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How Forres in Bloom turns 20,000 flowers into some of the most spectacular floral displays in the UK

This year the Moray volunteers are one of just four groups representing Scotland in Britain in Bloom.

Diane McGregor and Sandra Maclennan inside Forres in Bloom greenhouses with flowers.
Forres in Bloom chairwoman Diane McGregor and secretary Sandra Maclennan are getting this year's plants ready already. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

With 180 hanging baskets, 140 window boxes, 22 flower beds and 21 planters, it takes more than one day to make a summer for Forres in Bloom.

For 34 years the dedicated band of volunteers have nurtured the town’s reputation as having the best floral displays in the country.

After being recognised as among the most spectacular in Scotland last year, this year the group is aiming to be the best in Britain.

With 20,000 flowers to plant, preparations for the colourful displays begin in October every year, almost as soon as summer is over.

The Press and Journal visited the Forres in Bloom greenhouses to learn what it takes to consistently produce some of the best displays of flowers in the country every year.  

How to win Britain in Bloom

The aim of being crowned Britain in Bloom winners is a rigorous process for Forres in Bloom and groups across the country.

The green fingered Moray volunteers range from school pupils as young as five to lifelong enthusiasts in their 90s. They earned the step-up to the UK competition after winning a gold medium town and community horticulture prize for Scotland last year.

Councils across the country have scaled back investment in displays due to increasing budget cuts.

But the team in Forres has stepped up to ensure the community is always full of colour.

They were awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, the equivalent of an MBE for a charity, in 2019 for their dedication.

Butterfly sculpture of flowers in park.
Colourful sculptures brighten up Forres throughout the summer. Image: Jasperimage

Being crowned Britain in Bloom winners isn’t just about having the most spectacular plants, though.

It also requires a commitment to the environment and community.

Judges then visit the town in the summer to mark the quality of plants, the selection, maintenance and overall impression they give.

Retired Applegrove Primary School teachers Sandra Maclennan and Diane McGregor, who are secretary and chairwoman respectively, have been at the forefront since the group started in 1990.

Mrs Maclennan said: “Our motto is ‘we love where we live’, because we really do. We want our town to be full of colour.

Rows of flowers in pots.
Just some of the 20,000 flowers that will eventually be planted. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

“I’ve been growing things since I was five. I had my own little garden and I’ve been doing it ever since.

“We’ve worked with the council for a long time. Gradually we’ve taken more and more on because we’ve been in a better position than most.”

Mrs McGregor said: “The flowers cheer everyone up. It would be such a dull place without all the flowers.

“It’s a nice feeling every year seeing all the colours coming through.”

Forres in Bloom work never stops

The three Forres in Bloom greenhouses next to Grant Park are already filling up with growing flowers.

While summer planting may still be at least two months away, trays of green shoots have been getting lined up.

Thousands have already been delivered with thousands more to come in the coming weeks with every free space used.

Diane McGregor and Sandra Maclennan inside greenhouse with rows of flowers.
Diane McGregor and Sandra Maclennan work throughout the winter. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

Eventually about 20,000 flowers, mainly begonias and geraniums, will be out in bloom in Grant Park, along the High Street and in many other prominent locations across the town.

The network of greenhouses, polytunnel and potting sheds remain busy throughout the winter, even in freezing temperatures.

Regular jobs during the colder seasons include planting spring bulbs, ordering summer plants and gathering the previous year’s flowers, which are used for compost by volunteers at Sanquhar Pond.

Mrs Maclennan said: “Lots of people will say to us ‘You must be getting busy now’ – but we’re really busy all year round.

“It never stops. There’s always stuff to be getting on with. We’re here right through the winter.”

How Forres in Bloom copes with changing weather

Changing weather can cause Forres in Bloom constant headaches through the year to keep the displays looking their best.

Last year’s summer started warm and dry in May but then became wetter in the months that followed.

This year’s spring has already been on the wet side, and it’s helped daffodils and crocuses to add colour already in Grant Park.

Maintenance man Ian Maclennan is responsible for watering the phenomenal number of flowers well-watered during the warm summers.

Ian Maclennan inside greenhouse looking over rows of growing flowers.
Ian Maclennan maintaining a watchful eye over the growing flowers. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

It’s a job that can take up to nine hours and three or four runs to get round all the flower beds with a big tank.

However, the fast-thinking volunteers have adapted with planters that hold the water in reservoirs for the plants to suck up to ensure the trips are kept to a minimum.

Mr Maclennan said: “I’m always praying for rain in the summer. It’s usually about every three days I have to go round now instead of every day.

“With a bit of rain though they can go for a week. We live in Forres so we just have to cope with whatever the weather does.”

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