FIFTY years ago, when folk said they were going up the Clydeside, it meant a day out picking fruit.

Today it might mean shopping for bulbs and shrubs then getting a toastie in one of the garden centres that line the Clyde from Lanark to Motherwell. Lanarkshire was once so full of fruits that it earned the nickname Scotland’s Eden.

I went to discover some remnants of this rich and fertile past and unearth the roots that still feed working life in the Clyde basin.

Outside Garrion Bridges Garden Centre, a burly delivery man recalled the taste of local fruits as he unloaded boxes of pansies from a truck.

Rubbing his arm just above his elbow, he told me that when the tomatoes were ripe in summer, his father took an allergic reaction, always on that spot. “I miss Clydeside tomatoes,” he said. “They tasted completely different.”

Pointing across the car park at a row of greenhouses engulfed by weeds, he said he was sorry they had been neglected.

Tomatoes require huge amounts of heat and in Scotland today that means prohibitively expensive energy.

Now where tomatoes once grew, nurseries breed bedding plants to supply a home gardening culture that has been growing since the 1970s. When I pulled up outside Clyde Valley Plants, owner Janice Purcell and her daughter were chatting about begonias with a client. Janice invited me in and shared her story.

In 1965, her father Scott bought a patch of greenfield land and built the business from scratch, working hard in summer, and leaving during winter to drive a lorry. The business grew and now Janice employs five people throughout the year and about 18 in summer. Her daughter recruits her schoolmates to work there in the summer.

There are records of adults and children working this land since King David I granted it to monks in the 12th century, while relic orchards suggest traces of fifth-century growing. Orchards initially supplied country houses and then became a source of profit before the early 17th century.

Yet this Eden was no paradise for workers. One visitor in 1794 remarked that “the produce is very precarious” and in 1803 the poet Dorothy Wordsworth found a land where “poverty and riches were shaking hands together”.

According to researcher Fiona Jamieson, the market for Lanarkshire apples peaked in the late 19th century.

By the 20th century, global competition was forcing farmers to find other crops: gooseberries, strawberries, raspberries, and Victoria plums.

This time of berries has worked its way into folk memory. Tom Clelland, a folk singer whose father grew Victoria plums, sings a lilting lament for a lost Lanarkshire called Berries.

He does not conceal the hardship: “While you cared for trees and bushes, yourself you nearly killed / As you tried to scratch a living at the berries.”

Tough conditions were never inevitable. It was due to “greedy banks and businessmen” who “slyly shook” profits from the labour and the land by forcing low-waged labourers to work long and gruelling days.

Then they abandoned the fields, orchards, and steadings as soon as profits fell. In plenty of comparable countries and communities, fruit and veg are still locally grown, on fair conditions for the workers. Not in Clydeside. Not in Scotland.

Some dedicated locals are working to reclaim this stolen Eden. Tom is a member of the Clyde Valley Orchard Co-operative which works to revive orchards across Lanarkshire, arranging for thousands of trees to be planted, and encouraging better habits of local growing and eating.

The co-operative also studies the history of local fruit growing, which was the focus of a recent exhibition in the Lanark Tolbooth. Its members told me there is much work still to do, and much history still to uncover.

Although fruit growing no longer provides a living, one company set up in the strawberry rush of the 1880s is still going strong. R&W Scott in Carluke pioneered strawberry growing on the Clyde until a disease called red core struck a century ago. The business survived by importing fruit. Managing director Steve Currie admits that in the past, like many growers and manufacturers on this stretch of Clyde, work at the company “wasn’t always pleasant”, with profits “often built on the back of others’ pain”.

Today, he tries to run a different kind of company. When the current directors bought the business three years ago, they introduced policies with a socialist flavour. The first order of business was to introduce a living wage.

Recently, they introduced a four-day week and a pay rise, the biggest-ever for the majority of staff.

Instead of a percentage increase that rewards richer earners more, every worker has received an extra £1620. “It’s the guys earning £20k who are finding it hardest to pay for increased rates,” Currie said. “We’re trying to do the best by our people during the cost of living crisis.”

On the other hand, today’s wages leave little for what Steve called the “corporate stuff”, such as doing up the building. The boardroom where we met is at the end of a corridor of cubicles with a shabby but cheerful style.

Steve is proud that this company puts fair production above fancy packaging. “The moral heart at the core of this company is not that far from the Lanark mills,” he said, referring to the visionary labour policies that Robert Owen developed at New Lanark.

Before the buyout, R&W Scott was going to be bulldozed and turned into a supermarket. Now it is the biggest employer in Carluke behind Tesco. Steve sees his company as a part of the Clyde story. The end of the market for apples, berries and tomatoes each seemed catastrophic, like the demise of the lead mines, the run down of the shipyards, and the closure of Ravenscraig.

In their way, they were all consequences of an economy where workers and communities were at the mercy of capitalist controllers. But through each crisis, Steve said, a stoic resilience in the Scots always prevailed. “Things change, we doubt ourselves, then we clean ourselves off and get going again,” he said. “The economic regeneration of Clydeside, of Scotland even, is testament to that.”

lYou can hear Berries on Tom Clelland’s excellent new album, Handpicked and Collected

lGarrion Bridges Garden And Antique Centre boasts a large garden store, a homeware and antiques warehouse, and two bustling cafes

lThe section of the Clyde Walkway connecting Lanark to Motherwell takes you by many former fruit and orchard fields. After an initial stretch on the southwest side of the river, it is mostly on the northeast. Good camping spots can be found right by the river, not far north of Crossford