Our Flower Patch

Inspiring a new generation of growers

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‘The Apprentice’ with flowers

Using flowers to raise money in school. Ourflowerpatch.co.uk

Flowery fundraising at its best.

Midsummer mayhem hit our very first member school on Saturday with a bumper fundraising event which saw profits from sales of home-grown flowers this year soar past £200. The school’s annual Strawberry Fair was held in glorious sunshine and a long line of customers queued up at the flower stall organised by Skylark class. Thirty jam jar arrangements containing their locally grown  blooms all sold and they managed to secure some regular customers too.

Some members of the class fully embraced the concept of selling and organised flowery face painting, snail racing and a wheelbarrow of  fortune to add to the fun and fundraising opportunities. They also have Karen at Peter Nyssen Ltd, (one of our suppliers) to thank for donating dahlias, lilies and gladioli to the cause.

Any school looking to turn a profit from  their school garden could follow in the footsteps of  Fitzmaurice School. For an initial outlay of £85  the school has raised the means to maintain and expand the school garden next year and teach a whole range of cross curricular skills into the bargain.

We’re signing up new members for September now. Email us for details or to chat things over.


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Celebrating British Flowers Week

British Flowers Week Logo New Covent Garden Market

The beautiful British Flowers Week logo from New Covent Garden Market

This week has been British Flowers Week, a celebration of the revival of the British Flower Growing industry. Unlike thirty years ago, the bulk of flowers sold in this country (and that’s HUGE amounts) are not grown in Britain. People have already woken up to the importance of the availability of locally grown, seasonal food and there has been a revival in the numbers of people and schools growing their own. Now it’s the turn of flowers. At Our Flower Patch we want to turn the map of Britain flowery with schools in every local education authority growing a flower patch and making their blooms available to members of their local community.

Dog with British Flowers for British Flowers Week Ourflowerpatch.co.uk

Sara’s dog Tilly has created quite a stir on Twitter posing with British Flowers.

Sara is already supplying shops and businesses in her area. You can see how here on Katie Spicer’s blog.

Nigella & geum Katie Spicer Photography British flowers week ourflowerpatch.co.uk

Nigella, Geum, Feverfew, a pretty country meadow look.


Cally has been helping Fitzmaurice School in Bradford on Avon, our very first member school grow and sell their blooms to parents, teachers and friends at school and also through a shop in the town. They now have regular customers and an opportunity to spread the word further by running a flower stall at the school Strawberry Fair on Saturday.

Lonely bouquet for British Flowers week ourflowerpatch.co.uk

This Lonely Bouquet has made its way to North Wales from Wiltshire.

To celebrate British Flowers Week the young growers will be leaving a lonely bouquet somewhere in town. If you find it, take it home to enjoy or spread the love by passing it on to someone. Do let us know where it ends up though.

There’s still time (just) to enter the competition over on Wellywoman’s blog to win a copy of her fabulous book The Cut Flower Patch in her post about British Flowers Week. The competition closes at midnight Friday 20th June so hurry hurry! Its a really well written book, full of great information and gorgeous photos.

And if you want to support the revival of British grown flowers from the grass roots, why not talk to your local primary school and sponsor a flower patch? Details are on our website. You could help local children grow flowers like these.

Bees like the selection of flowers grown by Our Flower Patch school garden group members

Bees like ‘Our Flower Patch’

Child Making herb potions in a mud kitchen, outdoor learning.

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‘I’m a teacher. Get me outside here!’ It’s Empty Classroom Day tomorrow.

Dirty teaching Juliet Robertson guide to learning outdoors Ourflowerpatch.co.uk

A very inspiring and helpful read.

This Friday, June 20th is Empty Classroom Day. You’d expect us to be fans of all things outdoors – and we are. We would like every day to have an opportunity for taking learning outside the classroom, but one special day is a good way to kick start the process. Having worked with plenty of teachers and teaching assistants who admit to feeling nervous about abandoning their classrooms and taking learning outside, we were delighted when Juliet Robertson’s new book arrived on our desks. It is published today and, in my opinion there should be one in every staffroom in the country. I wish there had been when I had started teaching all those years ago. I learnt as I went along and had a few nightmare lessons along the way.

child making mud pies empty classroom day ourflowerpatch.co.uk

Stirring herb potions, magic in the making.

Juliet is a former headteacher and champion of learning outside the classroom. I first came across her ideas in her popular education-focused blog . Her book, which is part manual – to give teachers ideas for moving learning outside and part manifesto- making the case for outdoor learning, is firmly rooted in her own experience. It’s written in an accessible way which will make sense to anyone who works with primary school aged children. Importantly it suggests an approach which is low cost and understands the realities of teaching classes of thirty or so children outdoors with no additional help. This handbook will lead you from the idea that working with classes in the open air is a good idea through the planning stages to the first tentative sessions in your outdoor classroom. It will help you engender in your class a spirit of adventure and exploration, a sense of reflection and caring for their environment, even if it is a ‘concrete jungle’. It will also help you build towards a time when outdoor learning is fully embedded in the curriculum.  I loved it.

