Tag Archive: school gardening

c2w1drbwgaasqt_-jpg-largeMore progress to report at the food growing project at the local high school in Reepham.

Teacher Matt Willer and his colleagues have started to broaden out the participation of students at the project, most recently extending this to a group focused on ‘Care of the Countryside’, who also carry out regular sessions at a local Field Study Centre. by all accounts this was a great success, with the students putting in a full shift to improve the recently dug soakaway.

Another recent project has been to create a brick path using recycled bricks. It’s planned to fill in the gaps with some fine wood  chippings.


Matt is also interested in the possibility of offering qualifications in association with a local college – and maybe also seeing the wider, unused site developed for more ‘full blown’ agriculture…all very relevant for this School set in the heart of rural Norfolk.

Oh, and a recent plea for surplus gardening equipment has resulted in a good number of additions to the project’s tool shed; I donated a wheelbarrow and selection of border and hand tools, which will also also give me a bit more space in my shed! Here’s just a few of the donations so far…


Old School Gardener



dsc_1100551You may recall that I’ve become involved with a food growing project at the local high school in Reepham. ‘The Allotment Project’ is the brainchild of teacher Matt Willer who has put energy and ideas into action on a not very promising (very wet) plot at the back end of the School playing field.

Matt and his colleagues have got an enthusiastic group of students working regularly during lunch breaks, including most recently a group working towards their Duke of Edinburgh Award. Matt kindly sent me an update which is very encouraging.

You might recall that I suggested that they might like to sow a ‘green manure’ to give cover and eventually added nutrition, toa large raised bed and Matt says the mustard plants are growing really well (see below).

dsc_1101Also, as you will see by the photographs, the Sixth Formers have done a great job at preparing the largest raised bed by using old bricks (donated by a parent who is a builder).

Matt is also now thinking of following Sepp Holzer’s very interesting idea of a raised bed, usually referred to as ‘Hugelkultur’ (see below). I have never seen this in practice and it would be great to experiment with this permaculture-inspired approach to ‘no dig’ food growing.

Another teacher at the School, Mr.Crick, and his construction group, have also joined in the project and built a compound around the well to make it a bit safer, more attractive and organised. You may recall in my earlier post on this project how Matt and the students have dug this well into which the playing field run off descends, and from here he plans to pump it into a large storage container from where it can be drawn off for irrigation.

I also hear that the broad beans I helped the children to sow are on the way up!

Old School Gardener


An active lunch hour at Reepham High School and College Allotment Project

An active lunch hour at Reepham High School and College Allotment Project

I’ve written a little about this Allotment Project before. Headed up by enthusiastic teacher Matt Willer, it provides pupils of all ages at Reepham High School and College with some extra curricular ‘outside classroom’ experience of growing food. I’ve offered to provide some help and the other day I spent an hour with them.

A lot of older boys turned up and Matt set them to shifting bark across the surrounds to some raised beds. Matt had also brought in two old car tyres he’d found, and these were duly filled with soil ready for planting up; another example of Matt’s creative approach to recycling in the project.

How many boys does it take to shift a pile of bark....

How many boys does it take to shift a pile of bark….

I was pleased to see some faces that I recognised from a few years ago, when I was providing help at nearby Cawston Primary School; it was good to see these youngsters had retained their interest in growing. It was also nice that they also recognised me!

Another good thing was to see that Matt had taken my ideas of sowing some green manure on a couple of large raised beds, and that the mustard seeds had germinated and hopefully will go on to cover the ground and be ready to dig in early next spring.

Apart from the many boys, some other teachers (one of whom I’d worked with on gardening at the school a couple of years ago)  brought a group of girls down who are part of an extra curricuar group interested in science and technology. I worked with them to sow some broad beans in four raised beds, explaining why we sow now, the benefits of broad beans (apart from the delicious flavour) and we prepared the soil, measured out rows, sowed and labelled each row. We even had a few seeds left so that they could take a personal plant home in a pot and see how their’s grows in comparison with those put in at the Allotment.

For once, a picture of me talking to the girls about broad beans...yawn

For once, a picture of me talking to the girls about broad beans…yawn

It was good fun and I look forward to my next session there.

