Sandy’s Garden ... Dollar Park

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

We have enjoyed recent unseasonably warm weather for late February.

This, allied to a newspaper item about how little fresh air many people enjoyed during the winter months … as little as 30 minutes a day, apparently … prompted me to venture out to walk around parts of Falkirk I have not walked in for years. And I decided to visit Dollar Park, mindful of a piece published in the Falkirk Herald dated 18 October 2018 telling readers that, “After lying empty for seven years, a plan to breathe new life into Arnotdale House has been approved. Cyrenians, a charity based in Bathgate, will transform the B-listed building back into a centrepiece of the community. Restoration works have already taken place at the walled garden in Dollar Park.”

And what a pleasure it was to rediscover the delights of the grounds of one of Falkirk’s grand houses. Arnotdale was built in 1831 for James Russel, writer in Falkirk. (A ‘writer’ was what we nowadays would term a solicitor … think Russel & Aitken.) The house was remodelled in the third quarter of the nineteenth century and was owned successively by Robert Barr … soft drinks manufacturer … James Ross … tar works owner … Sheriff Moffat and Robert Dollar, the Falkirk-born émigré to North America, where he reputedly became the world’s richest man. A noted philanthropist, Dollar gave the house and its extensive grounds to Falkirk Burgh Council in 1922. Between 1926 and the late 1960s the house was used, among other things, as a museum before becoming a day centre leased from the council by Age Concern. Most of the 11 acres of grounds became, as Dollar intended, a public park which was home to the council’s plant nurseries. There is a truly comprehensive account of the history of the house by Geoff Bailey in the Falkirk Local History Society website, from which I have taken this quotation: ‘Many beautiful shrubs and trees are artistically set throughout the grounds; including the golden yew; the delicate Wellingtonia; the weeping gean, with its drooping foliage and bridal blooms; the gorgeous rhododendron plant; and the golden-tressed laburnum,’ this, in itself, quoting a description of the gardens written in 1868.

Sadly, over the years, the grounds have lacked the daily attentions of the team of professional gardeners who were doubtless employed there while the house belonged to the put on the market after extensive external repairs by Falkirk Council but failed to find a buyer. Now Cyrenians … a voluntary society which is dedicated to supporting people excluded from family, home, work or community on their life journey … have set up their Falkirk base there, having previously arranged for the half-acre walled garden to be restored by offenders who had been sentenced to complete Community Payback Orders, offering them the chance to gain a sense of pride and give something back to the community, as well as learning new skills and gaining a Scottish Vocational Qualification. Despite this work having been completed some four years ago, I had not visited it, which was my misfortune. Maintained nowadays by a partnership between Cyrenians and Falkirk Criminal Justice, I cannot do better than quote this description: ‘Dollar Park Walled Garden; blossoming upon a half-acre site within Dollar Park, Falkirk, the Walled Garden offers a range of features and activities including a sensory garden, arbour area for picnics, bandstand and pond area.’

Set in the extensive grounds of the Dollar Park, this is just one of several features to enjoy – look for the statue of the Prodigal Son, the bust of Sheila McKechnie, the bronze of Peter Pan and, of course, the Chinese lions. And here’s a challenge for you, gentle reader. Can you find the cast iron pillars which once supported the canopy at Grahamston Station?