Castlebank Horticultural Centre is used by people of all ages: from nursery children attending outdoor learning sessions, to adults attending workshops and fundraising events. The facility has been operating fully for around 18 months and during that time it has become clear that within the local community that there is a real interest for beginner-level, grassroots learning activities which engage people who have not tried gardening before.
“At Castlebank Horticultural Centre, we strive to promote the principles of inclusivity for all, respect for the environment and all living things within it, expanding our knowledge about the natural world, and promoting the physical and mental health benefits of adopting a balanced lifestyle through engagement with the natural world around us.”
Located within Lanark’s Castlebank Park, one of Scotland’s 71 Green Flag Parks (the park equivalent of Blue Flag beaches), the park is part of the Clyde Walkway and welcomes many walkers who are either heading along the River Clyde to New Lanark World Heritage Site, or downriver to Kirkfieldbank and onto Glasgow.
Going back around 10 years before the project started, the site of the Horticultural Centre was a derelict building and a disused tennis court. The first phase of the centre’s development was the creation of the growing compound on the site of the overgrown tennis court. This phase opened in 2014 and was funded by the Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund and LEADER.
The growing compound features three large polytunnels and around 20 raised beds, mainly producing organically grown fruit and vegetables which are donated to the local food bank and sold to the local community via fresh produce boxes.
The second phase, the renovation of the Community Hub, opened in November 2018 and was funded by LEADER, Renewable Energy Fund, and Levenseat Trust. The renovated buildings feature a classroom, volunteer meeting space, office, and kitchen for staff and volunteers.
In February 2019, the final phase of the Centre’s initial development took place with the employment of full-time Educational Gardener Stuart Ritchie, funded by The National Lottery Community Fund. This post allows the centre to run an annual programme of educational activities, volunteering opportunities, and community events including the popular school holiday ‘Family Gardening and Nature Club’.
“Community engagement and education is a big part of what we do at Castlebank Horticultural Centre,” Stuart comments, “whilst also being surrounded by the park and gardens. It is always encouraging to hear that the people learning with us are getting so much practical benefit from our courses! Our volunteers also thrive on the compliments of visitors commending them on what excellent work they have done making the park so beautiful.”
The Centre is managed by Lanark Community Development Trust. Melissa Reilly, Development Manager, tells us, “Proceeds from the Centre’s activities and hires are returned to the Development Trust to reinvest in the Centre, and the ongoing development and maintenance of Castlebank Park gardens.”
“Like most of the country, the COVID-19 lockdown stopped the Centre in its tracks – cancelling all public engagement including workshops, events, room hires, and volunteer sessions. The team running the Centre had to diversify quickly, moving to digital delivery of webinars, workshops, and virtual Gardening Q&A sessions, all of which have seen great success!”
Plans for the Future
Looking to the future, the centre hopes to rebuild after COVID by restarting its activities safely when possible, mixing learning at the Centre with digital offerings such as virtual workshops.
Castlebank Horticultural Centre was accredited as an RHS approved Centre in June 2019. The RHS is currently developing a revised curriculum and Castlebank aims to begin teaching RHS qualifications in September 2021.
The Centre is also hoping to start beekeeping, as well as developing a new labyrinth within an area of the park and further developing the wildflower meadow in the bog garden.
Castlebank Horticultural Centre is recognised as ‘Volunteer Friendly’ and is always looking for more volunteers to join the team. In the summer of 2019, Castlebank and Lanark in Bloom volunteers were jointly presented with the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service – the equivalent of an MBE for volunteering groups.
Castlebank volunteers contribute around 4,000 hours per year in helping out in the produce growing compound and maintaining and developing the park’s beautiful gardens, making them truly stunning areas of public greenspace.
Volunteers maintain the formal garden beds and areas of Castlebank Park. The William Wallace Rose Garden features a stunning selection of roses planted in original yew hedging beds, alpine garden, and a beautiful herbaceous border. Commandeering the centre of this area of the garden is a magnificent carved wooden statue of William Wallace, who is said to have made his escape through the park’s Clyde woodlands.
The Fairy Dell is a wild and magical area which also features wood carvings of fairies, woodland creatures, and creepy crawlies. Children love playing in this area which is full of twisty trees to climb, a storytelling chair, and a long willow tunnel.
The Bog Garden is aptly named as it occupies the site of a former boating pond, and now features a fledgling wildflower meadow, small pond, and three large colourfully planted beds.
New volunteers are always welcome and they can benefit from meeting new people, working outdoors in the fresh air, and learning new skills. As the Centre moves into the next phase of Scotland’s route map out of lockdown, volunteer sessions will be resuming with limited numbers and social distancing in place. Sessions will be available for registration in 2-hour blocks on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and afternoons. Contact the centre for more information on email@example.com.