Alexander (Sandy) Laird Inkster

Respected gardener to the Royals - and a familiar face to Beechgrove Garden viewers

Born: June 5 1928

Died: June 25 2019

Sandy Inkster was born in Crathie and died peacefully at home in Cults in Aberdeen.

His long life ended 45 miles downriver from where it began, but the journey in between took in a lot more than the valley of the Dee he loved so much.

He was one of Scotland's most renowned gardeners, who worked everywhere from Balmoral and on the Beechgrove Garden to the high lands of Uganda.

Indeed, when he appeared on the famous BBC gardening programme - at the age of 90 - he came across as a TV natural and delighted his long-time friend, Jim McColl.

The latter said this week: "I loved Sandy from the moment I met him. He didn't say much, but what he did say was always worth listening to.

"He was a perfectionist, somebody who worked tirelessly with people of all ages, and he made many, many friends. I am very fortunate to have known him."

Sandy’s father was electrician and handyman at Balmoral, and the Inksters lived only a stone’s throw from the Royal Family’s summer home.

He was the youngest of three boys: sadly, their mother died when Sandy was still very young.

But his older brothers David and Hugh made sure he was loved and protected, despite that loss.

The boys roamed the hills and glens around their home, learning the country skills that meant there was always fresh fish or rabbit for tea.

He left Crathie School as soon as he reached the age of fourteen, and joined the gardening staff at Balmoral. Three years later, he qualified as a journeyman gardener and headed off to train as a horticulturalist at the East of Scotland School of Agriculture in Edinburgh.

Sandy was of an age to do National Service, but by now the war was over and, as a trained horticulturalist, was asked to do Work of National Importance in the countryside instead.

So once he finished his training, back he went to Balmoral, to spend two years working in forestry and game management for King and Country.

After that, it was back to Edinburgh, to take his qualifications to diploma level at the Royal Botanic Gardens. While there, he met a young woman who had come from Shetland to train to be a teacher at Moray House, and Joeina Sinclair was to be the love of his life.

He wrote to her every day after he graduated and set off for a new life in Africa, and a year later they were to marry.

Sandy spent more than twenty years setting up and managing tea estates in the Uganda Highlands, both before and after independence from Britain in 1962.

Jo went to Uganda too, but came home to Shetland for the birth of their first child, Janette.

She later described her time in the hills of Uganda her “wilderness years”, although both her younger daughters Sandra and Fiona were born there.

Everything changed when Idi Amin came to power, and Sandy was given 24 hours to leave the country at Easter 1973.

On returning to the North East, he had a spell as a travelling salesman in agricultural seeds, before taking a job as a manager with local horticulturalists Ben Reid’s.

He spent many happy years there, working with two generations of the Fraser family and that was also where he met Jim McColl.

Sandy’s decades in retirement in Aberdeen were both long and fruitful. He was winning awards for his garden and allotments up to his ninetieth year, accomplishments crowned by the award of P&J Garden of the Year for the whole of the North and North East in 2017.

Prizes for his bonsai were too many to count, and he educated and delighted many when he and his garden and allotments appeared several times on Beechgrove Garden.

In retirement, Sandy and Jo saw their daughters grow up, providing them with grandchildren and great-grandchildren galore, and Sandy reconnected with many old acquaintances.

David died in 2006; big brother Hugh is still going strong in Ballater at the age of ninety-two, and half-brother Richard lives in the Highlands.

Sandy Inkster had a full life in every sense, uniting in his ninety-one years the countryman’s love of his native land with the adventurer’s love of faraway places.

He was sustained through a short illness at the end of his life by his Christian faith, Jo’s loving care, and the support of his daughters and wider family.