Tag Archive: education

IMG_8734On Tuesday I attended the latest meeting of the national Landscapes for Early Childhood Network, at the Earlham Early Years Centre in Norwich. The Network, which I joined last year, brings together  professionals working with young children and those concerned with designing and creating play and other landscapes for them. It provides a powerful creative forum for discussion of ideas and approaches to early years spaces and activities and also gives a wonderful opportunity to visit excellent examples of these landscapes, sometimes in schools or nurseries, sometimes in public open spaces.

I was pleased to speak at this week’s meeting on the topic of ‘learning for sustainability’ (or as I termed it ‘Nurturing Nurture’) – how we encourage children (and adults for that matter), to understand the way the world works, how mankind’s activities affect this and what can be done to live more sustainably. I talked about the word ‘sustainability’ and how this has become rather diluted and misused in modern language, but is really about maintaining an ecological balance in the world where non renewable natural resources are used (and reused) carefully, if at all.

I featured some of my own work in this field, especially working with youngsters in school gardening activities as well as creating play landscapes and other spaces which inspire younger children to develop their curiosity, imagination and understanding of the natural world. I focused in particular on the importance of engaging children in food growing as a way of contributing towards food production and security.

Presentations were also given by other network members on their work, but the main event was to see and hear about the very special ‘garden’  at the Earlham EYC. Felicity Thomas, the original head teacher and her colleagues gave us a wonderful guided tour of the garden (it was great seeing the children busy in it as we went around), and told us about why and how it had been developed. The brief for the original design (which has since evolved over the last ten years), is worth sharing, so I repeat it below along with a slide show of pictures I took (which for security reasons do not include the children).  I hope you enjoy them.

‘To create a unique environment for children and others using the Centre which demonstrates sustainable principles in practice, where children can:-

  • access a varied topography in scale, contour and texture, incorporating dramatic changes in level, big mounds, large areas of sand in which to prospect.

  • plant, grow, harvest and cook food.

  • hide and not be seen, find and create places for refuge and reflection; read, share stories and use their imagination.

  • go on expeditions and journeys; develop an understanding of positional words by having places to be in, under, behind, below and above.

  • experience and understand the elements; interact with moving water, solar power and wind, be protected from the sun.

  • explore their senses through plants, materials and elements which provide a myriad of colour, shape, sound, texture and smell.

  • independently access equipment and loose materials.

  • learn to care and take responsibility for themselves, each other and the environment.

  • be happy, be fulfilled.’

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Old School Gardener

Grasses and autumn leaves are looking good in Old School Garden

Grasses and autumn leaves are looking good in Old School Garden

28th October 2013

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

I hope you and Lise are well. I guess you’ve been experiencing the warm autumn like us over the last few weeks? This has done wonders for prolonging the flowers and colour in Old School Garden and the combination of these with the golden glow of grasses in the mixed borders looks super- especially in that low October sun.

But it’s also meant that I’ve been hanging on and waiting for things to finish their show so that the ‘autumn clear up’ can truly begin (though I do like to leave some plants whose stems, seed heads or shape survive to provide eye catching winter interest). I’ve just started to get tender things inside for over wintering as well as replacing summer annual displays with something to give us winter and spring colour. The main annuals beds and containers have been cleared and planted up with a combination of spring bulbs, along with Pansies, Violas and Bellis. I’ve also cleared out the greenhouse of the remaining cucumbers and (mostly green) tomatoes, the latter are now resting in a fruit bowl along with a banana to encourage ripening! The harvest has continued with lots of delicious apples, some very good black grapes and runner beans, chard and the last of the courgettes. It’s also been a busy sowing and planting time- crops of Broad Beans, yellow and red Onions, Garlic as well as green manures have all been put in, and I’m having another go at growing Asparagus.

Scabious still looking good in the courtyard garden

Scabious still flowering in the courtyard garden

As you read this we’ll be away visiting our daughter Madeleine and our son-in-law, Diego, in Portugal. So, many other things – bringing in the dahlias, pruning the climbing roses, keeping on top of the leaves, selective cutting back of perennials and dividing and moving some – will all have to await our return. A little late perhaps, but hopefully the mild weather will continue for a couple of weeks!

