Culmination of months of work and planning

Eleanor Gledhill and Jim McColl are pictured at the Forfar Open Garden opening ceremony on Saturday.

Eleanor Gledhill and Jim McColl are pictured at the Forfar Open Garden opening ceremony on Saturday.

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The event, at the newly developed site on Lochside Road, was blessed by glorious sunshine and a crowd of around 200 people, with musical accompaniment from Forfar Instrumental Band, watched as The Beechgrove Garden presenter cut the ribbon to declare the garden open.

Developed by a dedicated team of volunteers from its original overgrown state, the former market garden has been designed to be accessible and welcoming to all.

It was the result of a shared effort by members of the Forfar Open Garden Scheme, a group consisting of gardeners, local Rotarians, health professionals and social workers who were brought together by a shared belief that gardens and gardening can help to improve health and well-being.

The inspiration for the garden came from local woman Eleanor Gledhill after speaking with friend who were caring for a husband with dementia and a child disabled in an accident and who learned first-hand of the difficulties of being able to get out of the house to meet others informally.

From the outset the group aimed to provide a garden that could provide enjoyment to both carers and people with physical or mental health problems, whatever their level of ability, and the garden layout has been influenced by this. It has been designed to encourage and facilitate access and it is hoped it will become a much-visited and used space.

Mrs Gledhill this week said that the garden is the result of a “real community effort” which was backed by both local businesses and individuals with an interest in the project.

She also said that it has attracted support from volunteers across the age range, with help and support from pupils from Webster’s High School and Forfar Academy up to Rotarians and older gardeners who have worked side-by-side

A grant from the NHS’s Community Innovation Fund helped to provide a shelter and meeting room where those using the garden can enjoy a well-earned break while funding also came from The Big Lottery Fund, but around 40 per cent has been supplied by local supporters.

Eleanor said: “Local businesses and individuals have been so generous, it has really been a community effort.

“The Webster’s pupils have maintained our Facebook page and are regular volunteers on a Saturday while Forfar Academy pupils helped to design the gates, which are beautiful.

“I’d also like to say a ‘thank you’ to the Rotary and the community payback boys who have been especially helpful as well as our regular volunteers. It wasn’t an easy site and was very overgrown but now I think it’s a real asset rather than an eyesore.”

Gardening and visiting gardens has been shown to have many health benefits and the group hopes that Forfar Open Garden will be used by interested individuals and local groups wishing to muck in, learn new skills, meet other people or just sit to enjoy the ever-changing surroundings. It also aims, in time, to take referrals from local GPs who have all been supportive of the scheme and there are also plans to run courses and demonstrations of gardening skills.

Eleanor continued: “A number of those who attended on Saturday have put their names forward as volunteers to cover a few hours in the garden, but we could do with more.

“We’ve also applied to the Forfar Common Good Fund for help to provide a therapeutic gardener and we should be hearing very shortly about that, it will make such a difference”

The opening was also welcomed by local councillor Lynne Devine, who agreed the garden will be a valuable community asset.

She said: “The Music Café on Mondays and the Friday Fling, both run by Alzheimers Scotland, along with volunteers from the East and Old Church, have been doing great work for a couple of years, but this adds another dimension encouraging people to spend time outdoors with others once it gets fully underway.”

The garden will open to the wider public on April 1 and anyone willing to volunteer can drop in on a Wednesday afternoon or Saturday, or contact Eleanor Gledhill on 01307 469090.