We like to get a sense of the story behind any books we feature. Here’s what Juliet had to say.

What are your strongest memories from your own school days?

Between the ages of 7 and 10 I lived in Ambleside. Every lunch time we got to play in the local park just beside the school. We had 1.5h lunch times and they were great for free play. There’s a big rock outcrop in the centre of the park. Not surprisingly we were all a fit bunch of children.


What made you start teaching outside and what is the best and most challenging experience you’ve had with children outside the classroom.

I started teaching outside before inside! When I was 18 I had a gap year in the middle of university (as I was a 16yr old school leaver). As a volunteer I helped set up and run a WATCH wildlife club at Brockhole National Park headquarters with one of the education officers. I did this because I knew nothing about nature and knew I needed to learn. Children are always the best teachers… 

The most challenging experience I’ve had with children outside the classroom was when I was just 20 years old. I was working in Philadelphia at an urban environmental education centre. The permanent staff worker was ill so I took 12 boys aged 11-14 down town to the Natural History Museum on my own. The kids had never been in a museum before and didn’t know how to behave so they ran around, completely mad and out of control before jumping into the fountains outside within half an hour of being in the museum. Then to cap it all, I lost two of them in the rush hour in the subway station on the way home which was situated within a large shopping mall. It took half an hour to find them. I sent the others out in pairs to look and come back in different directions. 

 Why is it worth teaching outdoors?

There’s two main reasons. Firstly almost all children benefit from the experience in ways beyond the obvious achievement of success criteria. Relationships are different outside and it’s an opportunity for children and adults to get to know each other in ways that they would not get to experience indoors. There is also something subtle, yet powerful about working in a natural space, if this is possible whether this is a beach or woodland or somewhere else. 

Next, once children and adults are used to working outside, then it is generally a less stressful environment. Everyone is more physically active as a general rule. Also everyone tends to feel better after time outside which can positively impact on a class back indoors too. 

What do you hope to achieve through writing the book?

I hope to make learning outside more doable for class teachers. There are few books available which are written by teachers for teachers on working outside with a big class of children all with different needs and capabilities. At the moment a lot of attention has been given to Forest School yet this is quite a specific approach which relies on a higher adult to child ratio than what is normally available in a school. Also there’s very little ideas for those teachers who work in concrete jungles. Play and playtimes have also been largely ignored yet in Scotland the play sector have been huge allies and proponents of learning outdoors. 

The other aim was to provide a book which could complement my blog. The book is more cohesive than my blog. Along with my courses which provide a practical illustration of the concepts I talk about, it’s a strong package of support which I would have welcomed 20 years ago! My courses also have big handouts full of more specific guidance on key aspects of learning outdoors. 

What the best piece of  advice would you give to a teacher who meets resistance to their desire to do more outdoor learning?

It’s all about engaging in positive communication with others. I strongly believe that for every one person that is being difficult there is at least one person who will be equally supportive. So find these people. Mindset and determination matter more than anything else. As Richard Bach said in his book, “Illusions” – “Argue for your limitations and sure enough they are yours.” So don’t use other people or situations as an excuse for not going outside, use them as a springboard into finding creative ways of getting out.

Celebrate Empty Classroom Day tomorrow with a resolution to start taking your classes outside more.

We’re signing up schools now to become  Our Flower Patch  members from September. Reading Juliet’s book over the Summer holidays will help get you ready to get outside.

toddler with seedlings mud empty classrooms day Ourflowerpatch.co.uk

Pricking out seedlings from an early age. Catch them young!

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Sunday book review: A Year at Otter Farm by Mark Diacono

Our Flower Patch review of A Year at Otter Farm by Mark Diacono

Our Flower Patch review of A Year at Otter Farm by Mark Diacono

Things are pretty busy on the plot right now but it’s good to have a quiet moment once in a while to reflect, take stock and get a bit of inspiration from a good book. With this in mind, once a month,we’re going to try to review a gardening book that we’ve found particularly inspiring.  Think of it as a public service and look out for it on the second Sunday of the month.

Our June offering  is ‘A Year at Otter Farm’ by Mark Diacono and has only just been published. I have to say that its arrival on the doormat  was greeted with more than a little excitement at my house. ‘A Year at Otter Farm’ charts the first few years of dreaming, planning, growing, rearing and eating on Mark’s Devon smallholding. I read it on a short break to rainy West Wales over Half Term and loved the dreamy mix of anecdote, aspiration and good advice on growing and cooking.

You may know Mark from his time spent at River Cottage, where he wrote three of the River Cottage Handbooks. You may know him from his award winning recipe book or his blog or his climate change smallholding. You may not know him at all. Well. Now you do. Anyone who can show me an edible use for those stalwarts of granny’s gardens everywhere –  fuscias – deserves world-wide recognition. (Not included in the book, however.)

