Tag Archive: school gardening


IMG_7431To Walter Degrasse

30th September 2013

Dear Walter,

September has been a month of relative quiet in Old School Garden. Summer has tipped into Autumn and the garden hasn’t needed (?wishful thinking) full throttle attention. The odd weed pulled up, flowers dead headed or staked, hedges trimmed, grass mown (less frequently and less closely). A typical September then, apart from the relatively cold spell we had earlier on which sent me to the wood shed and led to lighting of fires – albeit only once or twice. Still I resisted the temptation to switch on the central heating! Since then we seem to have had something of a mini ‘Indian summer’.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how some annuals I planted earlier on have at last come good – Cleome, Cosmos, Nicotiana and Tithonia in particular. A slow start, but they seem to have gone for a sprint finish so to speak! They are looking very good alongside some other late summer perennial colours – Asters, Sedums and Aconitum. And I’m pleased to say that last year’s sowings of Phalaris (‘Chinese Lanterns’) have now turned into beefier plants, just starting to show off their wonderful papery orange ‘lanterns’.

I’ve continued to harvest  various fruit and veg – Chard is now reaching maturity, Tomatoes, Lettuces and Cucumbers have done really well, and some late sowings of Carrots and Mangetout are looking promising. You may recall that I sowed three seeds of ‘Greek Squash’ sent to me by the Garden Organic Heritage Seed Library – two of these have gone on to produce four or five good-sized squashes, which are now hardening off in the autumn sunshine. Oh, and remember my caterpillar disaster with the Calabrese and Broccoli plants last month? Well, I’ve cleared the bed, and managed to get hold of some young plants of Chinese Broccoli and Spinach, so along with some of my own Red Cabbage seedlings we now have that area once more in production – hopefully they’ll all put on good growth before the onset of winter.

The first windfall apples have been falling in some strong breezes recently. We’ve been collecting some of these as well as early pickings directly from the trees, and very tasty they are too! I can see that the next couple of weeks will be consumed with apple harvesting, and that of course raises the question of where to store them! Our larder could soon be a lot fuller.

Further afield in my gardening life, I’m pleased to say that the six week Garden Design course I put on last year is once again up and running, with 8 enthusiastic students with a wide range of garden sizes and ideas that I hope to help them develop in the coming weeks. I’ve also planned a one day workshop at nearby Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse where I hope to show people how to get more from their garden through using some of the key elements of garden design. It will also be fun using the gardens at the Museum to illustrate some of these, as i designed some and help to maintain them as a volunteer. As I speak I’m hopeful, too, that the six week beginners course on ‘Growing Your Own’ at nearby Foulsham, will also be viable, but we’ll have to wait and see on that one.

I’ve also started back with my support of gardening and ‘learning outside the classroom’ at the local primary school. I’ve been encouraged by the way the school – and particularly their LOTC Coordinator, is building on the progress we made last year. Over the first half term I’m taking a series of small groups from most classes through some of the basics such as introducing different types of tool and how to use them safely; the importance of clearing and preparing the soil during the autumn; harvesting some of the produce we planted last season (there are some seriously impressive carrots that seem to have thrived on neglect!); gathering different types of seed for next year; how different plants propagate themselves and sowing broad beans, garlic and onions as well as some green manures.  The School is also carrying out an international project on composting and organic gardening to which I’m contributing. So a busy half term! It’s always great working with such enthusiastic youngsters, reawakening my own sense of wonder at nature as they dig over the soil and are delighted to discover worms, grubs and creepy crawlies!

On Saturday I went to Garden Organic’s HQ at Ryton, near Coventry, for their annual conference for Master Gardeners and Composters. Around 30 of my colleagues from Norfolk went along and were joined by over 200 other Master Gardeners and Composters from a number of other areas around the country. It was a very interesting and inspiring day. I attended some workshops on community composting, reaching ‘hard to reach’ communities and ‘love your bugs’- all about the goodies and baddies in the garden. Most inspiring was a talk by veteran naturalist Chris Baines, looking at ‘The Nature of the Future’. I’ll do a fuller article on this event later in the week, but here are a couple of pics from the ‘Naturalistic’ area of the gardens, which looked wonderful – as did the many other different gardens which demonstrate a range of gardening techniques and planting arrangements.

So, old friend, that just about brings you up to date for the last few weeks in my gardening life at Old School Garden and beyond. A mellow and measured time when its been possible to enjoy the late summer colour and reap the fruits (and veg) of my labours earlier in the year! No doubt you’re well ahead of me with your autumn garden jobs, but in case you’re not and need some ideas, I’ll be posting my regular monthly item on tasks in the garden for the new month tomorrow, so I hope that proves useful. Happy Gardening!