Old School Gardener

I’m pleased to share part of an article featuring a gardening project at my local High School, where I helped with an initial gardening group some years ago. This article, from Permaculture Magazine, decribes how Matt Willer has used ingenuity and ‘scroungeabilty’ to establish a thriving school allotment…to read the full article you need to subscribe to the magazine, which I’ve just done. It’s a great read!


Old School Gardener




Ther RHS national schools science project starts this week

Today (18 April) British astronaut Tim Peake sent a special message from space to the hundreds of thousands of children who will be beginning our Rocket Science project in partnership with the UK Space Agency experiment this week.

Tim, who delivered the message from the International Space Station where he’s been since December, wished the 600,000 young people signed up to the experiment good luck with their investigations into the impact of micro-gravity and space travel on seed germination and growth. The results will help to form a clearer picture of the potential for astronauts to grow their own food to sustain them on long-term missions.

Speaking while 400km above the surface of the Earth, Tim said:

“This is a really exciting week for the hundreds of thousands of young people across the country who will begin their Rocket Science experiments. I’d like to wish everyone taking part the best of luck with their investigations and I look forward to seeing some of the results.

“It’s possible that among those pupils taking part in the project are the young people who will help mankind reach the next big milestones in space exploration for the benefit of people on Earth. I hope the RHS Campaign for School Gardening’s Rocket Science experiment will spark curiosity and wonder amongst young people who may become the next generation of horticultural scientists.”

With more than 8,600 schools and educational groups poised to begin their Rocket Science experiment this week, the project is now among the biggest mass science experiments conducted in UK schools.

Rocket Science will see school pupils across the country spend 35 days analysing the growth and development of two batches of seemingly identical rocket seeds. However, one batch of seeds has spent time in space with Tim on the International Space Station, orbiting the Earth at 17,000mph. The aim of the experiment is to enthuse young people about science and horticulture and provide the European Space Agency with key insights into some of the challenges of growing food in space.

Results of the experiment will be published later in the year but keep an eye on our website, Facebook page and Twitter page for updates!

Source: RHS


Early Years Gardening in Small Spaces


PicPost: These Boots Were Made for Planting

Picture via Royal Horticultural Society Campaign for School Gardening

An early show from Euphorbia characias in Old School Garden
An early show from Euphorbia characias in Old School Garden

To Walter Degrasse – 27th February 2014

Dear Walter,

Mild weather has continued here and so I’ve taken the opportunity to start lightly turning over the soil, cutting back dead stems on herbaceous perennials and grasses and recently pruned back some shrubs such as Cornus and Buddleja to channel the new growth that’s starting to emerge.

In the last couple of weeks, the basal growths of new leaves around many plants have started to push upwards and the pattern of planting in the mixed borders is slowly taking shape – a very satisfying sight too.

I was surprised at how easily my kitchen garden soil responded to a light forking over, which included turning in some green manures and removal of a few weeds. With all the rain we’ve had I was expecting it to be rather claggy, but then again my sandy loam is always a joy to work with, so I should have known better. It’s also been perfect weather for dividing and moving some herbaceous perennials I didn’t get around to doing last year.

Having repaired the little storm damage we’ve had (a few bent hinges on one of the garage doors and a fence post needing to be replaced), I’ve also finally taken apart my wooden planters built about 7 years ago, but unfortunately not with pressure treated timber, so that all the money and effort has not lasted as long as I’d hoped. Still, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at an offer from a Scottish Raised bed manufacturer (‘Woodblockx’).

They’ve kindly donated me a new planter  and I’m finalising my plans about where best to use this, possibly as a feature in the courtyard with alpines  or maybe somewhere in the kitchen garden for food growing. The system they use looks both very strong and relatively easy to build, but I’ll do a review on the blog as I get to grips with the build in the next few weeks.

Having completed all the pruning and clearing of spent stems and foliage, I’ll also be turning my attention to further spring soil turning in the next few weeks. My first batches of seeds have germinated pretty well and I’ll be potting up some french marigolds and moving on some early food crops (Calabrese, Cauliflower and Leeks). To date the new bed of asparagus I planted last  autumn doesn’t appear to have made any growth above ground, but it’s still bit early for that, perhaps.

Next door the garlic bulbs and most of the broad beans I sowed last autumn are now doing well, as are the patches of onion sets (Red and white) and some Red cabbage and spinach. Mole activity seems to have subsided a little of late – hopefully it will tail off further as I get to give the lawn its first cut – and new grass will come up where the mole hills once lay.

