Michael Alexander speaks to young Fife gardener and Levenmouth Academy School of Rugby co-ordinator Calum Clunie who has been recruited as the newest member of the BBC Scotland Beechgrove team.
Beechgrove viewers are no strangers to seeing a Fifer on their screens with St Andrews-raised Scone Palace head gardener Brian Cunningham – who is also The Courier’s Ginger Gairdner columnist – making regular appearances alongside fellow presenters George Anderson, Carole Baxter, Kirsty Wilson and Chris Beardshaw.
But the newest face to join the BBC Scotland gardening programme’s team – Calum Clunie – is also from the kingdom and is himself set to become a weel-kent Beechgrove star.
Now, having impressed the team with his home grown efforts, he is taking viewers on a journey that will follow his allotment season from seed to show.
In an exclusive interview with The Courier ahead of his first regular on-screen appearance on Thursday past, Calum, who works by day as the School of Rugby Co-ordinator at Levenmouth Academy in Buckhaven says he’s still “pinching” himself that the Beechgrove adventure is for real.
“Last year, Beechgrove was basically what they call a ‘home grown’ – it was coming from the presenters’ gardens during lockdown,” explains Calum in a break from his school duties.
“They put a thing online asking viewers to send in questions.
“I sent in a question for Beechgrove to answer, then I got an email which was very complimentary of how I was and how my plot was.
“Then they said ‘would you give us a tour of your plot for the show?’ I said that would be great, it would be a real honour because I’ve always watched Beechgrove.
“Then we just built a relationship from ‘would you give us a tour?’ to now becoming one of the presenters, which I still pinch myself about because I’m just a gardener and I love watching Beechgrove.
“To now be part of the show – it’s just amazing!”
Calum Clunie – working at school and in the garden
A former pupil of Parkhill Primary in Leven and the former Buckhaven High School, Calum, who is a Dundee United season ticket holder, grew up playing football but became hooked on rugby after being taken to a Six Nations game in P7.
At high school he played for Buckhaven Sharks – moving into rugby coaching when knee injuries ended his playing career.
Calum left school in June 2016 and two months later started working at the then new Levenmouth Academy on a year’s apprenticeship with Scottish Rugby.
Today, as Levenmouth Academy’s School of Rugby Co-ordinator, he is responsible for “everything rugby” at the school, including the running of the Levenmouth Lions, and also works closely with the school’s Department of Additional Support (DAS).
After a challenging year of lockdowns and home learning, he says it’s great to be back working directly with the pupils again – and especially so at this time of year with the improving weather.
But spring is also a great time to be a gardener, and it’s the busy gardening calendar from Easter onwards that is being reflected in his new, once every three weeks, Beechgrove slot.
Calum, who’s had his own allotment since 2018, won his first prize for stump rooted carrots at the Colinsburgh and Kilconquhar Show when he was 15.
He describes that win as a “real shock” because not only did he walk away with the prize for best veg, it was also the first ever show he had entered.
Asked what the secret of growing prize winning veg is, he replies: “You’ve got to put the time in and it’s growing the correct varieties.”
But there’s also no doubt he has picked up a few tips along the way from his grandad Alasdair Simpson who lives round the corner from Calum and who has been massively influential in his passion for gardening.
Alasdair inspired Calum to garden as a child and they still garden closely together today.
It was in the garden of his grandad and gran, Sheila Simpson, that Calum first put fork in the ground.
Calum smiles when he thinks back to those early gardening experiences.
“My first gardening memory is my grandad cutting the grass and I would be following behind him with my wee toy lawn mower,” he laughs.
“That’s my first gardening memory and it’s still something I can do with both my gran and my grandad, and I really enjoy it because I get to spend time with them.
“They stay round the corner from me in Leven.
“I really enjoy gardening with both of them. They come out and give me a hand on the allotment.”
Calum says his grandparents grow more flowers than vegetables these days.
Having watched Beechgrove for as long as he can remember, there’s no doubt the whole Clunie and Simpson clan – who already tune in every week – will be watching to see how his wee allotment fits in as part of the team.
“I’m going to be on it every third episode,” he says.
“My job is to do what we’re calling ‘showing the viewers how to grow for show’. It’s taking them from the seed right through to the show. It’s all going to be from the allotment in Leven.”
Gardening is great for wellbeing
Calum would recommend gardening to anyone who can manage.
Not only is it great for wellbeing and relaxation to be in the outdoors close to the earth and nature, but as any gardener will tell you, it’s also very rewarding to grow your own vegetables which always seem to taste better when you know where they’ve come from.
Calum says Levenmouth Academy have been “very encouraging” and “very supportive” of his new Beechgrove role.
While his focus is on rugby coaching at school, he hopes more young people might also be inspired to not only take up gardening, but to enter vegetable and flower shows.
“I hope they do,” he adds, “because when I go to the flower shows, there’s me and sometimes there’s a 25/30 year age gap to the next youngest person.
“That’s on my mind doing all this because I want flower shows and veg shows to continue for the future.
“My gran and grandad and my family have been my inspiration to get into gardening growing up.
“I hope I’ll be an inspiration to young people and to anyone really, not just to get out and garden – because gardening is one of the best things – but to get out and grow for the shows!”
Warm welcome by established Beechgrove presenters
Ongoing Covid restrictions means it’s been difficult to meet his fellow Beechgrove presenters in person.
He has met them all before at Gardening Scotland when he was simply a fan of the show.
He does hope, however, that when Covid restrictions allow, they can all catch up in the flesh, with the new series already seeing the welcome return for the actual Beechgrove garden.
Brian says: “We caught a glimpse of him last year and I for one can’t wait to see more of this talented young veg grower who will be taking us into the world of growing for showing.”
But will the Fifers – who both support Dundee United – be tempted to gang up on their Aberdeen-based counterparts?
“I don’t know – we’ll just need to wait and see and find out!” laughs Calum.
As well as many of the usual staples, the new series of Beechgrove features tips and advice to cover those who only have a windowbox or indoor plants as well as people with their own gardens.
Beechgrove broadcasting to North America
This year there is also an update on another young allotment holder, Sophie McKilligan.
For the last few years, Sophie’s Beechgrove reports from her Garthdee allotment in Aberdeen, have delighted viewers.
Since then, Sophie’s horticultural career has taken a major leap forward and she is now part of the gardening team at Culzean Castle and Beechgrove is featuring Sophie’s story as she heads down her new garden path.
The new series of Beechgrove is being shown first on Thursdays on the BBC Scotland channel, then on BBC Two across the UK on Sunday mornings.
Alongside Landward, each episode is then being screened on BritBox North America – available to view to BritBox subscribers in the USA and Canada shortly after they have aired to viewers in Scotland.