Falkland in Bloom
A history of Falkland in Bloom, contributed by its former Secretary, Bert Allan.
A history of Falkland in Bloom, contributed by its former Secretary, Bert Allan.
After celebrating having been in existence for twenty five years in 2012, it seems important that some kind of historical record is made since no others exist to give details of Falkland in Bloom’s activities over that period.
The formation of the group was the idea of Keith Jackson serving as a police officer at that time. Following a public meeting in 1987, the Falkland in Bloom Society was formed with a remit of improving the environment mainly through the use of flowers. The early days of the Society were hampered through a lack of funding but sterling efforts by the community soon raised sufficient funds for a number of tubs to be sited throughout the village in the early summer of 1988. As the years passed these tubs were augmented by bigger containers, over a hundred hanging baskets and five farm carts showing the link with Fife’s agricultural past, all colourfully planted out with Spring and Summer bedding in an attempt to make an already attractive village even more visually appealing.
As the group grew in number, Fife Council introduced an element of competition for communities judged by size and Falkland did well annually and although always considered a village, was awarded the title of Best Small Town in N.E. Fife over several years. Soon it was decided that the village should compete on a larger stage with an entry at a national level in the Scotland in Bloom campaign. Although always winning through to the final stages of these campaigns, competition at village level was fierce and for a time it was a matter of “often the bridesmaid but never the bride” as the community was denied by well-established Bloom groups like Comrie.
However, a turning point was reached in 2001 with the purchase of a polytunnel, first dismantled near Dunshalt and then re-assembled at a central location at Sugar Acre adjoining the village car park. The site, owned by local laird, Ninian Crichton Stuart, was to be shared with Fife Environment Access Trust, a charitable group providing work for folk recovering from illness. Although FEAT moved to other premises a few years later, Sugar Acre became the base for Fife Air Cadets Conservation Group, a youth group which undertook all kinds of projects both locally and further afield.
Establishment at Sugar Acre coincided with the arrival of Bob and Jean Maxwell who had spent a working lifetime in farming and had a wealth of experience in horticulture as they took up residence in the village. Annual plants had previously been raised in a number of locations in the village, simply wherever greenhouse space could be found but this could now be done centrally.
In the years that followed until Bob’s death in 2009, he and his wife took on the work of raising all the plants, some 50,000 in one season, after a second polytunnel was added at Sugar Acre. Some annual plants were germinated from seed but more were bought in as seedlings and nurtured until the danger of frost had passed before they became part of the colourful displays in window boxes, containers and baskets throughout the village.
Once drawn down the route of competition, each successive year needed huge efforts to maintain or improve standards and ensure the criteria expected by judges were met. Committee members around this time numbered around 16 and the efforts made helped an attractive village become even more appealing through their efforts.
It is no exaggeration to suggest that a community once best known for its historic palace was adding to its appeal to the hundreds of tourists and visitors through its colourful summer displays each year. Work began in April and once the village had been planted out after frost was no longer a danger, daily watering and feeding of the displays became a necessity. At this stage a specially modified tractor was acquired to carry a water reservoir and a two man team to carry out these duties from early June until the end of September.
Invited to be part of the larger Britain in Bloom campaigns, Falkland in successive years was awarded Silver, then Silver Gilt followed by a Gold Award in 2006. In addition, what were described as Discretionary Awards were made for Horticultural Excellence, Tourism, Community Effort, Celebrating Heritage and Youth Involvement. There then followed an invitation to represent UK in Entente Florale, the European floral campaign, in 2007 when twelve judges from different countries arrived to inspect the village. This resulted in a very positive result when a Gold Award was unanimous from the judging panel while the Scottish results were also rewarding that year.
The Champion of Champions section of the Britain in Bloom campaigns is by invitation only to compete against the very best of communities throughout Great Britain and being invited to participate at this level was in itself an honour. Falkland met the criteria of floral excellence, the needs of the environment and community participation amongst others so well that in 2009 and then in 2010, the village won the section as Best Community in the whole of UK. This had never been achieved previously in the history of the Britain in Bloom campaign and reflected the dedication and hard work of those who worked on behalf of the community.
Despite the temptation to attempt the “hat trick” in 2011, however, it was decided with great reluctance to withdraw from all campaigns as the demands made on decreasing numbers of volunteers became more and more difficult to sustain. Ironically in that year, Fife hosted the Britain in Bloom presentations in some style in St Andrews when Lady Provost Frances Melville paid tribute to Falkland and the village’s tremendous achievements in previous years.
It is readily recognised that “nothing stays the same” and few in the Falkland in Bloom group had realised just how much work had been undertaken by Bob and Jean Maxwell in the years prior to Bob’s sudden death. Despite every effort to enlist more volunteers, changing circumstances had seen a steady decrease in helpers creating a much greater workload for those remaining.
Before the start of the summer season in 2012, Secretary Bert Allan retired after 18 years with the group and several ladies also decided to play no further active part. The sudden sad death of another industrious member also played a part and a change in approach thus proved necessary to permit the work of the group to continue. After being able to obtain grants, a business arm was then established with someone employed to take charge at Sugar Acre to supervise plant production and guide others in the undertaking of basket production for supply to other communities.
Like most other places throughout UK Falkland had extremely poor weather throughout the summer of 2012 although the village remained colourful. Efforts continued to be made to maintain the floral displays for which the village has become known but without question, despite the dedication of the few who worked hard at keeping up standards, a shortage of committed volunteers continued to prove a stumbling block and the business arm failed to prove successful.
At time of writing, with the inescapable demise of Falkland in Bloom, a most enthusiastic group taking the name of Visit Falkland has sought volunteers whose efforts have seen Falkland kept florally attractive. In 2017, the village re-entered the Beautiful Scotland campaign and was presented with a very creditable Silver Gilt award. As a result, many visitors can always be seen in the village during summer months with little doubt that it retains special appeal for many. In addition to its historical palace and generally attractive appearance, there is also a firm belief that featuring recently in several television historical dramas has brought even further popularity for tourists. Long may this continue now that the golden years of Falkland in Bloom are at an end.
Submitted by Bert Allan, previously Secretary and member of Falkland in Bloom. September 2017.