I’m still helping at the local School with their ‘outdoor learning’ (specifically in the School Garden). I think virtually every child (apart from the very young), has learned about tools and tool safety and harvesting (the School cook had a lovely supply of Red Cabbage, Courgettes, Runner Beans and Carrots to weave into her daily menu). It’s been inspiring to hear their enthusiasm as they open up a runner bean pod and discover the little pink and purple jewels that can become next year’s seeds and how they love to find worms and other critters in the soil! One mum told me the other day how excited her son had been when he brought home the bean I’d let him take away!

They have also learned about the different types of seed and their dispersal, what we do in the Autumn to prepare the soil, and sow and plant certain things, as well as the importance of composting, including looking after the school wormery. The other day this half term’s efforts culminated in an open day focusing on ‘outdoor learning’. Parents linked with their children and took part in a range of activities around the school site including den building and bug hunting. I was mainly involved in fuelling the fire pit where we did some ‘campfire cooking’ (bread and marshmallows on hazel sticks), and helping with:

  • some gardening (the boys particularly like a bit of digging),

  • weather monitoring (we managed to reach 19 degrees C on a beautiful sunny day)

  • making ‘elf houses’ and furniture (and a few elves too),

  • making recycled paper pots and sowing broad beans in them.

I think this event has helped to raise awareness of the good work being done in the ‘outside classroom’ at the school and may even encourage some parents to volunteer to help out at one of the regular ‘garden gang’ days or in other ways. Here are some pictures I took to give you a flavour of what was a  fun and successful day.


The other major activity I’ve been involved with recently is teaching.

As you know from my last letter, I’ve been running a second Garden Design course at the local High School and this is now in its last couple of weeks. The eight participants, have a wide range of different garden design challenges in front of them. They are an enthusiastic group who it’s been a pleasure working with. They are now firming up their design ideas and creating scale drawings of what they want to achieve, and the final evening will focus on how to go about realising these on the ground.

I’m also pleased to say that my first ‘Grow Your Own Food’ course for beginners and novices is running locally, too. Tuesday mornings in a nearby village hall (Foulsham), sees 6 relatively new food growers coming together and both sharing experiences and exploring the ‘keys to success’ in food growing. The second week involved a visit to Old School Garden where I shared (‘warts and all’) my own experiences of food growing, some of the ideas and tips I’ve used and some of the issues confronting me – not least being the need to ‘downsize’ my food production to avoid gluts and surpluses! I shall be introducing a greater level of ornamental planting in the kitchen garden to achieve this, so reducing the productive areas by about a third.

My blog continues to grow both in terms of followers and also in the feedback and ‘conversations’ its enabling around the world. I’ve recently topped 1500 followers on all ‘social media platforms’ and since starting it back in December last year have had over 33,000 views of pages on the site. These are currently averaging about 800-1000 per month at present. Its been especially pleasing to have positive feedback from people who have enjoyed particular articles or items (recycling in the garden seems to be especially popular). Continue reading

934746_10151676747891970_1023613447_n“A different point of view”- tools to help you assess and get more from your garden.

13 October 2013, 10.00 – 4.00

Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, Norfolk

Is your garden in need of a revamp or complete makeover, but you don’t know where or how to start? This workshop will help you assess your garden and what you want from it, grasp some of the basics of garden design and how to apply these to your own space.

I’ll be leading the workshop, which will be a mix of presentation, practical exercises and group discussion. Examples and case studies, together with the gardens at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, will be used to illustrate key points and inspire you to develop ideas for your garden.“A different point of view”- tools to help you assess and get more from your garden. 13 October 2013 10am - 4pm<br />

£32 per person / £28.50 for Museums Pass holders (including tea and coffee)

For more information and a booking form go to Gressenhall Adult Learning

Old School Gardener

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Nature Study helps to extend the use of your garden and encourages children to explore habitats beyond the School

Nature Study helps to extend the use of your garden and encourages children to explore habitats beyond the School

Previous posts on school gardening have looked at laying the foundations of a School Garden project, designing your garden and getting the project off the ground. This post looks at how to develop your garden so that it becomes a key resource for the School and wider community.