Further afield, I’ve continued my new support at Fakenham Academy (a local high School), helping three groups of students prepare a food growing plot each in their school garden; in fact three plots of 12m x 6m, all of which have either been covered with weeds or grass.

Getting these ready for sowing is proving to be a tough job, the weather requiring us to turn over the clumps of grass/weeds and soil to allow for some drying out, so that we can remove most of the soil before piling up the weeds and turves in separate heaps for rotting down. Still, it does look like we’re making progress.

However, I discovered the other day that due to there being some asbestos in the better of two greenhouses  there, we will have to wait longer for a propagation space. This is unfortunate as I’d hoped to have broken up the hard physical toil with some lighter seed sowing activity especially as I have now bought the seeds and seed potatoes in line with the crops the students say that they want to grow. It’s fun working with these students, though not surprisingly they can get tired and bored of digging and so behaviour standards can sometimes drop!

Yesterday I returned to Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum (where I volunteer) and was pleased to commence a tidy up of the gardens I’m responsible for. It was also encouraging to meet two new volunteers, Jonathan and Mike, as well as two new Heritage Gardening trainees, Sam and Sonny.

This new injection of person power will make it a lot easier to keep on top of the maintenance of the gardens and may even allow us some scope for further improvement projects.

It was a lovely day too, which makes garden tidying a real joy! The museum opens to the public again on 9th March, so next week no doubt we’ll all be trying to get the gardens looking presentable. The tubs of pansies and spring bulbs I planted in the autumn are looking good and along with other spring interest should give the gardens a splash of early colour- the pinky blushed Hellebores in the Education Garden are looking good for example.

I’m just back from a morning at my local primary school (first visit since early winter) to help with their ‘outdoor learning’, focusing on the garden. The morning began rather wet but we managed to spend a couple of hours with two groups of children turning over soil and weeding as well as moving a pile of wood chips around the fire pit- these had come from a fallen hawthorn tree that toppled over in the main drive during the recent storms. Some of the children also worked out how many potatioes they’d need for one of the raised beds and I took in a few fruit boxes with moulded paper liners to help with ‘chitting’.

The children seemed to have a great time and were especially interested in the warmth that had built up in the pile of wood chippings – a great opportunity to explain the rudiments of composting!

I’m also pleased that we have some extra help in the garden, in the form of Ann, one of the students on the GYO course I did last autumn and a parent of one of the children at the school. And our current house guest, Lisa, also helped out with groups spotting the ‘first signs of spring’. Lisa is staying with us for a few months to experience British school life and brush up her English before commencing her own university career with a view to teaching. She’s from Muenster in Germany – and we are also eagerly anticipating the arrival of her mother, Anne tomorrow for a weekend stay.

Seems like this is the time for important germans to visit the UK, as their Chancellor, Angela Merkel is in London today, addressing the Houses of Parliament and taking tea with the Queen!

The Garden Design course that I’m running at Reepham seems to be progressing well, with 9 enthusiastic participants. They have all pretty much surveyed and drawn up a scale base plan of their gardens and are now exploring functional and form layouts as well as developing sketch designs incorporating ideas for creating structure in their designs. Next week we turn our attention to planting design as the ‘fourth dimension’ (seasonal variations) adding to the 2D and 3D views of the garden we’ve covered to date.

Tonight I’m off to County Hall in Norwich to attend an event for the Norfolk Master Composters, featuring a talk by well known Norfolk organic gardener, Bob Flowerdew – and there’s a buffet too!

I hope you and Lise are well and getting stuck into your plot once more – remember to take it easy and limber up before you do anything strenuous – you don’t want that back problem again!

all the best,

Old School Gardener

Cyclamen still looking good in the courtyard
Cyclamen still looking good in the courtyard

To: Walter De Grasse – 30th January 2014

Dear Walter,

Is it too late to wish you Happy New Year?! I hope that you have a great year, especially in your wonderful garden. It seems ages since I last wrote to you, probably because we’ve had all the activity that comes with Christmas and New Year and then gradually getting back into the rhythm of something approaching a normal routine! It’s been an interesting couple of weeks here at Old School Garden, though I must admit that only in the last week have I begun (sometimes with muscles and bones screaming ‘don’t do it!’), to get back into the garden for an hour or two each day (well some days).

