Tuesday 11th September 2018
Geilston Plans
John Black, a resident of Helensburgh, is in preliminary negotiations with The National Trust for Scotland to take over management of the House and Gardens.

This is a critical moment in the history of Geilston House and Gardens.

Critical moments require careful thought and consideration of possibilities.

It is clear that the views of The Nartional Trust Scotland (NTS) and The Friends of Geilston do not coincide. Membership of The Friends is currently at 500.

What to do?

The 500 Friends represent goodwill and support in the local area and beyond. They share the hope and aspiration that Geilston can be maintained and restored to its former glory. The NTS see Geilston as a burden and by neglect and design have asset stripped the property.

In my view, the proposed take over of the property by The Geilston Trust is the only viable way forward. This requires analysis of the problems and the potential solutions.

The Costs?

How much does it take to maintain the property? We don’t have an accurate number. The figure of £95,000 is mentioned but this is offset by interest from the £2.5 million bequest from Miss Hendry. The money is needed for the wages of the gardening staff. This number needs to be clarified.

The Revenue?

Can the property generate revenue to meet these costs? Geilston ticks many boxes. It is a varied and beautiful property and is attractive to people. A recent report has highlighted the role of parks and green spaces in the mental health of the nation. Geilston is a superdrug in this regard. The report did put a value to the NHS from savings in hospital visits. There would he health benefits for those suffering from stress, depression or physical or mental disabilities. Geilston could be an important resource for all of these groups. Funding should be available at local and national levels.

In the modern world, there is a disconnect between the packaged food in supermarkets and the source of the food. Children should learn where things come from. They need to learn about the birds and the bees in the literal sense. Geilston can play an important role in this. Geilston is an educational resource that should be recognized at the local and national level.

The Friends can’t expect to own a property like Geilston for £5 a year. Tiered membership should be considered. Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum. People differ in their resources and commitment to the property. £20, £100, £1,000, £10,000 could be the donations required to be listed in the public record of The Friends of Geilston. Other forms of donation are not excluded. Bequests of any sort welcome.

In 2011 the Scottish government established the Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO). This is a corporate body with limited liability doing charitable work.

Like a corporate body, a SCIO can sell shares. Shares in The Geilston Trust should be issued at more than the value of the property. Donors would then become shareholders in Geilston. The shares would have a market value and the share offering would raise capital for the property

Geilston has many assets.

The property is developed.

It is close to a large population base.

It enjoys local support.

The resources within the 500 Friends need to be explored. What is the talent base?

The obvious source of money comes from paying visitors. With no NTS connection, the property must attract more visitors. It has to be developed with that in mind. It must contribute to the health and welfare of visitors of all ages

Geilston has to be wakened from its decades long slumber and brought back to life.

There is a doocot. It must have pigeons. The birds are regarded as pests on towns however there are many varieties of domestic pigeon. Tumblers tumble or fall in flight and provide a dramatic aerial show. Hens lay eggs. Eggs can be sold. Hens come in many varieties from small bantams to large birds. Children need to learn the connection between a chicken and an egg. They can then contemplate the philosophical question - what came first? There is a burn running through the property. A natural habitat for ducks and geese. Both lay eggs which can be sold.

There is a large woodland which lies to the south of the formal garden. A habitat for pigs. These animals range from wild boars to miniature.

With the cooperation of Willie Laird, the farmer who rents the two front fields, other livestock could be introduced.

Highland cattle are a visitors favourite. Donkeys rescued from the Middle East would be good publicity and be a visitor attraction. Shetland ponies attract small kids and could provide the first horseback experience for children from all backgrounds.

Only a quarter of the vegetable garden is under cultivation. There is a local market for salad greens in upscale restaurants. The chef in the Sugar Boat would buy radishes, beetroot, heritage carrots, bullsblood, mazuma, tamacoa and fresh herbs. These differ from the vegetables available in the local greengrocer. They must be picked at an earlier stage where they are tender and get a premium price.

Alison Farrell, head gardener, spends the majority of her time dealing with bureaucratic issues rather than tending to the garden. Geilston needs to be run as a business. Its current status is unclear to me. A money pit perhaps?

A garden needs bees. Hives can be bought and would add to the learning experience for visitors.

The burn needs fish. One thousand three month brown trout fry can be bought for £90.

Domestic rabbits make good pets for children, teaching lessons about responsibility and a warm, soothing body that listens but doesn’t answer back. They are more self-sufficient than dogs and more compliant than cats. There is a market for pet rabbits and rabbit meat is a commercially viable product.

The area to the west of the vegetable garden is a boggy waste-land. It serves no useful purpose to the farmer or the property. A couple of hours with a bulldozer would convert it into a pond. This would be attractive to wildlife and extend the range of habitat at Geilston.

