Gardening magazine. The Beechgrove team are in Orkney, a place with famously tough growing conditions, where they discover how much has been achieved by its gardeners.
Browse content similar to Episode 16. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
Hello, and welcome to Beechgrove Garden on the Orkney Isles.
And we are actually in Stromness,
sometimes called the gateway to the islands.
And it nestles in a lovely bay and a natural harbour.
And it could be said that most of the tourists that arrive on
the islands come by sea, and arguably this is the most dramatic entrance.
Now, the Orkney Islands of course are not just one island.
It's about 90 different islands. But they're not all inhabited.
About 20 of them are inhabited.
There's 21,000 people here.
But do you know, the people are outnumbered by cattle.
This is a place that produces prime beef,
and there are more cattle here than there are people.
But it's just a fabulous climate altogether.
Well, it is fabulous,
but I think we've all heard the phrase "four seasons in one day"
and I think a lot of people might actually say, "Only two seasons in one day in Orkney,"
because in the summertime you've got the sort of long, light days,
and in the winter the very short, dark days.
So, on the longest day,
when the sun sets and, you know, when it rises and sets,
we've got 18 hours of light, whereas in the winter it's
only about six, which is incredible, the difference.
One characteristic that's noticeable is that hardly a day goes past,
but there's a wind.
Even in this gorgeous summer day there's a light breeze
and there's a bite in that.
And that sets up challenges for gardeners,
but you never find a gardener who's not going to accept that.
We're away to have a look at some.
Isn't this just amazing?
It's the garden that belongs to Barry and Chris and, you know,
they've only been here for just two years.
And this is just a tiny part of their garden.
But what's been really important to them
when they moved here is to enjoy the surrounding landscape,
so when they created the pond they wanted to make sure it was
looking really natural so, you know, we can enjoy
things like the buttercups as well as that beautiful scenery.
Later on, Jim, George and myself, we're going to be trying to
answer some questions from the gardeners of Orkney.
This is a thing called Ctenanthe oppenheimiana variegata.
-Oh, come on.
-Where did you get that from?
And also we're going to find some more fabulous gardens for you.
Starting off with Caroline and Kevin Critchlow,
who not only have a stunning garden that works with
the challenging conditions,
but Caroline has also organised a whole Orkney Garden Festival,
and it and they are the reasons for Beechgrove being here.
George went to take a look.
Caroline, you organised the Orkney Garden Festival.
How did all that start?
Well, it started with our very young garden
and a very ill husband, who'd had a 22-hour operation on a brain
tumour at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.
And we wanted to raise some money for the ward to say thank you.
So, there was an article in the local paper
where Kevin looked horrendous on this picture, and all these
people came out of the woodwork and we raised £1,200 in one day.
So, we thought, "Oh, we're on to something here."
So we started a charity called Friends of the Neuro Ward ARI.
And other friends with gardens decided to help me,
and it developed into the Orkney Garden Festival.
-And how many were on the trail this year?
That's phenomenal. It really is.
It was a lot of work, but it was lovely.
And the gardens looked fantastic.
Now, this is your fantastic garden, if I might say so.
-Are you going to show me round?
-I'd love to show you round.
-Come on, Crumple.
-Come on, Crumple!
Now, do you have a formula for successful gardening in Orkney?
-Yes, and funnily enough I would call it the three S's.
And the first S is support.
So, these are supports that I put in the garden which are ornamental,
but they do a job.
That climbing rose would not survive the slightest breeze, let alone
the 60mph gale we had at the weekend, so that's really important.
-And you can see that the support is supported by the support.
That's the strength of the wind.
But we've also got other sorts of supports there.
We've got the shelter of the big dry stone walls,
but the wind vortexes over the top of those,
and these diagonal wind fences which go all the way along the long
border here, they act as supports and shelter.
So, they interrupt the swirl which you get at the back here.
That's right. At the weekend that was like a strimmer.
The wind was a strimmer. And I lost so many alliums, I can't tell you.
Which brings me on to the third S, which is succession.
You have to have successional planting.