Seeds sorted- I'v e been through my supply and filed them in date order for sowing
Seeds sorted- I’ve been through my supply and filed them in date order for sowing

I’ve managed to finally collect the last of the leaves (mostly Oak, that seem to be the last to fall), pruned the Grapevine and Apple Trees and continued to tidy up dead and untidy foliage as new growth starts to emerge. I also sowed my first seeds the other day; a mixture of early veg (Calabrese and Leeks) with some annuals and perennials. It was quite pleasing to review my seed purchases alongside spare seed from earlier years and to start to place the packets in my seed box in date order for sowing. I’m fully expecting  my dining room to soon be full of seedlings in the process of growing on prior to putting outside in the cold frame or greenhouse (or even under cloches/fleece). I’ve purchased some rather more exotic annuals and perennials this year as well as ordering some ‘heritage’ varieties of vegetable from the Garden Organic Heritage Seed Library. Oh, and I mustn’t forget my Christmas gift of some carrot seeds called ‘Nigel’!

Greek Squashes grown last year- a 'heritage' variety, more of which I plan to grow this year
Greek Squashes grown last year- a ‘heritage’ variety, I’m planning to grow more ‘heritage veg’ this year

I’ll tell you more about these different plants as they get growing, but I’m excited about the greater diversity of food and flowers I’ll be growing this year. I should by now have done plan for the kitchen garden, but haven’t managed this, partly because I’m a little stumped as to how to do it now that I’m aiming to grow a wider range of smaller quantities in successional sowings and mixing in more ornamentals too. I must devote a few hours to thinking this one through – I’ll put the final version in a post soon – hopefully!

Though I know that you’ve been more affected by me by the wave of storms and flooding we’ve been having in the UK, but even with this, the lack of any really cold spell makes me wonder if we’re going to get a ‘real winter’ this year! As testimony to the mild weather I’m amazed at how the Melianthus is still putting on new foliage and plants like the Scabious and Fuchsia I have in the courtyard are still flowering!

I’ll be putting in a few more hours outside as the days continue to lengthen, including finishing off pruning the roses and moving and dividing some herbaceous plants I didn’t get round to in the Autumn. Well I say that, but I may have to curtail my own gardening time in the next few months as I’ve taken on some new teaching work at a local high school (working with Foundation skills students to develop their school garden and especially food growing). I’m off there later today to work with two groups, focusing on what they’d like to grow in their plots, which we can hopefully get into soon and begin the work of preparing the ground etc. The School Garden is a potentially wonderful resource, with two large greenhouses with electrically operated vents and water supplies, lots of tools and equipment and a south-facing aspect with what seems to be good soil- once the weeds have been cleared and its been turned over and fed of course!

I’m also hoping to repeat my Garden Design and Grow Your Own Food courses for adults (assuming we get the numbers required). These are due to kick off next week, and it looks hopeful that they’ll run.

I’m also carrying on with supporting the local Primary school in its ‘Learning Outside the Classroom’. In fact as I write this the School is being inspected for its latest accreditation on it’s outdoor work, hopefully an addition to its ‘level 5’ achievement in the RHS Campaign for School Gardening. I’ll be getting over to the School after half term to help them get seed sowing underway and hopefully getting the youngest children involved through use of the ‘pallet planters’ we built last year, plus a mini greenhouse for propagation, all of which can be placed near to their classrooms.

I guess that my support for individual households in food growing may also pick up soon, as I’ve promised help to  three of the students on the first ‘GYO’ course that ran in Foulsham last Autumn. Sadly the ‘Master Gardener’ programme in Norfolk is about to be reduced due to the ending of some grant funding, but I’m likely to continue to be involved in the Breckland area, where the local Council is supporting the work.

No doubt you’re well ahead in your plot? I’d love to hear what you’re up to and your plans for the year. I’m contemplating repeating our opening of Old School Garden to the public once more, as this was such an enjoyable day and one which raised funds to support worthy local projects – most of which involve gardening. Maybe you and Ferdy would like to join us – it’ll probably be in late June/early July? Well, I’ll sign off for now, wishing you and her well and looking forward to hearing from you.

all the best,

Old Schoool Gardener

School Gardening Training Courses

All Saints pupils with their school-grown veg in the allotment

This is a link to the RHS programme of courses.

Old School Gardener

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