Old School Gardener

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Picpost: Bucket Shop

‘Students at Armstrong School in Newcastle have been creating more storage solutions for their shed with Sarah Carrie (Schools Advisor for the North East).
As well as their brilliant welly rack (post from 28 June), they have made this smart tool holder to keep long handled tool handles upright and neat.
To make it they:
Used 4 old plastic plant pots
Cut the bottoms off 2 of them
Screwed these 2 pots onto the shed wall
Fixed the other 2 plant pots below the others onto the floor.’

via RHS Campaign for School Gardening

I’ve just returned from a session of the ‘Gardening Club’ at my local primary school – 7 children of varying ages. What a little preparation and enthusiastic kids can achieve! We:

  • Painted up the pallet planters we’re making for a floral display at the school (we’re planting up hanging baskets next week for sale at the Summer Fair on 19th May) – more on this project in due course…
  • Set up a wormery outside the school kitchen – I bought some worms from a local angling shop and with the day’s fruit peel and other kitchen waste on a bed of leaf mould we set the little critters to work and talked with the School cook about how to keep the process going…
  • Sowed some Squash and Lavender seeds one of the children had brought in – they’re already excited at how tall their sowings of trailing Nasturtiums have grown in two weeks…
  • Had a brief run down on the composting process in the wormery and set them a challenge of finding out some ‘compost facts’ for next week, as well as discussing who’ll be available to help me sell the hanging baskets, make paper pots with children visitors and advise people on food growing and composting at the Summer Fair…

Phew – need  a little sleep….

Old School Gardener

Should gardening be taught in schools?

A CBBC Newsround report which is about the proposed UK school curriculum changes next year. These currently propose that gardening is taught in schools – your views are being sought!

Old School Gardener

Me showing 20 new Master Gardeners around the Wildlife Garden at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum

Me showing 20 new Master Gardeners around the Wildlife Garden at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum

18th April 2013

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

How time flies – four weeks since I last wrote and I’m pleased to say that at last the weather has meant a more active time in the garden!

Where to start? well as I write this I’m about to set off for some induction training as a ‘Master Composter’ – a voluntary scheme that provides advice and support to households and communities in ways of recycling green waste. It’s run by Garden Organic and Norfolk County Council, the same partnership that runs the local Master Gardener scheme in which I’m involved. I’ll do a post next week about my experiences on the training.

Coincidentally I was asked to contribute to the latest Master Gardener foundation training that took place at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum last weekend. I did a similar session  last year about my experiences of recruiting households and other food growing projects and the sort of things I do to support them. Initially I took this group of 20 enthusiastic new Master Gardeners on a brief tour of the gardens at Gressenhall (you remember that I’m a garden volunteer there?). They seemed to enjoy this and a ‘site analysis ‘ of one of the gardens with the Scheme Manager Philip Turvil. The classroom session also went well, I think. It was fun telling of  my experiences and ideas and some ‘do’s and don’ts’ for the new recruits.

Earlier in the week I called round to one of my Master Gardener households in the next village, a young Mum with a couple  of pre school children, who is an enthusiastic food grower, though needs some advice and discussion of her ideas. We talked about her plans for the coming year, including different ways of growing tomatoes in a Greenhouse, putting potatoes in a front garden border, moving some fruit bushes and what to grow in the six raised beds her husband made last year. Even though some of her crops last year suffered from pests, and perhaps insufficient attention due to her other commitments, she remains up beat and keen to be more self sufficient in food. I must say I came away re – energised myself and what with the final arrival of spring – like weather, I’ve been wading in (or should it be ‘catching up’) with jobs in Old School Garden.

Most of my recent effort in my own garden has gone on ‘cleaning up’ – terrace pavings and pathways, fences, wooden buildings etc. It does seem like I’ve had a good few days of ‘pressure washing’ , but everything does look better for it (along with the cutting of new edges to the borders and grass mown for the first time). I spent a few hours yesterday repainting/staining fences, door frames, gates, shed, compost bins, wooden edges to my raised beds as well as the garage and outbuilding doors. The next thing will be the greenhouse, where the milder weather has meant that I can start moving things out (some tender potted plants that over – wintered plus some seedlings, via the cold frame). I can then remove the insulation and heater and give everything a good wash. I think I’ll remove the top few inches of soil in there too, given I had such a problem with tomato blight last year.