You have to have strong plants, strong, thuggy plants to protect
the others, but you have to have successional planting.
So, for example here, this Johnson's Blue,
if that were destroyed in a gale tomorrow, which it could be,
then I have immediately got these lovely daisies which are going to
fill that space, so I'll cut those down, they'll take their place.
Now, gardening is a labour of love at the best of times,
but in Orkney, the same?
It's got to be a labour of love in Orkney.
And it really helps if you've got a great husband like I've got.
-We're a real partnership.
I do all the planting,
but he does the most fantastic hard landscaping,
so we've got the 60-foot rill here which he built
and he's a dry stone waller, of course, and he's built all
the wonderful stone pyramids around the garden, too.
Now, any arguments?
One or two, but he usually learns to say yes eventually.
Well, the whole thing is just inspirational.
-It really is fabulous.
-Oh, I'm glad you like it.
This is Orkney's museum garden,
which is right in the centre of Kirkwell.
And, of course, it benefits from a lot of shelter.
We've got the surrounding buildings, fairly mature trees
and the high wall.
So that means that the plants are really lush and absolutely thriving.
This Filipendula, perfectly happy.
Can't see any staking.
But for me, take a look at the cabbage palm.
That just shows you it is a maritime climate.
And, wow, how about these Phormiums, or the New Zealand flax?
So many flowering spikes, and those flowers just about to open.
Just like the other plants, they're thriving.
Now, just up the road are the King Street Halls, which is
where we're holding our Q&A session.
Mark Stephen is the MC for the evening,
and I think I'd better go and join Jim and George and attempt to answer
some of those gardening questions from Orkney.
I am not saying that Orkney is a windy place to garden,
but the rumour is that if you sow seeds on Orkney from too high up,
they actually grow in Norway.
Here to answer your questions tonight,
please welcome our panel, the king of Scottish gardeners,
gentleman Jim McColl, the blushing rose of Scottish horticulture,
and the rogue tattie in a dreel of Kerr's Pinks, George Anderson.
Ladies and gentlemen, your Question Time panel.
OK. First question.
My name is Lily Wilson, and I live in Kirkwall.
We grow turnips every year, and they've been
a success for many years, until the last couple of years.
The leaves are eaten, so the turnips are going to be no use.
There's not much of a leaf!
-No, they're all like that.
You're familiar with that, Jim?
I think it's probably birds.
I was prepared to say, without seeing it, that it
could well be flea beetle.
But that's something that is a fairly veracious feeder.
And my answer to you is not that you can't grow them any longer,
-but would be to put some fleece over them, protect them.
Make some little hoops and put the fleece over the top.
You don't need to use any chemicals at all, but you just give them
Do you get many pigeons?
-I wondered about that.
We have a lot of pigeons now.
Well, stop feeding them!
-Because what you've got to...
-We don't feed them!
What you need to remember is swedes belong
to the same family as Brassicas,
so the cabbages, the Brussels sprouts.
-And pigeons just love that group of plants.
Yes, I've got a Poinsettia there,
and it's 18-month-old. It's still in flower.
-It's been in flower for 18 months? It's...
-Is it real?
As far as I ken!
-What's the problem?
-Yeah, what are you complaining about?!
What should I be doing with it?
Is that a kind of usual thing for a plant like that or not?
-We buy one every Christmas.
-And we throw it out at Easter.
Right, so it keeps through till then,
-but we just get fed up with it so we throw it out.
It just got bigger and bigger. It's about a feet and a half.
Carole, what's Lynn doing wrong? LAUGHTER
I don't think she's doing anything wrong.
And what I want to say is, the Orkney conditions
are perfect for this plant, because...
-It's a short day.
-..it's a short day plant.
And what do you have? You have your long days in the summer,
-and you have your very short days in the winter.
So those short days, you need, like, about 12,
eight to 12 weeks to initiate those beautiful, colourful bracts.
Yeah, the red bracts.
And that, probably, is why it's doing so well.
If you're ever taking a holiday in the Mediterranean in the middle
-of summer, you will look up to the bracts...