1. Get into the curriculum

Don’t relegate your garden to just an ‘extra curricular’ activity or club – though these are useful as ways of enhancing the core purpose of your garden: to support children’s learning as part of the school’s curriculum (see 3 below). It might be wise to focus initial garden activity on one or two year groups/classes, so you get the most interested teachers involved (and maybe on your steering group). You can experiment and understand what is working and what isn’t. Once they’ve seen the garden in operation others, including less enthusiastic teachers, will want to get in on the action! Some countries (especially the USA, where School Gardening seems to be well established) have comprehensive curriculum guides for school gardening which link into the wider curriculum of the School.

The recently released draft National Curriculum for UK Schools features children growing plants in the primary years, so this may well give a boost to school gardening and curriculum plans and ideas may follow.There are also some useful guides which enable some basic skills and knowledge to be covered in your gardening activities from some of the national campaigns, especially the Royal Horticultural Society’s ‘Campaign for School Gardening’  and Garden Organic’s work for the ‘Food for Life’ Partnership.

The school could focus on a theme or topic for a number of weeks (say a half term) and weave the School Garden into this work, which could build on work started off in the classroom. As an example my own local school is focusing on ‘Fairy tales’ this half term and so children are getting involved in sowing turnips and beans with links to specific stories. This approach can also work well for specific science topics like ‘insects and animals’, ‘seeds and germination’ or ‘planting and the seasons’.

Don’t forget the importance of basic gardening skills too – I ‘ve been delivering some sessions on tool safety, use and cleanliness linked into preparing the soil and sowing etc.

It’s also a good idea to keep a lesson plan book to record what has been taught and the results in terms of what did and didn’t work, to aid future planning – it’s important to keep making adjustments and small changes to sessions to keep them interesting, new and relevant.

Basic gardening skills, like how to carry tools safely, are an essential part of the curriculum

Basic gardening skills, like how to carry tools safely, are an essential part of the curriculum

2. Leadership

As the use of the Garden grows, so will the need for a dedicated person to coordinate and manage it – the ‘Garden Coordinator’ or equivalent. This role is a bit like the School Librarian in that they link with all classes as they come into and out of the garden, helping them to make the most of this important resource (and also making some tasty withdrawals at harvest time!). The role is also important in contributing to discussions about the curriculum and ways in which the garden can be used as a key resource for the school’s programme of learning. The Garden Coordinator may well start off as a volunteer, but in due course it may be necessary to make this a paid position. As suggested in a previous post, the ongoing funding required to support this could come from the School Budget, but more likely it will be found (at least in part) from the Parents’/Friends’ Association and possibly supplemented through regular fundraising activities. Another important job for the Garden Coordinator is to facilitate annual evaluations of the garden. Devise a simple but systematic evaluation questionnaire for staff,volunteers and others to complete so that you can reflect and use the information to plan ahead.

3. Go beyond the formal curriculum

The garden should first and foremost be used as part of the school curriculum, but don’t ignore opportunities to deepen its contribution to learning. For example it can be a great place to begin to understand about the local ecosystem and specific habitats – ‘Nature Study’. It’s important to use unexpected opportunities to deepen and enrich the learning going on – e.g. the arrival of a particular insect or animal in the garden or children pulling flowers apart looking for developing seeds. A good way of getting children to strengthen their writing and observational skills is for them to fill out a ‘Garden Diary’ after each visit ro record what they’ve done and seen and any wider lessons learned. These records (probably best to invest in some robust folders that can withstand outside use) can provide a wonderful presentation of achievement over the year and serve to underline the important role the garden plays in school life.

