Makeover transforms Dollar Park walled gardens

The derelict garden has been transformed into a green oasi
The derelict garden has been transformed into a green oasi

Hidden away for over a generation, the walled garden within Dollar Park is finally bursting back into bloom.

For years it was not so much forgotten but shunned as local authority officials and politicians, charged with looking after the greenspace on behalf of the people of Falkirk, allowed it to become run down and dilapidated.

Once part of the magnificent grounds of Arnotdale House, together with the Victorian property and its grounds it was gifted to the town in 1921 by philanthropist Robert Dollar.

Born in Grahamston, he made his fortune in America from timber and shipping businesses, and the gift of Dollar Park was just one of a number of benevolent gestures he made to his home town.

For years the walled garden was an integral park of the council’s parks department with its impressive glasshouses used to propagate many of the bedding plants which helped Falkirk to its success in Britain in Bloom events.

Iron gates set in the high stone walls allowed a brief glimpse of the activity by council gardeners, but once a year there would be an Open Weekend when the public had the chance to step inside the horticulturalist wonderland and see for themselves the lush and sometimes exotic plants which brought colour across the district.

Sadly, the building fell into ruin as the once tall glasshouses became redundant and the walled garden became a store for grass-cutting equipment.

But that all changed six years ago when a tiny bud of an idea grew and grew until it saw the eventual transformation into a beautiful and imaginatively designed garden to be used and enjoyed by all the community.

The regeneration was the brainchild of Louisa 
Glowacki, an unpaid work manager with the council, who realised this could have two perfect functions – firstly, as a place where people could while away some pleasant hours, but secondly, could 
allow convicted offenders to put their time to good use either using or learning new skills.

She said: “A lot of those who come to us on unpaid work have real skills and we thought we could put these to better use than involving them in activities such as picking up litter.

“At the start of the project, there was public consultation to find out what people would like to see here and we have also tried to incorporate service users’ ideas.”

As she nurtured her proposal, the local authority worked in partnership with the Friends of Dollar Park, which was set up to help protect and develop the greenspace, the Cyrenians charity and Falkirk Environmental Trust to restore the garden to its former glory.

Since April 2011 up to ten people per day have been working in the garden. Many of those who originally attended on unpaid work orders imposed by the courts have returned voluntarily to continue help the project flourish.

The half-acre site includes flower patches, fruit trees, two ponds, a storytelling area, a large chessboard and a band stand area. Some unusual features include a fairy circle, willow path and tactile garden.

The Cyrenians, who work with people who may feel excluded from society, have appointed a garden co-ordintor who will work with people on community payback orders to promote events taking place there to ensure it has a year-round appeal.

Councillor Jim Blackwood, public protection spokesperson with the council, said: “Community payback orders have seen individuals convicted in court give something back in a number of ways, but the regeneration of the walled garden is by far the largest project they have been involved in.

“It is testament to our criminal justice service that people sentenced to unpaid work in the garden are immensely proud of it and some even volunteered to come back and help with the project after completing their court order. These people have learned new skills and used them to serve the community.

“Everyone involved in bringing this valued area of Dollar Park back into use has created something that will be valued by people for years to come.”

The project has been awarded grants of around £60,000 from Falkirk Environmental Trust and Cashback for Communities. This paid for the materials used and more skilled labour, such as stonework, which was carried out by local companies.

It is estimated the labour costs would have been over £100,000 if not provided by the community service workers.

Justice Minister Michael Matheson, who is also the Falkirk West MSP, visited the garden six months ago to see the transformation work underway.

He said: “It’s great to see the walled garden being brought back into use.

“This is a good example of the useful way those who have committed offences can put something back into the local community so that others can benefit from the work undertaken on community payback orders.”