-..because the plants grow to six, seven, eight feet tall.
-So, are you prepared to do a bit of an extension, you know?
The plants that we get at Christmas time, which are lovely
and compact, number one, they have been treated with a chemical
growth retardant, which dwarfs them and keeps them small.
They need something like ten to 12 weeks
of dark, over 12 hours.
-Which is not a problem here.
-Which is not a problem.
But the effect of the chemical
wears off, so it'll just keep growing.
-Is that worth the bother?
-I don't know!
You can buy one for £3.99, for the love of goodness!
-Fling it out!
-Yeah! Thank you!
Thank you very much.
My name is Anne Barr.
We have a small garden on the coast,
on the north-west of the mainland at Birsay.
And we get battered by the wind and salt spray.
How can we cope with the salt winds
bouncing off our garden wall?
We even actually had an eel blown from the sea,
-and it landed in the garden.
-Oh, get out of here! That's ridiculous!
-Yes! We found it, a black...
We thought it was a snake and then we realised, no, it was an eel,
-lying amongst the plants.
-Is this your husband sitting behind you,
doing the fisherman's trick, going, "It was that big! It was!"
I think it's, to Orkney, it's universal,
this problem of high wind speeds.
And what exaggerates the wind speed is when it has a solid barrier.
Because it has to come over the top, and then there is a vacuum
formed underneath, and so it comes right down and it swirls.
And when it swirls, it's like a strimmer, and it just,
you know, it takes the tops off everything.
So, either you use a sacrificial...
I know, do you have a plant which you can afford to lose?
These high walls which you've got,
if you were to put sycamore seedlings
dotted along the border in the back there,
which you were quite happy to have, they're not the prettiest of plants,
but what they will do is that they will absorb some of the wind
pressure, they will break up the vortexes and you will be able
to grow things in the shade and the shelter round about them.
-You can then start to cultivate things.
So, what you have to do is to frustrate it,
but don't pick sycamores.
They're worse than Meyersdale, for goodness' sake. I've got three
of them on the other side of my back fence,
and they're an absolute flaming menace, because we've got all
the seedlings growing everywhere, up in the lawn and...
Not sycamores, no.
Well, would you not need something reasonably robust to deal
with the seafood that's actually coming up the drive?
That's perfectly true. It is trial and error.
There are plants that are very good, that will not be damaged by
salt, and then, secondly,
there are those that can actually withstand it.
And it's a trial and error, or listen to other people,
or go and look at other gardens where it is a success.
Carole, it's obviously very important to break wind
in the garden. But...
-Rather than the sycamores...
-..what about willow?
Well, Willow is fine.
Because they've got slightly hairy leaves,
so you're looking for things that have got hairy leaves,
grey foliage plants, some of the beautiful ornamental grasses
that are a bit smaller, so not your steepers, not your
Pampas grasses, but you could have things like Fescues.
And they're lovely because they move in the wind.
You might want to remember as well with some of the herbaceous
-perennials, we can do the Chelsea chop.
So, you know, Chelsea happens in May and, actually, if some of your
herbaceous gets damaged,
it doesn't do any harm to cut them back.
So, not all is lost.
We have cut them all back, and we're hoping,
we're looking every day with hope, especially a day like today.
-Thank you very much.
My name is Billy Jolly, and I garden in Kirkwall.
I grow vegetables mainly,
and they have always got a problem with carrot fly.
I decided to put fleece over my carrots this year, hoping
that would be OK, but the carrot root fly
has already decimated my plants.
What do I do about it?
The carrot fly has three generations in the South of England,
two generations in Scotland.
The first-generation eggs are actually laid towards
the end of April,
so you would expect the maggots to be active in the beginning of May.
You guys might be just behind that, but thereabouts.
Now, one of our roadshows last year in Nairn,
we went to see the carrot king of Scotland, Stephen Jack.
We were standing in a 20-acre park of carrots, absolutely immaculate.
So, the 64,000 question at the end of our chat,
as we walked down the rows, how do you control carrot fly?
