Aidan Smith: Beechgrove, a dominatrix and my terrifying new garden

Jim McColl recently retired as a presenter of The Beechgrove Garden, which has now been moved from its BBC2 slot (Picture: Kate Sutherland/BBC)
Jim McColl recently retired as a presenter of The Beechgrove Garden, which has now been moved from its BBC2 slot (Picture: Kate Sutherland/BBC)
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Beechgrove Garden has been sent into to prop up the new BBC Scotland channel – and Aidan Smith needs its help too.

Today I want to speak to you about dominatrixes. Just kidding! I need to get your attention because the real subject is gardening. Until recently I probably wouldn’t have read anything about gardening unless it mentioned dominatrixes.

They’re vaguely involved, these masterful women, as one featured in a discussion programme on the new BBC Scotland channel the other night and nobody watched. So you could say she’s part of the reason The Beechgrove Garden has been moved to the channel, in a desperate bid to prop up the collapsing ratings.

The Beechgrove Garden is, to use some horticultural terms with which I’m starting to become familiar, a hardy annual, an evergreen. It would probably grow anywhere, even on that troubled station you reach by pressing 115 on your remote, although not many are doing this. But it’s where I will now be headed, to obtain some much-needed advice.

My dad always said I’d get into gardening and jazz eventually. The latter has been easy to access because there’s a jazz revival ongoing, featuring lots of young and exciting combos. My favourite among them are Canada’s BadBadNotGood. This would also serve as an accurate description of my relationship with plants although it cannot apply for much longer. I have recently taken ownership of the most phantasmagorical garden and I sense that the whole of the street is crouched down behind net curtains, waiting for me to destroy it.

My garden is long, lush, bounteous, psychedelically hued, choreographed like a fireworks display – and completely intimidating. Every day, right after waking up, my 18-month-old son and I go for our morning constitutional. He waddles down to the trampoline while I take it more gingerly, feeling eyes on me from every back window. Honestly, I could not be more self-conscious if I was on a busy high street knocking on the door of a dominatrix’s dungeon.

READ MORE: Veteran presenter labels BBC decision to switch Beechgrove Garden a ‘betrayal’

Truly, these are bogglingly bizarre times. Imagine the Beeb Scotland exec, under severe pressure because his chat show had thus far been such a turn-off, then reckoning he’s finally uncovered the guest who would whip up an audience, the woman who bills herself as “Mistress Glasgow”. The morning after he’s summoned to a meeting where his boss gives him the figures: no one watched, no perverts, not anyone. Then imagine the humiliation of having your trendy, daring programme supplanted (geddit?) by The Beechgrove Garden. The exec’s only consolation was that presumably unlike Mistress Glasgow’s catalogue of sadomasochism, he didn’t have to pay for his humiliation.

Of course, the times may not be quite so bogglingly bizarre. Remember TV-am? Remember how it was launched in 1983 with tremendous fanfare as David Frost, Michael Parkinson, Anna Ford, Angela Rippon and Robert Key sat in the studio together and congratulated themselves on being christened the Famous Five? But the broadcasters of their generation were themselves supplanted, the ailing breakfast show being saved by Roland Rat.

So anyway: Beechgrove. I join its audience at a moment of great turmoil. Yes, the programme may be successful in pulling off a similar trick, a rescue mission just as improbable as the one involving the toy rodent, but not everything in the garden is rosy. Long-time fans complain it’s not the same show anymore. They miss Jim McColl who’s just retired as presenter. They probably still miss his old sidekick George Barron who died in 2005. There is, in the modern style, fake competitiveness between the new, younger hosts which they don’t much like. More seriously, they view the switch from BBC2 to the new channel as banishment, akin to moving from the herbaceous border to the compost heap. And they’re so incensed about two months’ worth of editions being cut that they’ve bombarded the Beeb with complaints.

READ MORE: BBC Scotland figures branded ‘deplorable’ after 21 shows have no viewers at all

Beechgrove is its own thing. “A charming programme on real gardening,” writes one petitioner. “Not Monty Don on his acres with his dogs.” But I’ll take help and guidance from anyone. I’ve never had a garden before so have gone from nought to 60 in the time it takes to say crinodendron hookerianum – and I only know I have this fabulous red lantern tree because it’s one of the very few plants still wearing an old, faded nametag.

I’ve never had so much as a window-box before and while I attempted to keep houseplants such as yuccas in my bachelor pad, you hardly see them now so I’m wondering exactly how many I killed off. Once I was sold an elephant cactus and told that only if blasted with a blunderbuss would it be any danger, but I was able to end its life with my own fair hands, fingers resolutely ungreen.

The garden from which I cower, like a trembling daisy, was created by the house’s previous owner who took its secrets with her when she died, although I’ve been told by neighbours that there’s a tree right at the end which only grows in one other place in Britain and that’s Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden from where the old dear is supposed to have nicked a cutting under the cloak of darkness.

A widow, she continued to tend the flower beds into her eighties and would then sack a succession of hired gardeners who wouldn’t prune by hand or do the job to her exacting standards. The borders are curved so the lawn runs like a river. Pass any bush right now and something else has burst into flower. New colour, new wonder – new dread.

Hopefully The Beechgrove Garden will help me lose the fear, though apparently Beeb Scotland’s dominatrix is not exactly a stranger to vaguely horticulture-related requests. Once a client arrived with some plastic tulips. Dropping his breeks he asked her to plant them where the sun don’t shine.