Perennial Winners

When Oatridge College and Gardening Charity Perennial get together, they seem to produce a winning combination. Yet again, they have won a Gold Medal for their exhibit at Scotland’s Garden Show – but this time, their wacky garden was planted in an old Volkswagen Beetle.

The partnership began began 5 years ago when Perennial was chosen as the charity of choice for Gardening Scotland. The charity was to stage a large garden in the Floral Hall and needed some help. Lecturer Ann Burns and her horticultural students jumped at the chance. With no money themselves, the sponsorship generated by the charity gave them scope to join in and two years of fun and success followed. A silver gilt medal, followed by a gold medal was reward enough for the horticulturalists but the charity benefited as well to the tune of almost £10,000.

Support for the industry
Says Perennial’s Alex Rutherford, “We’re not a particularly emotive charity but we provide a lot of support for an industry that receives little recognition. Gardening is a risky business and we provide small business loans, debt management help and even a retirement home – in 2009 we still have gardeners losing their home when they retire, and not having earned enough to buy their own home, save or enhance their pension.

“Our partnership with Oatridge has been wonderful. We hoped to work with them for 2 years if we were very nice to them, but here we are five years on, still at it.”

The third year, there was no money, but the partnership was so successful that they decided to stage a smaller garden outside. The theme was recycling and the garden included a greenhouse built out of lemonade bottles. “Everything was begged or borrowed,” Ann recalls. “The total cost was no more than £300 and we won a gold medal and Best in Show. It was hilarious!”

Last year, Ann and Perennial were heavily involved in the Scottish Gardener’s Forum, an umbrella organisation for gardening clubs, providing public liability insurance for show organisers and registers of speakers, judges etc. There was no time to enter a show garden but instead, the concept of pallet gardens had been introduced and Oatridge and Perennial tackled this fun and enterprising medium, again winning a Gold Medal.

The relationship between these two organisations is not just a business one. A genuine friendship has developed between Ann and Alex.

Let’s Plant up a Car
“We always say ‘Never again’,” says Ann and we said this last year, but I think I said something like “unless we could do something crazy like plant up a car.”

Many a true word is spoken in jest and as show entry time came round again, Ann’s words were thrown back at her. Suppose we could get a car, they thought. And so they began to search for a car. It had to be a bug or bug like – a VW Beetle would be perfect, they thought.

They contacted VW clubs by email but received no replies. One of Ann’s colleagues had a contact with a garage in Broxburn, who had a Morris Minor and that seemed to be their only offer. But when they went to collect it, 6 weeks before the show, they were told about an old beetle which had been sitting in someone’s garden for several years, rusting away.

waterbeetleThe beetle belonged to Rhodd Grubb, a VW enthusiast, who had used the car to raise funds for charity before. It had been converted into an amphibious car and had taken part in various stunts, including ‘swimming’ across the Forth. Its glory days long past, it was now rusting away and Rhodd was delighted at the idea of someone giving it a new life.

Meanwhile, without knowing what the theme would be, Ann, her colleagues and students, had been growing plants, thousands of them, to fill their eventual car. “Experience told us that we were looking for plants with a lot of flowers, an architectural shape and which would tolerate gale force winds, heavy rain and / or a lot of sunshine. We chose a hot colour scheme with oranges and yellows, knowing we could paint the car any colour to match.” The plants used include tagetes, carex, amaranthus and heuchera.

The difficulty was the timing, as the Show clashes with final exams and the time when projects have to be completed and handed in. The staff prepared the car, grinding off the rust and filling holes. Alex herself helped paint it. The students decorated it and planted it and rigged up the ‘water feature’ which all Oatridge/Perennial gardens have. This time they used the windscreen wipers to squirt occasional jets of water at visitors – not enough to soak anyone, but all good fun.

The planted up beetle became iconic as every photographer featured it as their favourite part of the show and it was no surprise to discover that it won a Gold Medal. With the cost of the exhibit reaching no more than £300 and the prize for a Gold Medal being a £380 cheque, Ann was delighted to be able to replace the funds into her budget. Of course, it goes without saying that the true cost would have to factor in about 200 man hours, but that’s gardening for you. And donations to Perennial again reached £3000.

the-princess-and-the-provostThe story doesn’t end there however, as opening day brought the workers another surprise. The Lord Provost of Edinburgh stopped at the garden and said, “So that’s what happened to the old beetle!” He turned out to be the father of Rhodd Judd, the philanthropic donor!

The whole event is a win win win situation. Both the College and the Charity received much more publicity than they could have achieved alone and the students can photocopy the gold medal for their CVs. The beetle has come out of hiding and will now be a permanent feature at the Bo’ness and Kinneil Steam Railway Museum.

So what plans do Ann and Alex have for next year?

No one is daring to say!

Published by

Suse Coon

Suse Coon started life training to be an architect but ended up as a fashion buyer then civil servant. After some time out to bring up her family of three, she returned to what had been a hobby and entered the field of freelance journalism. After becoming regional correspondent, then editor of the orienteering magazine CompassSport, she formed Pages Editorial & Publishing Services. In this guise, West Lothian Life was launched, while Suse maintained a level of freelancing and wrote the award winning children's novel Richard's Castle. In 1999, Suse bought over CompassSport and found her time taken up pretty well exclusively with the two magazines. In 2004, West Lothian Life was expanded to form Lothian Life, however, the workload was too great. In 2006, CompassSport was sold and Suse concentrated on the web version of Lothian Life. Her hobbies include gardening, orienteering, sea kayaking and Tai Chi.

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