He puts on three garlic sprays to cover the period of time
-when these maggots will be out.
-What does the garlic spray do?
-Does it kill the carrot root fly?
-It masks the smell.
-So it can't find its way to the carrot?
Now, the second generation of the fly can do a lot more damage.
The second generation with us is August.
And if you get a generation then and don't control it,
these are the maggots that will burrow into the maturing roots.
And if they then get wet, they will start to rot.
So, Billy, can I just check, did you say you'd used fleece?
I put fleece on my plants this year.
-Right from the beginning?
Right from the start, before they were showing, even.
So, you know, that's a bit strange, but are they, like, because of
the wind, do you tuck it right in? Are you sure there's no gaps?
I think I did, but the wind kind of tends to blow it off.
Yes, you know, so that's the important thing.
You maybe need to dig it in, or you need to get some fence
posts or something like that.
I used environmesh over the top - it's this very fine mesh,
it's not like fleece, it's just a little bit sturdier.
I have seen me putting this on and sewing material, sowing the
seeds right at the very beginning, and still I'll get carrot root fly.
And I reckon it's because
the pupae are in the ground from the previous year.
The other question which one would ask is how good a rotation
do you keep within your garden?
Because I quite fully go with that idea that the pupae
could still be in the ground, it could be the over-winter stage,
and they're actually coming from within, as it were.
But more importantly, moving round in a rotation,
so that you're not going back on the same ground.
Our favourite is a four-year rotation.
It maybe doesn't control the entire problem, but it will
fairly reduce, I would have thought, the chances of getting it.
Lesley Livsey? Lesley?
There we go. Right, thank you very much.
I garden at Marengo Community Garden in the Hope.
We have a huge daisy bush.
And we would like some advice on how to trim it
without killing it off.
-Anderson's your man.
-Oh, I don't know, not always.
I visited the garden yesterday,
and I was blown away by that bush.
It is just absolutely outstanding.
You can propagate it from cuttings, once the leaves start to firm up.
At the moment, the shoots are very, very soft,
because I was actually looking at it to see if there was any cuttings.
But there wasn't. The leaves are too soft at the moment.
I would wait until it had firmed up a little bit,
and then I might think about taking cuttings off it.
And the way in which you would do that is, do the old lemonade
bottle trick, where you cut the lemonade bottle in half, put compost
on the bottom, take the cuttings,
put them into the compost with some rooting hormone,
and then water them in, put the lid on and leave it alone,
just in a little cool corner.
The other thing is, of course, if you're really bold,
is you take the chainsaw to it
and you cut it right down to about a foot and a half.
And it will...
-You always have this reaction!
-I saw the photograph.
-It was amazing. It's astonishing.
-Oh, it's astonishing.
-It's semidentata, isn't it?
The one with beautiful purple flowers.
Semidentata var. traversei or something.
But it is, it's just... Just be gentle with it, please,
because that is an absolute treasure.
Oh, hang on, hang on, hang on!
Just be gentle with a chainsaw?
But you can take these Olearias right hard back,
I've done it with them in the past.
Not that particular variety, so I'm actually... I beg you.
But with other ones, I've cut them back
and they've grown away quite successfully.
I would take two or three years to do this.
I would want to be doing the pruning after the flowering,
then maybe look at about a third of the plant
and do a bit of pruning back.
So when you think about it, after three years,
you've completely renewed the bush.
Just out of interest, Lesley, do you have a chainsaw?
-Thank goodness for that. Maniac!
After a lively Q&A session, Jim, George
and I headed to the apparently exposed wee village of Herston.
What's this about the weather?!
We keep getting warned, they keep saying it's going to be beautiful.
-Get the suntan lotion on!
-And the deckchairs.
-Tell us where we are, George.
-Right, this is the village of Herston...
-..and that's Widewall Bay at the back of us.
And this is one of the villages that opened its gardens
-for the Orkney Garden Festival.
Well, just look at this lot for a start.
This is stunning, it's like a tapestry, isn't it?
The valerian, just one plant but all the shades.