4. Manage your Garden

The Garden Coordinator is the focus for how the garden functions, guiding the different classes in the tasks needed at different times of the year to keep the garden looking good and working well. With their Steering Group/ Committee, they can also organise a few days when more intensive effort is needed and the wider community (especially parents and staff) can get involved. These ‘Garden Gang’ days or their equivalent are the opportunity to get big jobs done – e.g laying paths, constructing glasshouses and sheds, digging over beds, clearing ponds and so on. The Garden Coordinator will also need to produce a weekly schedule of which classes are using the garden and what they will be doing, plus the staff and other support that will be available. Initially children’s excitement at being in the garden will make for a bit of a roller coaster as they are easily distracted by any novel or unusual thing they see, or touch, or smell (I recently had some ‘interesting’ if not unexpected reactions to handling manure for example!). Whilst it is important to try and use these opportunities creatively, the Garden Coordinator and supporting staff should strive towards getting classes into a quiet, focused way of working so that they eventually arrive in the garden, prepare and get on with what they need to do in increasingly ‘self-directed’ mode (especially older children). Some ideas for helping to bring this about include:

  • Dividing the class into manageable groups (say of 6 or 7 for primary years) – this will enable two or more different activities to be rotated around the groups either within a session or from week to week.

  • ‘Digging pit’ – it might be an idea to have a separate space/bed where nothing is grown but where ‘idle hands’ can be directed to dig over the ground –  good for digging practice if nothing else!

  • Recruit parent volunteers  – as well as teachers and learning support assistants it could be useful to get some additional help from willing parents. Make the most of their skills and expertise (as they will probably be interested and knowledgeable gardeners) and if warranted organise a rota so that they come in and work regularly with particular classes or groups. The Garden Coordinator can reach out to parents of reception class children who may be new to the school and are keen to make a positive contribution to their child’s learning. This additional help will make it easier to conduct garden sessions and make for a richer experience for the children (and adults too!).

Children love to dig- set aside an area for digging, to use those idle moments and hone skills!

Children love to dig- set aside an area for digging, to use those idle moments and hone skills!

5. Promote your Garden

So you’ve got the garden underway and you might be feeling pleased with what you’ve achieved. But don’t ‘rest on your laurels’ as the garden will need continuous promotion if you are to retain and increase interest and involvement by the school and wider community. The children are your best advocates – if they’ve enjoyed a session in the garden they’ll mention it at home and so inform and possibly engage parents. Other ideas to try:

  • write a monthly newsletter/ blog or/and contribute to regular School newsletters

  • publish recipes using garden vegetables growing in the garden

  • send home notes abotu what’s been happening in the School Garden and possibly advice for home gardening in a weekly folder

  • arrange an interview with a local newspaper, radio or TV station

  • take over (after asking of course!) a centrally located notice board and pin up student work and photos

  • have a garden party!

Hold a Garden Party to celebrate and promote your plot

Hold a Garden Party to celebrate and promote your plot

6. Broaden the base

Once the basic programmes are in place you can think about how the garden can contribute to the school more generally and also the wider community:

  • A School Gardening Club in which parents are encouraged to join in?

  • Linking with other schools and having visits to/from your garden with activities to encourage students getting to know each other?

  • Several schools sharing an allotment so helping to spread out the workload and resulting in a wider range of food being grown?

  • Use the garden to inspire and present art projects?

  • Poetry competitions based on the garden?

  • A garden reading session where children take out library books and read these in the garden?

  • A science fair focused on the garden?

And think about ways to get students and teachers to broaden their horizons – perhaps explore the ecosystem in the wider area and different types of habitat like riverside, woodland, coastal marshes etc. Teachers can also be encouraged to take part in environmental education training programmes  and so on, including those provided by Garden Organic.

Get your own composting project going

Get your own composting project going

7. Healthy practices

Finally it’s important to develop a set of healthy practices in the garden which will not only benefit it but also lead to important lessons that students and others can take into the future. For example:

  • Wildlife – welcome insects and other ‘critters’ into the garden and use organic or physical means to control them if they get out hand. Good methods include home-made anti-fungal sprays (using garlic and mineral oil), insecticidal soap made from liquid soap (not detergent) and water in a spray bottle,  ‘beer traps’ and ‘wildlife friendly’ pellets or other controls to reduce slugs and snails. And be prepared to tolerate some untidiness and ‘less than perfect’ veg!

