By Karen Carruth

“You either love it or you hate it,” says Tom Williamson, as he leads me around the side of his house into his garden.

Who could hate it? All around my feet are pots filled with colour, variety, shape, and bees trundling in for an all you can eat buffet.

I’m in Bonnybridge, in the back garden of Tom Williamson and David Gallacher, who together have created a floral paradise in their ex-council house garden. The point of me being here is to show what can be achieved in an average sized garden on a budget, with a little time and patience.

These two are flower daft, and their enthusiasm is infectious. David is the trained gardener, but he admires Tom’s unrestrained freedom in how he plants. David has the formal training, but it seems Tom has uncovered a natural ability.

No sticking to the rules here. No colour wheels, forget the tall plants at the back, small at the front train of thought. David has bitten his tongue over the years, won’t point out any issues, and he found that in doing so, Tom has found a way of creating a riot of colour that just seems to work.

They have around 200 pots in the garden. It gives them the chance to move things around to suit conditions, and to change the garden around easily. If something isn’t flowering, they can move it to make sure that every way your eye looks, there is interest. At the back of the garden there is a large bedding area, and if one of the plants doesn’t look particularly happy there, it is lifted and potted. It usually works. Their plants are huge, bursting with energy and above all, colourful.

Tom’s eyesight hasn’t been good of late, so he can no longer drive, so all his spare time is spent in the garden and it shows. Their hard work paid off in early August when they were featured on the Scottish gardener’s show of choice, The Beechgrove Garden.

A meeting of minds happened when George Anderson, the presenter, arrived to talk about their garden. Tom and David talk excitedly about their day of filming, how much fun it was discussing plants with someone who had a huge knowledge of the varieties. A chance to discuss the best growing conditions, and swapping tips. Plants that George has problems growing, seem to be thriving here in pots. There must be a secret that they are not telling George.

Well, it’s the compost, of course.

Tom says: “We make our own compost using the cold compost method (meaning they don’t cover it). All their garden waste, paper and incinerated shreddings, all go in the compost heap. The secret is the rabbit waste.”

They have three rabbits, and the straw, sawdust and rabbit droppings all go into the heap, which adds nitrogen I’m told. Within eight to ten weeks, they have beautiful, broken down compost, which is clearly the difference between your bog-standard garden and their oasis.

According to George on the Beechgrove Garden, good compost should smell of damp woodland, and it really does.

All the pots are filled ¾ of the way with their own compost, then one quarter of the shop bought stuff goes on top. The roots are always in the good stuff and that seems to be doing the trick.

Tom has been at this house for 32 years, but it has really been the last 10 years that he has really concentrated on the garden. And I love that they can list the retailers they head to for all their bargains.

They pick up most of their plants from Beeches Cottage Nursery and Garden in Lesmahagow, which offers a tremendous array of hardy garden perennials, at a fraction of your big garden centre prices.

They pick up extra compost only when the sales are on at the end of the year. The £1 bags of compost are piled high and brought home and stored for when they are needed.

Their pots are bought from Wilko for a few pounds or they pick up the blue ceramic pots during the big sale twice a year at The Great Pot Clearance Sale, in Glasgow’s Baltimore Industrial Estate, as advertised on Facebook. There’s no more money spent on the garden than is absolutely necessary.

The garden is split into three areas, the front garden is a very traditional lawn and borders set up. Very pretty and neat, but it doesn’t have the impact that the back garden has. You then are in the pots area near the house, where they have a table and chairs to sit and admire the surroundings, with the garage in the centre of the garden.

The pots are everywhere, there are hanging baskets all around too, bursting with plants, swinging in the breeze. Behind the garage is more lawn and the bedded area, with greenhouse and compost heap. It’s not a huge garden, but they have planted it so cleverly, it fools you into thinking it is bigger.

I ask what attracts them to the plants they choose. David says: “It’s the colour mostly, the flowers are the thing that catches the eye. There’s maybe one plant here that Tom picked up because of its unusual triangular leaf, but in general, it’s the colour that attracts us.”

They point out an array of phlox plants growing all around the garden, a particular favourite of theirs, and now that it has been pointed out, I see them in all different shapes, sizes and colours poking their floral heads up above all the other foliage. It’s like picking out a familiar face in a crowd, suddenly I can see them.

The garden is a delight, but also the shared enthusiasm that Tom and David have is inspiring. They finish each other’s sentences when talking about what is planted where, and what the plans are for the future of the garden. Apparently, the garage is going to be taken down giving them more space… I would assume for more pots, and why not.

They have around 600 different plants in their garden and the reason they know that is that they have folders of information detailing the plants they have, the best way to grow them so that they can refer back when they need to if they forget what plant needs what conditions. They try to concentrate on growing older varieties, which are not commercially grown, and they are always happy to accept cuttings from unnamed older plants, as David loves to research and catalogue plants. They don’t sell plants, but they are more than happy to swap, in the hope that they reach 1000 plants in the near future.

The garden was opened last year for a local charity, raising £380 for a small animal rescue operation. This year they opened under the Scottish Open Garden Scheme and attracted 100 visitors on the open day raising almost £600 for charity. The garden is open to visitors from June to September by appointment.

If you would like to make an appointment to visit the garden, it is open until the end of September, email