-I think there's been a bit of cross-fertilisation.
Anyway, if there's several, we ought to go and look at one or two.
-We should. Which way are you going?
-Are we going this way?
Well, this is obviously one of the gardens that
participated in that Orkney Flower Festival
that we were talking about.
There are people that would give their eye teeth to be able to
grow this Hebe. It's stunning.
It's perfumed and it's doing the business,
and just look at the variety of plants we've got here.
And when the chums were over here earlier on to
sort of recce the whole set-up, it was as colourful as it is now.
And that's the secret that we've been trying to tell you -
if you experiment, get the right plants
and get them in succession, the old ones will shelter the new ones.
And it's flowering all summer in this difficult environment.
I'm away to meet the gardener, Sue.
Well, hello, there. Sue, head gardener, proprietor, etc.
-Nice to see you.
-We're admiring your front garden.
-Thanks very much.
-It's an absolute dream. And I'm glad to see some veggies.
So let's talk about some of the successes. And fruit, of course.
They're about the best-growing fruit, apart from rhubarb,
-I think, you can grow in Orkney.
And about to be picked, you'll have to watch the birds, I suppose?
Yes, I keep them netted all the time, really.
This thing here is certainly enjoying the sun.
-It's amazing, isn't it?
-It's globe artichoke.
-Do you cook that?
No, it's a lot of faff for very little reward, really.
It is. I'm told they're sort of rather tasty.
-And backed by a stunning Gunnera.
Yes, that's a self-seeded Gunnera.
So, that indicates to me that it's doing well
-because it's very wet here.
-Yes, the water runs down the hill, yeah.
-But it suits this fella, as well.
-Yes, yes, yes.
-This has been a delight and a great surprise...
-Thank you very much.
..to see how well you garden.
And how you can make best use of small spaces.
-Yes, it's just cram everything in, really.
-Thanks very much, super.
Thank you. Thank you.
What a bonnie looking cottage.
It's called Muckle Jocks.
And the garden as well is just packed full of plants.
Look at the little sedums on the dyke.
I love this Campanula as an edging plant.
But I'm particularly struck by this little window.
It's framed by honeysuckle and rose,
and both of those plants have got perfume.
But I'm going to find one of the gardeners, and that's Jill.
This was originally a field,
and we bought part of the field and were able to extend the garden.
So, the first thing we did was to plant shelter.
-So essential, isn't it?
So, behind the hedge, there is windbreak netting.
-So very much belt and braces, then...
-..because you've got the windbreak as well as the plants.
Rosa Rugosa, which is a beautiful plant.
Yes, and it grows well, here,
so it's providing shelter from both sides.
The other thing I've noticed is things like the gates
-and the fences are slatted...
-..so it's filtering the wind.
-Yeah, just letting the wind through. Anything solid...
-Is a no-no.
And then you have packed it full of plants.
I mean, I've already talked about the honeysuckle and the rose.
-Perfume, is that important to you?
-I think so, yes.
I mean, it's lovely to sit out here, when the wind isn't blowing!
But, yeah, roses,
lots of lavender, honeysuckle.
And then also, of course, I said one gardener,
but there's another gardener, that's Simon, your husband!
And tell me, what about the pig?
Ah, well, that's a kind of sacrificial area where,
if things are not growing very well or they just look as if they're
going to finish, we do give them a chance by putting them out there.
And there was an Olearia that was getting very big,
and I sent him out there to prune it. And that's what the result was.
We used to keep pigs. But it makes you laugh.
It does, it makes me smile. And that's what gardening is about.
-Yeah, it is.
-It's got to be fun.
-Yes, it is.
This is Gwen and Dunstan's garden.
If you look behind me, there is
an old boat shed which has been embellished.
It's absolutely unique. And this is one that's been created by Dunstan.
He's the builder. Gwen is the gardener,
and she has created this fantastic garden here,
with lots of plants in it. And here is one which I've never seen before.
Not up here, anyway.
This is Lonicera involucrata, var. Ledebourii.