  • Soil – use organic principles to develop a healthy soil; never dig it if it’s wet or frosted; find a good source of organic matter to add to the soil a couple of times a year (make your own compost, get donations of horse or farmyard manure); nurture the organisms in the soil by ensuring that it is never too dry – a mulch will help; once a good soil has been built up try not to dig it or turn it over (unless it’s very heavy of course)- just layering compost/manure and adding mulch (‘no till’ or ‘lasagna gardening’) is less work and is kinder to the insects and other animals working your soil; use cover crops to keep the soil protected over winter and possibly add fertiliser (‘green manure’); set up and actively manage a compost project in the garden ( in the UK possibly seek help from a ‘Master Composter to get you going) – or alternatively set up a worm (or vermi) composting project which is less intensive than traditional compost – making.

  • Plants – use organic plant foods such as ‘Fish, blood and bone’ or make your own ‘compost tea’ in bag of used compost mixed with water or using plants such as Comfrey or nettles steeped in water for a few weeks.

What's your favourite tipple? Beer traps are effective at controlling slugs and snails

What’s your favourite tipple? Beer traps are effective at controlling slugs and snails

Hopefully, these tips will help to set your School Garden on a fun, effective and healthy course.  In my final post I’ll try to point up some good ideas to enrich and expand your School Gardening programme further – a sort of ‘Master Class’ for school gardening.

Other posts in the series:

Growing Children 3: Seven tips for creating your dream School Garden

Growing Children 2: Seven Design tips for your School Garden

Growing Children 1: School Garden start up in Seven Steps

School Gardening – reconnecting children and Nature

Source & Further information:

How to grow a School Garden’ – Arden Bucklin-Spooner and Rachel Kathleen Pringle, Timber Press Books

School Gardening Club- ideas

Budding Gardeners- lots of advice and info

Garden planner tool

Planning your school garden

Food & Agriculture Organisation School Garden Planner

California School Garden Network Guide to School Gardening

School Gardening Wizard

School garden fundraising

Garden Organic support for schools

Old School Gardener

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Winter Grasses

Oxford Botanic Garden  ‘was founded in 1621 with a mission “To promote the furtherance of learning and to glorify nature”. In the almost 400 years since then, although many people and plants have been involved in the history of the Garden we continue to educate as many people as possible about the importance of plants, to help conserve plants around the world and to support teaching and research at the University and beyond.

Visit inspiring herbaceous borders, glasshouses that take you around the World or simply relax in the oldest Botanic Garden in Britain. The Botanic Garden is the most compact, yet diverse collection of plants in the World right in the heart of the city centre and is open throughout the year for you to visit and enjoy.’

Source: Oxford Botanic Garden Website

Old School Gardener

sowing seeds The case for gardening in schools has perhaps never been stronger – it encourages exercise and healthy eating and helps to ensure that children ‘reconnect with nature’ – as discussed in the initial post on school gardening.

Today, in the first of a series of posts on the practical steps to creating a successful School Garden, I’m looking at how to get your project up and running.

Where do you start? How do you build up the momentum that’ll be needed to turn your dreams into  reality? How can you get the resources you need to get it off the ground? Here are 7 steps to help get your school gardening project off the starting blocks.

1. Do your homework- check out the internet for advice and ideas about school garden learning and explore other school gardens in your area. This research will help you to firm up your ideas and think about how you might present them. Talk to those involved in the school gardens you visit – their advice and experience is priceless. And they might even offer to help you get started!

2. Make the Case – so how do you get the key people on your side? If you’re a volunteer, float your idea with one or more teachers who you think might be sympathetic and explore the idea a bit further (if you’re a teacher speak with your colleagues and sound out some parents). Once you’ve firmed up your initial thoughts, it’s time to get the Head teacher on board. You need to have a clear outline of what the project is going to achieve and how it could benefit the school’s approach to learning in general (including curriculum links if possible) and ‘learning outside the classroom’ in particular – so think ‘outdoor classroom’ and use this key phrase in your plans. Your outline should ideally include a suggested location for the garden, rough design,timescale and how the garden will be established and looked after. It might also be an idea to say how you think progress will be monitored and reported. If you are able to convice a number of teachers, governors, parents and friends of the School, so much the better.

Hedge planting- put some natural boundaries around your garden with community effort!

Hedge planting- put some natural boundaries around your garden with community effort!

