Award-winning horticulture apprentice helps transform Glasgow’s Pollok Country Park

19-year-old Ross Gallacher is a rising star in the world of horticulture, having won the much-coveted ‘Modern Apprentice of the Year’ and ‘Horticulture Learner of the Year’ at Lantra Scotland’s 2016 Land-based and Aquaculture Learner of the Year Awards in March. The awards celebrate the achievements of young learners and modern apprentices working in the land-based and aquaculture sectors.

Ross was nominated for the awards while completing his Modern Apprenticeship in Horticulture at Glasgow City Council’s Pollok Country Park. The youngster has been working with gardener George Robertson, helping transform the park into a hub of education and entertainment for the city, focussing on opportunities to educate and inspire local children. This has been the driving force behind much of their activity and they have developed some truly amazing spectacles, including the famous ‘Pollok Boat.’

The boat was made to look like a Galleon in recognition of Glasgow’s trade links and was a primary feature in the centre bed on the main lawn of the walled gardens. This unique feature was designed to engage the public and be utilised within garden tours.

Ross comments: ‘We used an old rowing boat which we drilled to allow for drainage. We planted the boat with a variety of summer bedding and exotic plants such as cacti, bananas, spider plants, agaves, tradescantia and succulents. We explained to the visiting kids that these were goods which used to be shipped into Glasgow. They now call it ‘the pirate ship’ and it has been used as part of organised treasure hunts for schools and decorated as Santa’s boat for the park’s Christmas tours.”

Ross was involved in all the elements of the job, including drawing up plans, cutting wood to shape, painting, construction and planting within the boat. He made a valued contribution to the success of the finished feature.

Ross also played a key role in the construction of the park’s famous dinosaur fossil features, which have been a hit with the children of the city. The fossils were introduced as an education feature, and also used the rockery landscape within the Park. Four fossils were built, with one under Ross’s personal care: he helped construct the frame of the dinosaur from rubble and scraps of metal, mixing the cement and moulding it into the structure. These features are now used within tours by the Countryside Rangers and are included in school treasure hunts which Ross helped to organise.

Lastly, the ‘Fairy Tale Village’ is probably one of the Park’s most popular features and one which Ross is most proud of. He and the park’s garden team cleared the site of unwanted materials, creating an access path to different species of tree and providing a popular “hands-on” experience for visitors. Later in the year they added a feature that would open the area to school groups. It needed to be something truly special which would be both multipurpose and viable. The team decided on ‘The Fairy Tale Village’ which included a wooden-framed farmhouse, windmill, castle and a large dragon. The village is enjoyed by school groups across the city, and has become one of the main attractions of the Christmas tours.

Ross said:  “I was involved in the initial talks about how the village could be used as well as the planning and layout phases. I helped source the right materials, which were all recycled and included sandstone from demolished areas, wood scraps and felled timber, turf left over from redoing golf tees and bark chippings from our Christmas tree recycling. By using these recycled materials, the project costs were kept to a minimum.”

In addition to working with school groups, the park is also important for people with additional support needs. For example, Ross and the team have been working closely with Linburn secondary school, using horticulture and gardening as a form of therapy for children and young people. They have been working with the youngsters on potting and watering plants and creating their own displays at the country park. During the spring and summer they worked with the kids to get the beds prepared for planting, as well as the planting process itself.  In the summer, staff recreate classic Victorian bedding, which was once commonplace in council parks.

It’s clear that young Ross has a bright future ahead of him and that the training he received through the Modern Apprenticeship scheme has helped plant the seeds for a rewarding career in horticulture.

Horticultural Modern Apprentice Ross Gallacher