It grows in Alaska, so it's on the same latitude, actually, as Orkney.
And stands the salt spray.
Brilliant hedge. Used, really,
to support the rest of the garden, to shelter the rest of the garden.
And to protect the little gems that she's got here.
And if you look in the lawn,
there are little gems speckled about here as well.
Spotted orchids, it's a good job the lawnmower guy spotted them.
Just wanted to come out here and just really talk a little
bit about the effect of walls and ancillary planting.
The wall is very, very beneficial in that it acts like a night
storage heater and gives you extra warmth in the spring,
but it also is something which, when we have these overtopping
shrubs, allows the air and wind to be filtered.
And what we get is this wonderful environment in at the back.
What happens then is we can grow lots of things in here
that are quite special. You know what's also important?
Plant them close together,
so that they have mutual support in this windy climate.
Before we leave this lovely place, we thought
we would ask the Orkney community for some local handy hints.
My top tip is a piece of heating pipe with a wire in the top.
Stick it in the ground,
take it round the allium
pop it in, wind, come and get me!
Wind fencing, it's pretty ugly.
We all know that, but we need it on Orkney.
But you can make it part of your garden.
I've decorated mine up, bent a bit of wire,
made it part of the garden so it looks a lot more interesting.
The border was very narrow initially,
and I wanted more border, wider border.
So I decided that we'd put black weed membrane down
and every year, what I've been doing
is just rolling it back, and it's killed the weeds underneath,
so then rolling it back and putting the stones back on it,
so gradually you get a wider and wider border.
But it works very well, and now I've got a nice wide border.
My favourite plant in Orkney is honeysuckle.
It grows really well here on a south-west facing wall.
And I think if people can get shelter,
and it's in these sort of conditions, it's a plant that will
really survive and give wonderful scent
and flowers all through the summer.
Now, this is the daisy bush
that we were talking about in the question and answer session.
-George, do you really want to take the chainsaw to it?
-I think not!
-It's fantastic, isn't it?
-We can hardly see any foliage.
And I could be accused of being cruel as well,
because I was suggesting that it could be pruned.
But if it outgrows its position in the garden, you might
wish to keep it by reducing it in size,
and that's what I was describing.
-Mm, so it's Olearia semidentata.
-Yep. Let's move.
-Yeah, let's see the rest of the garden.
We're finishing up in the Marengo garden, which
the community look after.
And I think what's interesting is that Beechgrove have
a connection with this.
Some 20 years ago, the Hit Squad,
so that was Walter Gilmour, Jim McCurdy,
came here and helped the community to design and plant up the garden.
What's also obvious about this is that somebody still
cares for it, or a number of people still care for it.
It's in absolutely fabulous condition.
And what a difference that makes.
-It's beautiful, isn't it?
-We're going on and on about shelter.
This is quite a nice sheltered area.
-Facing sort of north-west, by the looks of it to me.
And it shows, doesn't it?
And we see the same things being used all around there for shelter,
-but we also see some new things.
-We've had such gorgeous weather.
And I keep trying to say to myself, we headed north, and I feel
like we've gone south because, look,
we've got things like the Arran lilies there.
And I found one and I haven't a clue what it is, but I'm on the case.
I think it's a little gladioli.
-That little red and white thing, isn't that stunning?
-Sticks out like a sore thumb!
-Both South African.
What are they doing here?
And haven't we had a great time?
-We've been treated so well in Orkney.
-Next week, back in the garden.
-So, from St Margaret's Hope in Orkney, bye for now.
The whole Beechgrove team are on the ferry to the Orkney Isles this week. Famously a place of only two seasons, 18 hours of light or 18 hours of dark, with constant winds but mild and with little or no frost.
The assumption always is that nothing much grows on Orkney in those conditions, but Jim, Carole and George find that is far from the case as they discover the determined gardeners of Orkney and how much they have achieved, to the extent that there is a thriving Orkney Garden Festival across the islands.
Jim, Carole and George host a Beechgrove Gardeners' question and answer session in Kirkwall and visit a host of good gardens on South Ronaldsay.