3. Build a team – you  will not create the garden alone, even less ensure its effective ongoing use. You need to build a team around the project which can do the many things needed. A committee/ steering group/ project team of some sort needs to be set up and at this stage. It will be important to get all the key interests in the project involved; later on your committee structure might be slimmed down as individual roles start to pan out and inevitably some people lose interest. So who should you target? Keep an eye out for parents who can bring particular skills, assets (mini diggers!) or contacts to the project  – these might be builders, gardeners, landscapers, forestry workers, publicists or funding bid writers and so on. Establishing a broad and varied support base at this stage will set the project on a positive course. Hold formal meetings to develop your project but also use the web to communicate. Don’t forget to ask the Head, teachers and governors to be on the committee – their involvement at this stage is important, but may reduce once the project is flying!

4. Think ahead – as the project develops it will become clear what the real goals will be and the main lines of action you’ll need to take to achieve these. Being clear, concise and friendly will help to communicate the project effectively. At the same time, be patient – it’s natural to want to launch right into construction works, but it will take time for your project to evolve and the learning opportunities to be firmed up, which will in turn have a bearing on your design, layout, routine etc. So it’s important to have detailed discussions with the teachers who will make use of their ‘outdoor classroom’. This discussion may take anything from a few months to a year.

picture- RHS

picture- RHS

5. ‘Quick wins’ to promote your cause – whilst it will take time to clarify your overall objectives and start to firm up your design, you can keep up the momentum and start to generate wider interest. Plan activities which will test out some ideas and generate interest ; e.g. can you start to grow things in containers around the school and get children involved in cultivating flowers or food in these? A little project starting with seed sowing in the classroom and eventually seeing mature plants placed outside will demonstrate what can be achieved and get the children on board.

6. Check possible barriers to progress and get permissions – check out whether your outline design has implications for the school’s utilities or the way it operates,  and if you need them get permissions in principle before going much further with your design work. For example, a reliable source of water nearby is an important if not vital consideration – will this be possible from existing outside taps/ rainwater harvesting or do you need to get another connection installed? Will this be acceptable to the school?

7. Secure the start-up resources – once you have a clear, albeit outline, view of your project and the design of the garden, it’s time to firm up what resources you’ll need to get the project established and get commitments for these. Some of these can be ‘promises’ of help from well skilled/equipped parents or friends of the school. But you’ll probably need some start up cash – to purchase materials, tools, seed etc.  Sources internal to the school can be approached – the school budget if possible, but more likely a Parents/ Friends Association. Then you can explore outside sources including local charities as well as national programmes like the Big Lottery.

Once you have a strong team around you, a clear plan with the start up resources you need and a growing awareness and support from the school and wider community, it’s time to get serious! In the next post on School Gardening I share some tips about planning and designing your new space for growing children!

Source: ‘How to grow a School Garden- a Complete Guide for Parents and Teachers’- Arden Bucklin-Sporer and Rachel Kathleen Pringle, Timber Press Books 2010

Useful websites:

Garden Organic support for Schools

RHS Campaign for School Gardening

RHS young gardener of the year 2013

Learning outside the classroom- manifesto

Learning through landscapes

Setting up and running a school garden- UN Food and Agriculture organisation

Morrisons ‘Let’s Grow’

Cawston Primary School Garden following work by a 'Garden Gang' event last Saturday

Cawston Primary School Garden following work by a ‘Garden Gang’ event last Saturday

Old School Gardener

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garden pic gressenhallThere are around ten different heritage gardens or other tended spaces at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum, near Dereham, Norfolk.

I’ve been a garden volunteer here for the last couple of years and spent time as a trainee Heritage Gardener. I plan to explore these spaces in my blog over the coming weeks. Here’s some background information.

References to ‘gardens’ in the Workhouse records (from  late 18th to mid 20th centuries) are relatively few, as most of the spaces within the walls of the former Workhouse were ‘yards’ of various kinds, being used for exercise or work by the inmates (including stone crushing). Records indicate that there were areas of active cultivation, mainly to grow food for the Master, staff and inmates. Major areas of food cultivation (most located just outside the Workhouse walls) no longer exist.

