Louis Wall (5th from left) and his volunteers.
© John Yellowlees 2016
Louis Wall leads the South West Railway Adopters Gardening Group which has volunteers looking after gardening at 20 stations stretching from suburban Glasgow and Ayrshire to Dumfries and Galloway under ScotRail's adopt a station scheme.
He encourages volunteers by making them feel part of the decision-making, always praising and thanking them and showing them the right and wrong way of doing things. With ScotRail's support they regularly have outings to other stations, both as a reward and to see their successes.
Louis is a professional horticulturalist, but his grandfather served on the Great Western Railway at Truro where he saved a man's life in 1904. Exactly a century later Louis while volunteering as a crossing keeper on the Severn Valley Railway stopped a child from wandering in front of a train.
Louis has been interviewed on BBC Reporting Scotland, The Beechgrove Garden and even Radio Cornwall. His successes have included Irvine being recognised by the Association of Community Rail Partnerships as their best adopted station of 2012, himself coming second at the Community Rail Awards for outstanding voluntary contribution, being declared environmental champion of Dumfries and Galloway, winning the Evening Times Living Streets Award for Best Community Initiative in Glasgow and becoming the Scottish Civic Champion of 2016.
Station gardens at Dumfries, looked after by Louis and his volunteers.
© John Yellowlees 2016
Plants grown from seed in his Galloway nursery are taken by car to his nearest station at Stranraer to be put on the train. It is always important to ring the changes with each season, using stalwarts like marigolds, ageratum, cordylines and cinneraria to provide matching colours - and even deploying silk flowers in areas under canopies at stations such as Troon.
At Irvine Louis grew peaches, tomatoes and lemons. Planting at Ayr has enhanced the setting of the Glasgow & South Western Railway war memorial, and Nitshill received Victoria Cross Poppies for Sgt John Meikle VC who had worked in the booking office there before signing up for the Great War.
Gardening at Saltcoats has complimented the opening of a new cafe. At Barrhill Station in South Ayrshire Louis drove midges out of the shelter by planting lemon eucalyptus. At Dumfries the station name is picked out in box, there is the longest barrel train in the country, trees have received a makeover from professional tree surgeons and the River of Life Church has created a Biblical Garden yielding grapes and figs - it was little wonder when a photographer covering a wedding in the nearby Station Hotel chose to pose the happy couple in the Station Gardens. Gretna Green has a Wedding Garden with honeymoon tulips and love lies bleeding.
Volunteer Myra McLanaghan from Ayr had wondered what to do with her retirement, and joining Louis's Group has ensured that she now has never a dull moment. Orange jackets have made the volunteers very visible, visiting stations she has met characters who could have been out of the cast of Still Game, and at Dumfries she found herself featuring in an article in Dumfries and Galloway Life. Another side of life opened up for her has included learning about the history of the stations and the towns that they serve.
Many customers have thanked the Group for their work brightening up stations, not realising that they were volunteers. An ancient water-carrier has been pressed into service, easing the carrying of water to stations with no taps. Outings have included cycling round Pollok Park, visiting Glenfinnan on the West Highland Line and a biodiversity garden at Ladybank, and planting birch trees at a hospice in Hairmyres. Five volunteers even came up from Kew on the Sleeper to spend a day working with Louis and his Group. It is hoped to inspire the next generation to start volunteering, with Louis's own grandchildren setting an example, and with an eye always to the future his current round of Christmas displays incorporates plants that can be reused throughout the year.
The last word on Louis comes in this unsolicited testimonial from passenger Kate Roberts, who wrote: "Many thanks to Louis and his team for creating such a beautiful and peaceful garden to relax in while waiting for a train. I never knew a station that you would want to visit in its own right until I spent some time on the platform and in the garden at Dumfries. I was almost disappointed when my train finally arrived as I did not want to leave".
Scottish Region chair Ken Thomson presented Louis with an original Great Western Railway whistle to add to the collection in the small museum that he has created at Dumfries Station.
Report and photograph by John Yellowlees.
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