Interview - Lesley Watson, general manager New Hopetoun Gardens

Lesley Watson is leaving BBC Scotland's The Beechgrove Garden after 16 years as a presenter.

Lesley Watson, general manager New Hopetoun Gardens - image: HW
Lesley Watson, general manager New Hopetoun Gardens - image: HW

The move will allow her to concentrate on her role at New Hopetoun Gardens garden centre, which recently won a Garden Retail award for best themed promotion, as well as enjoying more time with her grandchildren.

Q: Why have you decided to move on from Beechgrove?

A: I'm still working full time at the garden centre and still doing the RHS judging. Essentially I'm leaving because The Beechgrove Garden is near Aberdeen and I live just outside Linlithgow. I've been journeying up to Aberdeen each week for 16 years. I want to travel less. I had a fantastic time doing the programme and it was a very difficult decision to leave. I do have two grandchildren now so family commitments are a little bit more than they were.

Q: What is the secret of Beechgrove's success?

A: It's a real garden inland from Aberdeen and it's very cold there, so if we can grow it on this site then it's very likely that you'll have success with it. That includes not just people gardening in Scotland but also in colder climates in Cumbria, Durham and Yorkshire. We have a team that works together, not just individuals. That exchange of ideas makes it very accessible, friendly and honest, and we show our mistakes, which encourages people if they're scared of failure. It's very realistic for people and very hands-on. Each item is never particularly long so it goes into something else quickly. I think we've got the formula right. It merges pretty and practical very well.

Q: What do you think of other gardening television?

A: Any gardening television programme that encourages people to go outside and explore what they can do in their own space is good. I'm not at all competitive about the viewing figures. Gardeners' World and Love Your Garden both appeal to different audiences and all of these things can work well.

Q: What can you tell me about your Garden Retail award?

A: Plants for Wildlife & Gardeners was for a sustained campaign for something we've been doing for 16 years. We reissued our leaflet with information from Scottish Natural Heritage and cross-referenced the RHS perfect pollinator list, and from our own experience, so it is a fresh list of plants that are good for wildlife. We sponsor the Floral Hall at Gardening Scotland and this year planted gabions with plants that are good for attracting wildlife. At Linlithgow, we sponsored beds for Beautiful Scotland, so we're taking the campaign into public space and doing talks. There are significant threats to our pollinators but gardeners are caring people and want to do their bit. We want to dispel myths that you need a wild, messy, huge country garden to attract them.

Q: Do you have a campaign planned for 2013?

A: Yes, Passionate About Pots. We're going to start looking at being very fashionable and colour-led with pots and have a bit of fun with that. We'll do some as a welcome display for Gardening Scotland's Floral Hall and also do theatre talks.

Q: How long have you been an RHS judge?

A: I've been doing it for 15 years since the RHS first had a Scotland show and wanted new people. I've been a judge at Chelsea for 12 years and also at Malvern, Gardeners' World Live and Tatton. It's lovely to have a look at Chelsea gardens in peace and quiet and be able to walk through them. It's a privilege and a huge responsibility.

Q: What do you make of recent changes to RHS judging?

A: Very positive and I think the result is going to be a more understandable system for the public and a more transparent system. I always had absolute faith in the way we judge but if it's easier to understand then so much the better.

Q: What is your background in gardening?

A: I was originally a chemistry teacher. You use your teaching a lot in retail and also on TV. I stopped work to have my own family and got more interested in gardening. I tried to sell my plants to the local garden centre and ended up becoming a gardener at their walled garden. That moved on to being head gardener, then to sales and finally to being general manager. I was first into gardening aged 12. My grandmother and mother were very keen gardeners and I always helped with the family garden. When you get your first house and first bit of ground that's truly your own, it's very significant. That happened for me in Scotland when Beechgrove was first starting (1978), so I watched that wanting to learn new things and without realising I was going to be on it.


1987 to date: Gardener rising to general manager, Hopetoun House and New Hopetoun Gardens

1997 to date: RHS judge

1996-2012: Presenter, The Beechgrove Garden, BBC Scotland.

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