Unfortunately the frosty weather has finally near- demolished a couple of terracotta pots. These have done good service over the years, but (as the picture shows) they are literally being held together by ‘belt and braces’! Once the spring display of bulbs and wall flowers is over, these can be recycled as crocks for drainage in other pots.

One of two Terracotta pots that have just about 'given up the ghost' as a result of frosty weather

One of two Terracotta pots that have just about ‘given up the ghost’ as a result of frosty weather

Though the windowsills are still creaking with the amount of seedlings I’ve started off, again the warmer weather is allowing me to pot up and move things on – I’ve got a pretty good ‘conveyor belt’ of heated propagators/covered trays inside – uncovered trays inside – greenhouse – cold frame – plant out under cloches/fleece- reveal all! As you appreciate it’s important to gradually acclimatise the seedlings to outside conditions and at the same time keep potting on before the young plants grow to fill their containers.

The last few days have seen spring flowering getting underway (at last) and there are now good shows of Daffodils, some early Tulips , Forsythia, Cherry blossom as well as Primulas and one or two other things that seem intent on getting their flower show done and dusted before summer arrives (so I guess that some will not last as long as in previous springs). The weather has also meant that I’ve been able to plant my potatoes (on April 5th to be precise – supposedly a good day, astronomically speaking!). I used fleece to warm the trenches (which I’d previously filled with manure) for a couple of weeks beforehand and have replaced this over the planted potato rows to keep the warming process going. I’ve got a few spare ‘Charlotte’ tubers which are a bit of insurance against furtehr bad weather in the next week or so. It will be interesting to compare how they do with the earlier planting.

 

A few days ago I planted out a few Broad Beans plants under a cloche – I’d raised these in a couple of pots in the greenhouse as my direct autumn sowings were nowhere to be seen. I suspect the seeds either rotted in the very wet weather or the young seedings didn’t withstand the frosty January weather. I now have Calabrese, Cauliflower, Leeks, Celery and Cabbage plants nearing a size where they can be put outside, but we’ll just have to pot these on and keep them protected for a couple of weeks yet, I think, though some could probably go out under cloches.

 

I’ve also experimented with starting off carrots in an 80 plug modular tray this year. I tried this last year, but I think the weather and poor ultimate planting position made for a pretty dismal crop – like many people, I think. Hopefully this year I can plant out the carrot modules once they get to a decent size – they have at least germinated and the plants seem to be coming along well in the cold frame. The idea is to avoid the need to thin directly sown carrots (the traditional method) and enable me to plant out individual carrot plants into neat and efficient rows – we’ll see how succesful this proves to be, as you know that carrots don’t like to be moved around!

Lots of seedlings now ready for potting up- these are Nicotiana

Lots of seedlings now ready for potting up- these are Nicotiana

Apart from activity in Old School Garden, I’ve continued to support the local Primary School’s gardening programme. You may recall that I mentioned some ‘tool use and safety’ and digging sessions I’d held with small groups of children, and these continued up to the Easter break. I’m returning to help them every Thursday from next week, the early jobs being to plant out their broad bean and courgette plants (grown from seed in the last few weeks), potatoes (which have been ‘chitting’ in the classrooms), and sow some wild flower borders.  I was successful in getting some free seeds from the RHS as part of ‘National Gardening Week’ (this week!) and added to some seeds the school already has we should be able to do an area of about 10 m2 close to the raised beds and pond. Oh, and some good news on the pond, too. You remember that I designed and supervised the construction of this with much community help? The School Gardening Coordinator tells me that the project has won first prize in a competition run by the Aylsham and District Wildlife Trust! The prize of £100 will help to support further gardening activity at the School.

Well, I guess that about brings you up to date with my gardening activities of late. I’m glad to hear that you’re getting back into your lovely garden and I look forward to visiting you over the summer to see those superb herbaceous borders of yours!

All the best for now.

Old School Gardener

Other posts in this series:

Dear Walter….letter from Old School Garden, 11th March 2013

Dear Walter… letter from Old School Garden: 15th February 2013

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Making a summer shower

Link to instructions on how to use empty milk bottles to create watering devices that are gentle on the plants and good for children to use (as opposed to hosing everyone in the class or straining with /getting feet wet with watering cans….)

You can grow things that can be harvested before the summer holidays - if you start early enough and with the right varieties

You can grow things that can be harvested before the summer holidays – if you start early enough and with the right varieties

You’ve got a functioning School Garden and it’s going well. How do you keep it that way? Today’s post looks at top tips for managing and maintaining your School Garden.

