The Rhododendron genus, if anyone chose to ask its views on the matter, would probably not choose the east coast of Scotland as its favourite habitat. Wrong kind of cold; wrong kind of clay soil; wrong kind of weather systems. It’s much happier on the rain-washed west coast, where, indeed, one species, ponticum, has escaped into the wild so successfully that it’s classed as a pest, and ‘rhoddy-bashing’ is a sport actively pursued in the Highlands (probably more useful, although less useful in boosting the tourist economy, than all that haggis stalking and Loch Ness Monster hunting they go in for up there).
I love them to bits (the rhoddies, that is, although most Highlanders are ok too in my experience), but they’re tricky. The example in the picture above is from our soon-to-be-left-behind garden, and flowers well if given constant top ups of peaty-style compost and TLC. However, I’m not here to blow about our own specimens, nor even the glories of nearby Balbirnie, planted up with stunning species over two centuries and still the premier east coast collection of them.
No, dear reader. Let me introduce you instead to a much less vaunted collection, hosted on a transportation system that, certainly in our town, has had its detractors (although they’re mainly from Kirkcaldy, so we pay them little attention. You know how these small town rivalries go).
From its inception, the road junctions around Glenrothes have been moderated by roundabouts (I think they may be called circles in other jurisdictions) rather than traffic lights. This was always fine with the locals, but not so much with visitors to the town, who, confused by the ubiquity of them and the generally excellent soft landscaping hiding anything approaching landmarks in a mostly low-rise environment, tended to get lost.
To be fair this was probably compounded by a) the delayed invention of satnav and b) the fact it took someone about thirty years of town development to hit on the idea of naming the roundabouts. This meant that even long-term inmates tended not to be able to give sensible directions to the lost out-of-towners, many of whom gave up on their quest to find anything anywhere in the town, moved into one of the reasonably-priced dwellings they had happened upon just beyond the nearest roundabout, and started intermarrying with the locals, thus helping the depth of the gene pool. Come to think of it, maybe that was the plan.
So the next time you hear someone make some crack about how the municipal grass doesn’t get cut enough, or how there are far too many weeds in the flower beds, or some such moan, just remember this. The Head of Parks (that’s probably about three job titles back by now) could have gone for a boring, easily maintained, set of landscaping options on these roundabouts – some Prunus Lusitanica, say, or the near-ubiquitous Photinia ‘Red Robin,’ or any number of leafy, easily pruned and kept in order plants.
Or indeed none at all. S/he could have just ordered grass, cut to regulation length by the teams of motorised cutters in line with budgetary constraints. But s/he didn’t. Instead, they went for a plant that, for all its glossy green leaves year-roud, for maybe a month or slightly less erupts into a riotous, blowsy beauty that risks disorientating those explorers from Kirkcaldy even more.
Of course, that isn’t everything that you can find on the roundabouts of Glenrothes. There’s part of the New Town’s extensive Town Art collection, which you can see a short video about, done by Dauughter and Heiress as part of her Journalism degree, below.
But here also be monsters – in the shape of the campest dinsosaur you ever did see since Barney, that purple one from the kids’ programme a while back.
This is Rexy. He used to be on another roundabout in an estate, and the Council, without a full-blown consultation process, decided to move him. This caused a local stushie, with an enterprising local band even recording a version of the old Hot Chocolate number as ‘You Rexy Thing.’
Rexy remains out of his estate, but continues to be known and
loved by the people of the town, even though two of them have managed to crash into him. I know, right? It’s not like it’s a small roundabout he’s on, or that it’s not obvious you’re meant to go around him. Sometimes I really do wonder.
Year-round, Rexy tends to appear in a range of different outfits. Like the rhododendrons, he helps to
make Glenrothes the place it is.
Well, them, the hippos, and the folk from Kirkcaldy we manage to poach.
(Photos of Rexy courtesy of Keith Foster)