As a rule, we don’t use manufactured/synthetic additives to give plants a boost. Rather, this comes from homemade compost derived from the green and some woody waste generated on site and applied as part of a rolling programme where it’s needed.

If an extra something is required blood, fish and bone, or hoof and horn fertilisers might be used – a similar product would have been available in George Bruce’s day.

Pesticides are rarely used as we are mindful of the natural order of prey and predator. Greenfly can be present on our roses, for example. Fortunately, any damage done is not significant. Ladybirds and wasps dine on aphids, so we rely on them to keep greenfly/blackfly in check.

How do you keep plants free of pests?

The garden is not free of pests. Slugs, snails, greenfly, caterpillars, pigeons and people are all found at various times of the year on or in plants. We take the approach of sowing seeds under cover in the glasshouse rather than in open ground and planting out the young plants when big enough and hopefully tough enough that slugs and snails find them unpalatable.

Greenfly have natural predators such as the ladybird, which we bear in mind over winter and don’t tidy the garden too much to give them shelter and allow them to feast on greenfly during the season.

Allowing a degree of untidiness over the winter also aids other beneficial insects that feast on those that can cause harm. Brassicas, members of the cabbage family that we grow – pigeons love them – are netted to stop the birds devouring our young plants.

Visitors pinching fruit is reduced by having plants growing out of reach from the path and sometimes the teasels help with the provision of a prickly barrier.

What are the biggest challenges?

The unpredictable Scottish weather is one, another can be visitor expectations.

What do you enjoy most?

Watching seeds sown growing into the wanted plant and sneaking the occasional raspberry.

Any top tips you would give to aspiring gardeners?

Do a little bit internal dialogue to gain an understanding of what the individual would like to see happening in their garden, carry out a bit of research to find out about what type of soil you have, watch where the sun reaches and at which times in the day.

Once this is known, further research could be done to find out if the sort of plant you had envisaged growing would cope with these conditions. Adjustment may be required or a complete change of direction; damp-loving plants will not do very well in a sandy soil.

What are the common mistakes people make when starting gardening?

Being seduced by the bright colours and lush growth of display plants in garden centres. This can lead to the purchase of plants unsuited to the growing conditions at home resulting in poorly plants or plant death.

Not reading the plant label, particularly the bit about eventual height and spread. All plants will grow, some more than others and some more quickly than others.

Over time this results in frustrations about perceived poor performance with the slower grower and then the ‘OMG!’ moment when it dawns just how big that plant is, especially in a small place.

Best gardening advice you have been given?

Don’t rush it. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Gardening is an ongoing process which is subject to changes for many reasons. Learn to go with these. Stop and take a moment to enjoy the view around you occasionally.

Any gardening disasters over the years?

Each year there are some seeds that don’t germinate first or second time with no easy way to find a reason, which is frustrating rather than disastrous.

Occasionally a mature shrub or rose plant has died which has been unexpected. However, the bright side is that a space has opened up to try something new in its place.

The gardens at Culross Palace feature in Outlander. Are people keen to replicate this space?

We occasionally get comments regarding the Outlander connections which can lead to discussions regarding individual plants and their use.

In some instances, these are species which have been deemed invasive or a nuisance in the visitor’s home country, but they don’t know why they were brought there. I’ve not yet had anyone asking about replicating what’s growing here at home.


Fergus Walker, Glasgow project manager for The Orchard Project

How did you fall in love with gardening?

I planted an apple pip when I was a wee boy and I can remember being excited by that. I fell in love with orchards specifically when I was working for Fife Diet in 2013. I learned a lot about sourcing food locally, including how many heritage varieties of apples there are from Scotland.

When I joined The Orchard Project three years ago, it allowed me to focus on that passion. I am now based in Glasgow, managing community orchards across the city. The Orchard Project aims to bring orchards into the heart of urban communities and help build a habitat for wildlife.

What do you grow in the orchards?

Fruit, nuts and some herbs. That includes apples, pears, plums, damsons and cherries. We are looking at climate change and how that affects what we grow. One of the orchards in London planted an avocado, although that is probably a little ambitious for the Scottish climate.

What makes it so special?

Working on a different timescale to most usual types of gardening: the trees we plant can live for 100 years.

What are the biggest challenges?

A lot of our orchards are in parks and openly accessible. Sometimes general passers-by might not appreciate what is going on. Even just simple things like don’t pick the fruit in July because it will taste horrible. That patience is required. One of our biggest challenges is probably human beings.

What do you enjoy most?

I love picking fruit and foraging. I discovered an apple tree on the edge of Pollok Park in Glasgow which I think probably grew from someone throwing an apple core over the fence some years ago. It produces amazing fruit. I also enjoy the design aspect of orchards and the sense of collective achievement when working with the community groups.

What top tips would you give to any aspiring gardeners?

Make sure you plant a tree with the right spacing. Once planted sprinkle some mycorrhizal fungi around the roots. This has a symbiotic relationship with the roots allowing the tree to access a third more nutrients than it would otherwise.

Add a good, thick layer of mulch. Wood chip is good as all-round feed and keeping down weeds.

If you have deciduous wood chip on your trees and bushes, when that breaks down it will encourage fungi to develop which adds an extra element of nutrition for the plants.

Make sure you water a new tree well. A good bucket or two of water each week and you will notice the difference. Keep on top of the pruning.

Any gardening disasters over the years?

Last year I received delivery of some trees just before the Beast from the East. I put them in a shed thinking they would be fine until I got the chance to deal with them.

Two days later heavy snowfall and freezing conditions arrived. I feared they would end up completely frozen and battled through the snow to rescue and put them in another building above freezing. Despite my panic those trees all came through fine.

How do you keep trees free of pests?

I like to use organic methods and don’t advocate chemicals because the residues are left in the ground and the fruit. Chipped willow twigs have beneficial effects for the tree to build its immune system and combat disease. The other thing to do is encourage as many predatory insects as possible. Make sure there is habitat and forage around for the likes of ladybirds and hoverflies. Flowers such as lavender as well as mint and nettles are a good all-round habitat that are popular with insects.

Choose a fruit, vegetable or herb: why would you grow it and what is your key tip?

We have just planted a fig tree in Govanhill in Glasgow. The variety that is recommended for northern climes is called Brown Turkey. That needs a very sheltered and south-facing spot.

One of the best things to grow if you are starting out is blackcurrants. They are very forgiving and resilient. Blackcurrants will grow anywhere and produce a great crop.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of The Orchard Project. To get involved, visit