Today Neil is the creative force behind Professor Pods, a range of hot sauces that combine heat with depth of flavour and the chillies that go into them are grown within two large polytunnels at Threave Garden in Castle Douglas.

Entering either of these in summer is a bit like walking into a jungle with thick foliage and thousands of fruits in dazzling colours of red, green, black, purple, yellow and orange. They range in flavour from mild and fruity to chillies so hot that they could literally blow your head off, but what all of them share however, is subtlety as well as heat and that is why Neil has chosen to grow them.

“Ninety five per cent of all chilli products on the market are made from five really mundane peppers and the flavour profile is very poor,” he says.

“My aim was to create sauces with depth and sophistication and for that I’ve had to grow a much wider range of chillies, including many that are quite rare.”

Neil’s sauces not only taste good, but they look good too and retain the fresh colours of the fruit.

Scottish Gardener:

Chillies are native to South America and what they love best is hot, dry conditions so growing them in Scotland is a challenge, but Neil has brought scientific rigour to the process, refining his growing techniques until now even the trickiest of varieties responds to his methods of cultivation.

Some are grown in soil but increasingly Neil is turning to hydroponics, which allows him to accurately deliver exactly the right mix of moisture and nutrients to every plant.

‘Last year I grew more than 80 varieties, all with different requirements, so growing them in a water and nutrient mix would allow me to provide them with exactly what they need.”

According to Neil the range of chilli seed available in this country is quite small, so he sources seed from around the world and starts it off in January using propagators and artificial lighting.

“To fruit best, the plants need that intense burst of heat early in the year and if you can’t provide it for them then it is best not to grow from seed but instead to buy small plants,” he says.

“I don’t heat the polytunnels, but I use propagators and heating mats in order to provide the temperatures needed to grow strong plants.

“Capsicanas and jalapeños take around 60 to 100 days to fruit but I specialise in habaneros, which I harvest in November from a January sowing.”

Chillis need light feeding, says Neil: “If you are growing them at home then a half dose of tomato food once a week should be enough.”

And whatever you do, he says, don’t overwater. Chillis are adapted for hot, harsh conditions and giving them too much water is the quickest way to kill them off.

No pesticides are used in the production of the chillies and, once harvested, work switches from the polytunnels to the kitchen, where Neil cooks up batches of his artisan sauces that range from mild to ultra hot.

All of these are made without artificial colours, thickener or bulking agents.

“That’s what makes our sauces different,” says Neil.

“They are scientifically designed to deliver the pure flavour of the fruits.”

Scottish Gardener:


Habaneros are a key ingredient of many of the sauces sold by Professor Pods. These chilli peppers originate from the Amazon and they start out green, turning red, orange and other colours as they ripen.

They are hot fruits, averaging between 200,000 and 300,000 on the Scoville scale, which is used to measure the heat of chillis.

They are tricky to grow because careful watering is needed to prevent flowers from dropping, which will prevent fruit from setting, and also to stop the fruits from tasting bitter.