Tag Archive: learning

Number six in this series of posts on what makes gardening is all about learning and giving. We can learn about gardening in formal and informal ways and ‘on the plot’, in the classroom and online. For many, if not most gardeners, learning is usually informally, from other gardeners and especially through visiting other gardens. So my chosen object is an annual booklet of the NGS- the National Gardens Scheme (I’ve selected last year’s Norfolk booklet out of local loyalty). 

NGS-2015-bookletAs the organisation’s website explains, the National Gardens Scheme has a rich and interesting history that is closely connected with nursing in the UK. The origins of today’s sister organisations covering England and Wales, and Scotland go back over a hundred years…

In 1859, William Rathbone, a Liverpool merchant, employed a nurse to care for his wife at home. After his wife’s death, Rathbone kept the nurse on to help poor people in the neighbourhood. Later, Rathbone raised funds for the recruitment, training and employment of nurses to go into the deprived areas of the city.

Later in the Nineteenth Century, based on the idea of local nursing set up by Rathbone, `District` nursing spread across the country. With support from Florence Nightingale and Queen Victoria, the movement became a national voluntary organisation setting standards and training nurses.

Then, in 1926, the organisation decided to raise a special fund in memory of their patron, Queen Alexandra, who had recently died. The fund would pay for training and would also support nurses who were retiring.

A council member, Miss Elsie Wagg, came up with the idea of raising money for charity through the nation’s obsession with gardening, by asking people to open their gardens to visitors and charging a modest entry fee that would be donated.

The year after, in 1927, The National Gardens Scheme was founded.  Individuals were asked to open up their gardens for ‘a shilling a head’. In the first year 609 gardens raised over £8,000. A year later, the district nursing organisation became officially named the Queen’s Nursing Institute.

In 1980 the National Gardens Scheme Charitable Trust was established as an independent charity and since 2010, a different annual ‘guest’ charity has been chosen from recommendations from NGS volunteers.

Woodlands,%20ferns,%20North%20EastWe opened Old School Garden up to the public in 2013 for one day (not as part of the NGS, but with proceeds going to three local good causes), so I know how much hard work, excitement and enjoyment comes from doing that (we might have another go one day…). I’m also an enthusiastic visitor to other gardens, as you’ll have seen from many posts on this blog!

And the charitable impact of this sort of scheme can’t be  overstated. Since its foundation, the National Gardens Scheme has donated over £45 million to its beneficiary charities, of which nearly £23 million has been donated within the last ten years (£15.2 million to Macmillan Cancer Support alone since 1985, being that charity’s largest donor).

So, the NGS is both a potent symbol of gardeners’ eagerness to learn – and to give.

 Old School Gardener

Old School Gardener

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

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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Learning Gateway

I’m involved in this exciting new learning opportunity in a local Norfolk village, offering courses in growing food and garden design.

If you’re around come along and see me:)

Sunflowers were planted by a local playgroup at the May opening of the garden - with the wet summer they grew to over 2.5 metres tall!

Sunflowers were planted by a local playgroup at the May opening of the garden – with the wet summer they grew to over 2.5 metres tall!

A renovated garden is moving towards maturity in what were once exercise yards for tramps and unmarried mothers at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum, Norfolk.

The garden occupies what were once two exercise/work yards for inmates of the Victorian Workhouse. The footings of what was once the dividing wall between these two yards can still be seen, emerging as the lawn above is worn away.  In Victorian times these yards joined two blocks of accommodation:

  • for so-called  ‘casuals’ or tramps who used to travel between workhouses earning ‘a night’s board for 2 days hard labour’ – possibly crushing stones for use in road building
  • for unmarried mothers nursing their babies – they wore distinctive uniforms to mark them out from the other workhouse inmates.
The refurbished 'Education Garden'

The refurbished ‘Education Garden’

These buildings today provide the Museum’s Learning Centre and space for occasional groups and events. Until last year the garden area between the two buildings was kept maintained as grass and a range of mixed borders which is an important picnic/ rest spot as well as being used by school and pre school groups for art and learning activities. In 2012 funding from the Friends of the Museum as well as the Museum itself and donations from a range of local businesses were secured to refurbish and redesign it. A number of design issues were tackled, including:

  • Providing further paved terrace space with new picnic tables and some renovated paving
  • Introducing a number of planting containers to add interest to the paved terraces
  • Realigning paths to follow ‘desire lines’ and make access easier
  • Deepening borders to provide more visual interest and unified planting
  • Creating a new ‘curiosity corner’ to provide a space designed for under 5’s which contains a range of features to encourage children to explore.
Mary and Derek Manning plant a tree to mark the opening of the garden

Mary and Derek Manning plant a tree to mark the opening of the garden

The newly renovated garden was formally opened on 6th May 2012, and two of the original gardening volunteers, Mary and Derek Manning, planted a ‘Paper Handkerchief Tree‘ to mark the occasion. Local children also played their part and cut ribbons to open ‘Curiosity Corner’.

One of the new residents of the Garden!

One of the new residents of the Garden!

The Curiosity Corner proved to be very popular in its first season last year and included some giant sunflowers planted by a local play group as well as a turf seat; a willow tunnel and arches; hazel wigwam; mirror; ‘fossil slab’; various ‘animals’  hidden away in the planting and a range of different path surfaces and planting. There is also a half barrel filled with stones,water and pond plants, so that youngsters can ‘get up close’ to this watery habitat.

 'Curiosity Corner'

‘Curiosity Corner’

The coming year will see the garden mature further and hopefully there will be sunny days so that visitors can really enjoy this lovely picnic area at its best.

New planters with sweet peas on conical obelisks

New planters with sweet peas on conical obelisks


Two more cryptic clues to the names of plants, fruit or veg…

  • The scourge of female chickens
  • Cheap goods in a pile of dung

Old School Gardener

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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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oscarGressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum and the Museum of East Anglian life have been awarded £1.1 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Skills for the Future programme to deliver a training project between 2011 and 2015.

Two new traineeships are now on offer:

Public Events traineeship – working with staff and volunteers at the museum to assist with the development and delivery of family and adult leisure learning opportunities.

Heritage Learning traineeship working as part of a successful learning team at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse helping to deliver high quality schools learning events to young people of all ages and abilities, also assisting with the museum’s informal learning programme

This project provides an opportunity for young people and adults from any background to develop skills and knowledge in a specific area of traditional skills. Where possible, learning will be tied to accredited qualifications. This will give the trainees both work experience and training, and will be a good stepping stone for further opportunities in the heritage or historic environment sector.

Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse is offering a number of formal apprenticeships in such areas as traditional farming and horticulture in partnership with Easton College.

They will also be offering 6-12 month traineeships that will be targeted at both young people and ‘second careerers’. These will be based around areas such as heritage gardening, woodland & heritage land management, rural collections management and interpretation, and managing historic buildings.

Trainees work alongside staff and volunteers under the supervision of a project officer. Mentoring and career development support is also provided. For people not sure what area they wish to specialise in there is a yearly programme of 3 month traditional skills “taster” courses running at the Museum of East Anglian Life.

If you would like more information on the work taking place at the Museum of East Anglian Life, please see the Skills for the Future page on their website.

Further information:

Skills for the Future – general leaflet

For further information on these two new posts see the Website 

Old School Gardener

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