The current workhouse buildings were developed in the late 18th century after an Act of Parliament encouraged ‘Houses of Industry’ to be set up. People unable to look after themselves and/or their families were able to live in the buildings and do work to earn their keep. Before this, from Tudor times, the poor were the responsibility of local parishes and prior to this were looked after by religious orders, or informally by neighbours, friends or family.

The Workhouse meant a harsh, regimented life

The Workhouse meant a harsh, regimented life

1834 saw the Poor Law Reform Act  which converted the House of Industry into The Workhouse. Conditions became much harsher with families split up into different groups – adult males, adult females, boys, girls, unmarried mothers with babies, tramps (or ‘casuals’) etc. Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist conveys the strict regime.

Union Farm showcases historic farming practices with animals and fields

Union Farm showcases historic Norfolk farming practices

Gressenhall and other Norfolk workhouses expanded and reorganised accordingly and this system remained largely the same for the next 100 years. The Poor Law  was eventually abolished just after the 2nd World War and Gressenhall became an old peoples’ home- ‘Beech House’ (named after the magnificent Copper Beech tree in the main courtyard). Finally, in 1979 the old peoples’ home closed and the site was developed as the Norfolk Rural Life Museum, including the acquisition and development of the adjacent Union Farm as a showcase for farming methods and practices of yesteryear.

The historical role of today’s heritage gardens has resulted in most of them being enclosed by the walls of the workhouse buildings, boundary or dividing walls and sometimes, native species hedges or other natural boundaries. These ‘Gressenhall Gardens’ are principally the result of voluntary effort beginning in the 1980’s. The spaces were developed to support the Museum’s role in telling the story of the Workhouse and Farm, Norfolk’s broader landscape and rural life, as well as the more contemporary issues of environmental sustainability and biodiversity.

an aerial view of Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum

An aerial view of Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum, Norfolk

Several of these heritage gardens are domestic in scale and style with mixed planting and other features,  probably due to their clear definition into manageable spaces coupled with the interests and ideas of volunteers and staff. Some of them perform specific roles in helping to interpret this Norfolk museum site and deliver some of it’s messages;

  • Cherry Tree Cottage Garden illustrates a typical Norfolk cottage garden of the 1930’s, using plants and techniques from that time
  • The Wildlife Garden has habitats, planting and other features that are conducive to wildlife. A small border also features ‘useful plants’
  • The Orchards are growing varieties of apple and other fruit native to Norfolk (this is located on the graveyard of the old Workhouse)
  • The Dyers’ Garden features plants used in natural dyeing
Cherry Tree Cottage garden is set out like a typical 1930's cottage garden with vegetable varieties and techniques of the time

Cherry Tree Cottage garden is set out like a typical 1930’s Norfolk cottage garden with vegetable varieties and techniques of the time

A recent development has focused on the ‘Education Garden’, which is an important space used by the Museum’s Learning Team and others, adjoining as it does the Learning Centre. A new ‘Curiosity Corner’  provides an area for children under 5 to explore – it has various natural and other ‘child-size’ features; eg a willow tunnel, turf seat, rock pile, fossils, various metal birds, insects and animals and a hazel ‘wig wam’.

Over the coming weeks I’ll introduce you to some of the more important heritage gardens in this important Norfolk museum.

Further information:

Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum on Facebook

Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum blog

Old School Gardener

Finding Nature

Nature Connectedness Research Blog by Prof. Miles Richardson

Norfolk Green Care Network

Connecting People with Nature

Discover WordPress

A daily selection of the best content published on WordPress, collected for you by humans who love to read.

Susan Rushton

Celebrating gardens, photography and a creative life

Daniel Greenwood

Unlocking landscapes

Alphabet Ravine

Lydia Rae Bush Poetry


Australian Pub Project

Vanha Talo Suomi

a harrowing journey of home improvement & garden renovation

How I Killed Betty!

Mad as a box of frogs? Most probably ... but if I can’t be perfect, then I’ll happily be fabulously imperfect!

Bits & Tidbits


Rambling in the Garden

.....and nurturing my soul

The Interpretation Game

Cultural Heritage and the Digital Economy


Sense of place, purpose, rejuvenation and joy


Notes from the Gardeners...

Deep Green Permaculture

Connecting People to Nature, Empowering People to Garden Sustainably


A girl and her garden :)

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