Meet North Berwick’s team, hard at work in competing for a top civic gardening and horticultural award.
Rosemary Oberlander is surveying the area with military precision, her eyes darting from window box to grass verge, checking everything is just so.
No wilting flower or rogue daisy will survive her spot check and nothing can be left out of place and expect to survive.
Soon, the waiting will be over, and months of hard work will be put to the most rigorous test.
For soon, the judges will arrive to cast their expert eyes over the North Berwick gardener’s attempt to scoop the Oscar of the horticultural world and be named Britain In Bloom’s champion of champions.
What started as a simple attempt to bring a little bit of colour to the High Street 20 years ago has just become rather more serious.
It is testament to the work of the dozen or so dedicated volunteers who give up their time all year round in all weather to ensure the town is always looking its best.
Rosemary, chairwoman of North Berwick In Bloom, has watched the town win a plethora of accolades and be named best small coastal resort for the second consecutive year.
But, she says, the primary motivation behind the many hours of work is a sense of pride and a desire to put something back in to the community.
Rosemary, 47, who has been a member for ten years, says: “It would be really nice to win the champion of champions but, at the end of the day, we do it because we want the village to look nice.
“Quite a lot of ‘in bloom’ groups come and visit us to see what we’re doing but there’s not really any sense of rivalry between us.
“It’s more a sense of community.
“The group has a really good relationship with the town’s three schools; it’s brilliant having young people involved because they come up with the most amazing and creative ideas.”
North Berwick In Bloom was set up in the early 1990s when a small group of residents decided to improve what was already an area of outstanding natural beauty.
The town sits in the shadow of a 600-foot volcanic hill, North Berwick Law.
It is home to a wealth of parks, golf courses and beaches which, every year, attract tourists in their thousands.
For the volunteers, it is important these visitors come to a town which looks its very best.
More than 30 planters filled with colourful flowers for winter and summer greet visitors and commuters at the train station all year round.
Rosemary, an architect who works in a garden centre, remembers: “It started about 20 years ago. At that point, High Street was at a bit of a low ebb and we decided to put out some hanging baskets – it all sort of snowballed from that.
“We’ve a core of about 12 volunteers who are all very hands-on.
“We’ve had a cracking summer, so there has been a fair bit more work involved than usual.
“Things really start to hot up a bit when it comes to the spring and when the Britain In Bloom judging is over, you think, ‘that’s a relief’.
“But then you immediately have to start work for the following year. It’s nice to get outside and do something, particularly if you work at a desk all day and you get the satisfaction of a job well done.
“North Berwick was a pretty nice looking place to start with and now it’s even better.
“There’s a very strong community spirit here and that’s what makes it work.”
The work carried out is funded entirely by fundraising, donations, sponsorship and grants.
And, as Rosemary explains, a great deal of planning goes in to ensure the town is worthy of the competition, with the group holding monthly committee meetings.
“Over the years we have experimented with the best sort of plants for our conditions.
“Not only are we pretty far north but we are also pretty far east, and we’re coastal, so we have to plant the right things for the right places to make sure they will survive.”
One of the band of volunteers is Alison Harker, a 67-year-old retired paediatric occupational therapist.
Alison, who is carefully going through a 30-foot-long flower bed known as “The Dolphin” to remove a stray golf ball, says she is attracted to the challenge by the sense of community.
The bed she is working on sits at the entrance to the West Beach and is packed full of hardy flax, colourful geraniums and aromatic santolina.
“I’m a gardener, but with my flat I don’t have as much to work with,” she says. “I wanted to get involved with the group because it’s a great way to put something back in to the community and when you’re out there working on the flower beds people will stop and have a chat.
“I’d like to see even more people volunteering with a group because it’s such a great way of bringing the community together.”
The group’s first projects may have started off quite small scale, but today, North Berwick In Bloom beds and tubs can be seen from one side of the town to the other.
More than 90 hanging baskets grace the High Street and Quality Street and this autumn sees the group plant 3000 daffodil bulbs at the Lodge Garden, perhaps the group’s jewel in the crown.
Created in the 17th century by the Dalrymple family, the public park is maintained as a co-operative between East Lothian Council and North Berwick in Bloom.
The Victorian park has wide open spaces, mature trees, lavender garden, wild gardens.
Graham Smith, 66, who is originally from South Wales and moved to North Berwick in 2009, has been volunteering with the group for more than a year.
“I’d always enjoyed the floral displays around the town,” he says. “But I didn’t realise how extensive they were and the amount of work that goes in to them.
“People know me as one of the ‘outdoor boys’ because I tend to do the heavy work like dismantling the pallets.”
The retired toxicologist admits his knowledge of gardening was sketchy at best.
“I didn’t have an horticultural knowledge when I joined – I knew how to cut grass and I could tell what was a weed from what was a flower, but that was pretty much it.
“For me, joining the group was about giving something back to community and it was a way to meet new people.
“It gets pretty intensive at certain times of the year, I thought it would just be a wee bit of work in the spring and the autumn but it’s much more time consuming that, and there’s people who do a lot more than me.
“But it’s worth it, quite often you will be working in the lodge and someone will come up to you and thank you for your efforts.
“The main aim is to make the place look nice. To win champion of champions will be the icing on the cake.”
Judges from the Royal Horticultural Society carried out their judging earlier this week and are so far giving nothing away.
North Berwick is up against five other “in bloom” groups – all equally eager to win the title – from all over the UK.
Judge Sue Wood says the winner would have to excel in three areas: environmental responsibility, community participation and horticultural achievement.
“Clearly, North Berwick has done extremely well in their category and that’s why they have progressed to the champion of champions.
“We are looking for evidence of all year round activities within the community within all sorts of different age groups.”
The 2013 champion of champions will be announced on October 12. Until then, North Berwick In Bloom will be crossing its collective green-fingers and, win or lose, continuing to make sure the town is looking its best.
All grow in horticultural campaign
Britain In Bloom is one of Europe’s largest horticultural campaigns.
It was first held in 1963, having been set up by the British Tourist Board based on an example set by Fleurissement de France.
Today, more than 1100 cities, towns and villages participate each year to show off their achievements in environmental responsibility, community participation and horticultural achievement.
It is a popular campaign, estimated to involve more than 200,000 volunteers taking part.
Judged by the Royal Horticultural Society Britain, Britain in Bloom is a year-round initiative, which sees communities the length and breadth of the UK working to improve their environments.
Some groups are entirely voluntarily run and some work in partnership with their council.
Since the RHS took over Britain in Bloom in 2002, more than 700 communities have taken part in the national finals.
An estimated two million UK residents benefit each year from the impact of the Britain in Bloom finalist communities’ local gardening and greening activities.
Since 2002, the awards have been based on the Royal Horticultural Society’s medal standards of gold, silver gilt, silver and bronze.
The winner is the settlement judged to have most successfully met the rigorous judging criteria.
This year, North Berwick vies for the title of Champion of Champions along with Halstead in Anglia, Herm in Guernsey, Lytham in North West England and Stanghow in Northumbria.
Capital full of be-leaf
EDINBURGH regularly enters Britain in Bloom in the large city category of Europe’s largest horticultural competition.
Parks and landmarks such as the Princes Street floral clock are spruced up ahead of the judges’ arrival. They arrive in town next week.
In 2009, the city was pipped to the post of the UK’s bonniest city by Croydon, which nudged ahead on points.
Both areas were presented with silver gilt awards – the second highest award of the contest – as neither were deemed to be deserving of a gold medal. Edinburgh had been chosen to represent the whole of Scotland in the contest after winning the Beautiful Scotland Award the previous year.