Ponds need fish. Fish can be farmed and a pond stocked with fish would provide recreation in the form of fishing. The local option is at the Helensburgh water reservoirs. There is a seven year wait for membership of The Helensburgh Angling Association. A number of fish varieties can be farmed and would provide another revenue stream

Ponds and willow trees have a natural affinity. Willow is used for basket making. Another activity to add to the list of options

Geilston needs a pumpkin patch. These are common in Oregon, where I lived. Farms have pick-your-own pumpkin patches popular before Halloween.

There was a craze for mazes a few years ago. Maize is grown in a field in a pattern which creates a maze when the corn plants are tall. Something to consider.

Sheepdog demonstrations are popular in a few areas of Scotland. We have active and retired shepherds who could put on demonstrations.

The Woodland Walk towards Cardross is closed because of a landslip. This is stable and I see no reason for the closure. The walk leads to a gate at the 30mph entrance to the village from the west. This provides a more pleasant walk to the property from the village and if open would help integrate Geilston into the local community.

Picnic areas should be considered for the woodland. These could include barbeque facilities

The house is an asset and should be used as far as practical. If the roof is sound, the furniture in storage in Leith at an annual cost of £10,000 should be returned and stored at Geilston. There is a need for a café/shop. Could part of the property be used for this?

At least two portable toilets should be rented to provide for bus parties. With adequate facilities, there are possibilities to be part of the itinerary of bus tours of Scotland.

C.I.E. run tours of Ireland and Scotland catering to visitors from North America. Lochs and Glens have hotels in Tyndrum, Arrochar and Dalmaly with numerous buses passing the area. There will be other groups. Rabbies Tours based in Edinburgh have mini-bus tours to Loch Lomond.

Geilston has an American connection through the Donald family. Andrew Donald was a friend of Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson was an American Founding Father who was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and later served as the third President of the United States.

The shire horse was the horse power on Scotland’s farms from the 1780s when the cast iron plough invented by James Small in Berwickshire allowed oxen to be replaced by horses for ploughing. After the Second World War, tractors took over and the shire horse became an endangered breed. The Clydesdale is the epitome of the breed. The Andy Scott sculpture on the M8 on the east side of Glasgow is a monument to the role of the Clydesdale

In 2018, the best Clydesdales are in St Louis, Missouri where they are used by Anheuser-Busch to promote Budweiser Beer at parades and festivals throughout the US. They maintain a breeding herd of 250 horses in Missouri.

There are horse stables at Geilston just the right size for two retired American Clydesdales. The publicity for Geilston in America and through Anheuser-Busch would be enormous

The Dalmatian dog is a feature of the Budweiser display teams. The animal sits beside the dray driver and used to protect the beer barrels while the drayman was making a delivery. A Dalmation would add interest to the property.

Currently, dogs are not allowed on the property. I can’t see any reason for this. For many people, their dog is their best friend. Dogs should be on a leash and the principles of good dog hygiene followed.

While at Geilston earlier in the week, one visitor asked if there was a guide book. Two versions should be considered. A short booklet describing the areas of the garden and the features to look for. A more comprehensive guide would include a history of the property and description of its attributes. Both could be sold and would serve to publicize Geilston.

One of the rooms on the property, preferably in the café/shop area should have historical artifacts. Either side of the driveway could have examples of farm equipment used when Geilston was at its prime. Ploughs, harrows, corn binders properly restored and displayed would add interest.

The NTS seeks to preserve properties in aspic. If Geilston is to survive, the property must serve the needs of the local community and attract a greater number of paying visitors.

Neil Oliver, the President of the National Trust Scotland had an article in the Sunday Times at the weekend. He has been abroad for the past four months and lauds the most recent TV ad featuring “celebrities” endorsing the NTS. I suggest that neither Neil Oliver nor the “celebrities” are interested in Geilston.

I deal in ideas. These are some of my thoughts following the meeting of The Friends of Geilston at Cardross Golf Club. I have since joined the NTS and The Friends of Geilston and am a Volunteer. My father was a gamekeeper. I grew up in the country on big estates. My grandfather was head gardener at The Glen, Innerleithen. My first job was working at The Hill of Camstradan Farm, Luss, milking cows and cleaning the byres. Immediately after the war, we lived above The Glengoyne Distillery on Duntreath Castle Estate. The Lamont family had the farm next to the distillery and had a pair of Clydesdales. They are gentle giants. I grew up with animals in a country setting. Modern children are losing any connection with real life.

Music, plays, butterfly garden, other events – cars, etc, etc. The list of possibilities is endless.

The area needs a Michelin star restaurant. Geiltson House and Gardens (restored) fits the bill.

The necessary first step is to secure the property.

With the appropriate venue, all and every source of commercial revenue can be explored.

Scotland’s children are its future. Geilston can play a role in ensuring that local children are prepared and understand nature in its many facets. The true legacy of Miss Elizabeth Hendry has yet to be realized.

Ideas, like seeds, have to be sown, to take root and grow.