Managing the children

  • Model behaviour in the garden – children need to be encouraged to be calm, watchful, focused, attentive and interested. Encourage reflective learning as children undertake informal activities in the garden – eg picking flowers for the school reception.
  • Mentoring – encourage children to act as mentors to younger, less experienced colleagues and perhaps have others with key responsibilities in the garden, e.g. for tool issue, checking and gathering. This will encourage learning – and reduce the work required of the Garden Coordinator!
  • Divide whole classes into smaller groups to allow for more in depth learning on more complex tasks and to avoid children tripping over each other in particular parts of the garden
Jobs like building 'bug hotels' and laying paths are best left to 'Garden Gang' days when you can get a good level of adult support for a few hours

Jobs like building ‘bug hotels’ and laying paths are best left to ‘Garden Gang’ days when you can get a good level of adult support for a few hours

Managing the garden

  • Be prepared – set aside time for planning gardening sessions. Use a robust book in which to plan and record lessons and reflect on what happened.
  • Make sure children take notes and regularly write up what they have been doing and learning in the garden, and encourage them to take ownership of it by contributing to its planning and management
  • ‘Garden gangs’ – schedule longer sessions of a few hours when parents and other volunteers as well as children can come in and do more substantial tasks in the garden – path or pergola building, greenhouse construction etc.
  • Look out for bargains or second hand tools and equipment – a local ‘freecycle” website or similar could be worth a look.
Taking notes

Taking notes and helping to plan for next year…

Maintenance

  • Make ‘rainmakers’ out of yoghurt or juice bottles – cut off the necks and make holes in the bottom. These can be filled from larger buckets of water around the garden and then used to mimic the gentle effect of rain. This avoids the dangers of over watering the plants (and the children!)  if watering cans or hoses are used. As plants mature you can use other, larger plastic bottles (with the bottoms removed and the necks plunged into the ground alongside the plant) – these can be filled with water (from watering cans) to get water to the plant’s roots.
  • Keep clean – have a suitable boot scraper/brush and mat outside the school, to avoid bringing mud into the building and havea suitable place to store boots (maybe on a trolley).
  • Plan for summer –  either grow things that can be harvested before the holidays (and replace these with a mulch or grow a ‘green manure’ to both cover and feed the soil); arrange special summer holiday activities which can also enable basic garden maintenance to be done, or arrange a schedule of parents and others who can come in over the holidays and water, weed etc. Perhaps get people committed to this at an end of term event or meeting. And you could use a combination of all three approaches!
  • Maintain a record of parent/ community skills and assets (diggers, power equipment, trailers etc.) which can contribute to the garden at different times.
Have somewhere children can wipe their feet off and store boots

Have somewhere children can wipe their feet off and store boots

Generating support

  • Give presentations at parent events and especially those for reception children, whose parents might be new to the school.
  • Ask for donations – unused tools or materials, or funding for specific items like a wheelbarrow.
  • Celebrate – have a spring garden party or other events during the year to celebrate your achievements and generate further support.

    Ask for unused tools and equipment for the School

    Ask for unused tools and equipment for the School

The final post in this series will look at ways of involving children in planting and nurturing the School Garden and what to do at harvest time, including cooking in the garden.

Other posts in the series:

Growing Children 5: Top tips for School Garden activities

Growing Children 4: AAA rated School Garden in Seven Steps

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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Sowing peas

See this link for some handy advice on ways of sowing peas from the RHS Campaign for School Gardening

teaching gardeningMy previous posts in this series have covered the process of getting a School gardening project going, designing and constructing your plot and developing it into a valuable part of the school and wider community. The final three posts provides a few tips as the ‘icing on the cake’, the sort of things you can consider once your project has well and truly established itself as a key local resource. Today some tips on activities, an area that is likely to grow in importance if, as is proposed, gardening is to be added to the UK National Curriculum for schools in 2014.

Organising school gardening activities

  • Carve out a place in the School where you can keep all the folders, binders, books and other supporting information you need to plan and run your garden. This could be in a classroom, the library, the office or ideally in the Garden shed where they will be easily accessible.
  • Develop and keep up to date a weekly schedule of how the garden will be used. Once time slots are set for particular classes or groups, encourage parents to come in to help with their child’s session. Keep parents up to date with the schedule so that they know when their children will need to bring in appropriate clothing and footwear.
  • Invest in a Garden Organiser book –  a notebook for lesson planning, reflecting on the way a particular session went,notes etc. You can start to sketch out lesson plans after discussions with teachers and begin thinking about the organisation of the sessions in the garden, what resources and people you’ll need etc. Ideally get a robust, week by week format to help you plan ahead.

