Issue 204
July/August 2018

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Aug 20, 2018
The Ultimate Travel Guide
Scotland's Stations - Northern Books

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    Gardener to the nation's stations

    Carefully tended lineside planting on the platform at Dumfries station

    OMCE UPON A TIME, in the heyday of the railways, each station prided itself on its floral displays. Then, they disappeared and in southwest Scotland, at least, you could see nothing on the platforms except perhaps a tub with a dried up hollyhock or buddleia in it.

    Fast forward to 2009 when Louis Wall, horticulturist and railway enthusiast, set to work livening up the region's stations. Although his mother was German, Louis' roots are in Cornwall, his great grandfather having served on the Great Western Railway at Truro.

    On leaving school, Louis began work as a gardener in Cornwall, taking digs with a Mrs Rich who gave him, for his packed lunch, beetroot sandwiches, which he hated and threw over the hedge on his way to work. Surprisingly today, this wizard of a gardener, who grows plants from seed at his home in Mochrum, Wigtownshire, cultivates, amongst other vegetables, beetroot, of the red and yellow variety.

    Through his love of railways and knowledge of gardening, Louis got the idea, as he travelled by train to Ayr from Stranraer, to enhance each station en route with tubs of flowers and hanging baskets. Scotrail paid his expenses, issuing railway passes but to this day Louis works for free, planting and maintaining as many as 20 gardens in the southwest; apart from the Stranraer-Ayr line, his stamping ground stretches as far as Dumfries and Gretna in the east and Troon, Irvine and Nitshill in the north-west.

    John Yellowlees, Scotrail's honorary ambassador who, until his retirement early this year, led its adopt-a-station programme, under which Louis operates, is unstinting in his praise:

    "Thanks to him, the southwest has the finest station gardens in Scotland. Morale on the Stranraer line, which might have collapsed following Stena's (ferry to Belfast) relocation (to Cairn Ryan) is kept high by lovely floral displays.

    Memorabilia collected in Dumfries station's Railway Reflections

    "Ayr's flowerbeds are so good that they altered Michael Portillo's schedule (for his BBC programmes on train journeys in the UK)."

    Louis' work schedule is tough. The sixty-one year old leaves home at 6 am either to catch the first train of the day from Stranraer or the bus from Newton Stewart and returns in the evening between 6.00 and 8.00pm.

    In hot weather, when plant watering is vital, he makes these journeys daily. Louis openly admits that without the help of volunteers, the Southwest Railway Adopters' Gardening Group, he could not manage to tend plants and gardens at stations ranging from the suburbs of Glasgow to the wilds of Dumfries and Galloway.

    With his unassuming manner, Louis is a good leader. "He encourages volunteers by making them feel part of the decision-making, praising, thanking and showing them the right and wrong way of doing things," writes John Yellowlees.

    As a reward, Louis organises outings by train to Wick, cycle-rides around Pollok Park and trips on the West Highland line to Glenfinnan. Wearing orange jackets for visibility, volunteers plant, weed, water and cut grass. The mild-mannered and unassuming Louis is realistic, though; he only accepts small groups on a project.

    "If we have a lot, they pair off, chat to each other and do little work, leaving me to finish it off!"

    For displays, Louis relies on stalwarts: marigolds, pansies (which flower right through the season), ageratum, cordylines, cineraria.

    In canopied areas, such as at Troon, he uses silk flowers. At Irvine, they grew peaches, lemons and tomatoes, but the former suffered from red spider mite and had to be chucked. This didn't stop SWRAGG from being recognised in 2012 by the Association of Community Rail Partnerships.

    At Nitshill, to commemorate eighteen year old Sgt. John Meikle, VC, who worked in the station booking office before signing up for the Great War, they plant Victoria Cross poppies. At Barrhill, Louis banished midges from the shelter by planting lemon eucalyptus.

    Dumfries station has its name picked out in box. Here, Louis and his team have created a biblical garden with plants mentioned in the bible: vines, fig and olive trees and roses.

    At Gretna, they have introduced honeymoon tulips and love-lies-bleeding. Unsurprisingly, the work of SWRAGG has been celebrated with interviews on BBC Radio Scotland, Beechgrove Garden and Radio Cornwall.

    Louis has also received a fistful of awards, winning second in a Community Rail award for an outstanding voluntary contribution and being named environmental champion of Dumfries & Galloway.

    He also won an Evening Times Living Streets award for Best Community Initiative in Glasgow and last year he was Scottish Civic Champion.

    When, lately, he was presented with a Great Western Railway station-master's whistle, he was delighted. He added it to a collection of railway memorabilia in the small museum he has created at Dumfries station.

    One of the reasons for Louis' remarkable contribution to southwest Scotland is that, in his mind, he wishes to prove his father wrong.

    When he was a boy, his father, in the manner of Captain Mannering in Dad's Army, often called him 'a stupid boy'. It's sad that Mr Wall didn't live long enough to see how much his son has achieved.


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