    How to sow seeds is a basic gardening skill that all children need to learn

    How to sow seeds is a basic gardening skill that all children need to learn

  • Make sure all the children are trained in basic gardening skills – digging, sowing, planting, weeding, watering, harvesting and, if you’re extending activities into using the food you produce, cooking! These basic skills can be programmed over the different terms of the year/phases of the growing season. So, digging over the soil and preparing it can be done in the Autumn/ Winter/ Spring, sowing seed in Spring, planting out late Spring/early Summer, weeding in the Spring and Summer, harvesting in the Summer/Autumn etc. Make sure you include a session on tools – what is used for what task, how to use and carry them safely and keeping them clean and well maintained.
  • Recording children’s comments –  listen to what they say to each other and you/ teachers and record these as insights into their understanding and learning. They can also be useful in fund-raising campaigns, evaluation reports – and they are often hilarious!

    Create a 'digging pit' for filling gaps and honing skills

    Training children in basic tasks – like soil preparation – can be hard work, if the boy on the right’s expression is anything to go by! So try to introduce an element of fun through competitions.

  • Make garden maintenance tasks into competitions and they can be both a lesson and fun for the children. For example, ‘Who can collect the most slugs and nails?’, ‘Who can collect the longest weed?’
  • Create an outdoor kitchen and cooking kit – if you’re looking to cook your produce on site you can collect together a supply of plates, cutlery, cooking utensils, gas burner etc. in a waterproof storage bin in the garden for when you need them at harvest time.
  • Be a model for recycling – the garden is a great place to teach the importance of reuse and recycling and to avoid sending more waste to landfill. For example, avoid using plastic pots and trays if possible, but if you, look after them so that they have the maximum useful lifetime. Collect old newspaper to add to your compost or worm bin. Re use old plastic lunch containers for collecting bugs/ pests. Use broken ceramic cups and plates to create a mosaic on a wall or as a cemented path surfacing. If you have to buy in compost, make sure that it’s peat free.
Cooking in the garden can be as simple as shredding/cutting food to eat raw or with a tasty dressing

Cooking in the garden can be as simple as shredding/cutting food to eat raw or with a tasty dressing

Ideas for activities

(details can be found in How to grow a School Garden‘ – Arden Bucklin-Spooner and Rachel Kathleen Pringle, Timber Press Books)

Autumn

  • Seed saving – using tomatoes, sunflowers or other plants to harvest seed and save it for next year
  • Look lively–  helping children to observe how animals and plants interact and understand what humans, pants and animals need for survival and record their ideas
  • Stem, root, leaf or fruit?– identify and classify the different parts of different plants that we eat
Saving sunflower seeds is easy

Saving sunflower seeds is easy

Winter

  • Post code seeds – children select a variety of seeds to order based on the climate, food crop and taste preferences
  • Habitat riddles – developing an understanding of how physical conditions affect plant and animal life within a habitat
  • Introduction to worm composting – learning about worm anatomy, the abilities of worms to aerate soil and assist decomposition, and how to care for worms.

Spring

  • Land scarcity – illustrating the scarcity of land to grow food and clothing by using an apple to represent the earth and cutting away portions that can’t be used for different reasons.
  • Graphing plant growth – creating a graph that records bean growth throughout the season
  • Interviewing local farmers –  gaining a sense of local farming activity, where food comes from and the sort of work that farmers do.

The whole year

  • Garden scavenger hunt – observing and exploring the garden by asking children to find different things, eg an aquatic habitat
  • Pollution soup – understanding how human activities cause runoff pollution from roads and other hard surfaces, affect river water quality – by using a large jar of clean water and adding different types of pollutant to it.

    'Pollution Soup' - kits are available

    ‘Pollution Soup’ – kits are available

There are plenty of other ideas for activities available on some of the websites mentioned below. Here’s a link for activities for younger children. In my penultimate post I’ll be looking at top tips for managing and maintaining the School Garden.

Other posts in the series:

Growing Children 4: AAA rated School Garden in Seven Steps

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

Devon Country Gardener magazine articles on School Gardening

September activity planning in a Canadian School

Old School Gardener

If you’ve enjoyed reading this post and others on this blog, why not comment and join others by signing up for automatic updates via email (see side bar, above right ) or through an RSS feed (see top of page)?

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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