Mark’s approach to growing is based on producing tasty food. How refreshingly sensible! He has a whopping  17 acres to play with but even a few pots of unusual herbs and a mulberry bush will make a difference to what you can serve up to your family and friends. I know, because that’s what I started with on a windy North London balcony many years ago. This book will inspire you to experiment in the space you have available. It isn’t the work of a trained horticulturist or chef but that of an experienced,experimental and observational gardener and cook with a knack of communicating just the right balance of inspiration and realism to make you believe that your life will be made that little bit richer by planting salsify, foraging for wild garlic or keeping chickens.

The parallels with our approach to growing aren’t difficult to spot. Use the space you have; grow what you like that’s unusual or difficult to get hold of in the shops; experiment; learn from your mistakes; try to be as sustainable as possible. It’s no wonder I loved this book so much.

Divided up month by month, Mark documents activity on the farm, outlines which crops are at their peak and gives hints and tips for growing them successfully. At the end of each quarter a few delicious sounding recipes are included as a starting point for what you can rustle up in your own kitchen. There are one or two of his famous cocktails and plenty of original ways of using veggies. I may have fallen in love with Jerusalem artichokes again as a result of his Jerusalem Artichoke cake!

If you’re interested in a warts and all account of growing exciting and unusual food successfully despite changing weather patterns then this is the book for you. Engaging, humorous and rooted in reality (see ‘Dear Henry’on page 54)  it’s beautifully photographed too – mostly by Mark himself. Some people are sickeningly talented, aren’t they? Sara takes most of the pics for Our Flower Patch.  She’s pretty good at it too. (I blame my camera!!)

The only omission in ‘Otter Farm’  is the lack of a cut flower patch  to provide beautiful blooms for the table. But we can advise on that. Mark – cut flower patch – do it now. You’ll be able to eat many of the blooms too. Win. Win!

Published in hardback by Bloomsbury and available priced at £18 from here. It’s well worth a read.

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D Day….say it with flowers (from June 6th)

Single poppy marking the 70th anniversary of D Day

Single poppy marking the 70th anniversary of D Day


Go anywhere near the tellybox, radio, newspapers, internet or social media at the moment and you’ll be hard pressed to miss the fact that it’s seventy years since the Normandy landings and D Day. As teachers, we know that this coverage provides a rich resource to be tapped to teach all manner of subjects, as well as finding out about the realities of the Second World War. And it’s an opportunity to explore the experiences of members of our families who were alive at the time and to remember them. Cally’s farming family were all engaged in feeding the Home Front during the war, although some of the girls on the farm lost sweethearts on D Day.

Of course this year is also the centenary of the start of the Great War. There has been a well publicised move towards sowing Flanders poppies countrywide as a permanent memorial, neatly tying in with the campaign to sow more wildflowers, which has been prominent since the London 2012 Olympics. The children at our first pilot school have sown a poppy meadow, to which in subsequent years they hope to add annuals like sunflowers and calendula for cutting. We read this week of children who were planting sunflowers to commemorate this anniversary as an alternative to poppies.Both are fabulous ways to connect children with their history and increase the biodiversity and beauty of your school grounds or neighbourhood.

To find out more about the Real Poppy Campaign here is the article Cally wrote for her local press about it.

Poppies in a field on Salisbury Plain. Our Flower Patch marks the 70th anniversary of D Day

Poppies in a field on Salisbury Plain. Marking the 70th anniversary of D Day

We think that there is no better way to remember the war generation than to create a special floral tribute with the flowers in your patch. Put it in the window at home with a wartime photo of your family; use it in a classroom display or as a table decoration during an assembly or at lunchtime. Play wartime music. Learn to jitterbug. Eat spam sandwiches. The sights, sounds, tastes and smells of your D Day commemoration will stay with children well into the future.

We’d love to see any of your D Day floral tributes. Why not tweet us your pics with the hashtag #DDaysayitwithflowers ?

Red white and blue flowers to mark D Day Our Flower Patch

These red, white and blue flowers went to an army family to mark the 70th anniversary of D Day

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World Environment Day 2014. Raise your voice not the sea level (from June 5th)

Toad encouraging Biodiversity Our Flower Patch

A toad in Sara’s cold frame. The best form of natural slug control

Today is World Environment Day 2014 (WEM). It’s an opportunity for the world to stop and contemplate how we might make our environment better on one special day of the year. In Todmorden they’ve been ahead of the game for some time with their Incredible Edible revolution of planting up public spaces with food crops. Someone posted me this picture of their Edible Graveyard this morning, making use of churchyard space to grow edible crops.


Todmorden Incredible Edible Project is making use of public spaces to grow food crops. Edible graveyard.

Todmorden Incredible Edible Project is making use of public spaces to grow food crops. This is their Edible graveyard.


The theme for WEM this year is ‘Raise your voice, not the sea level’. British flower growers have been raising their voices for some time now about how environmentally beneficial growing cut flowers in Britain is – with zero air miles and less reliance on harmful chemicals as well as the creation of richly biodiverse habitats while the flowers grow.

On Sara’s Flower Patch, as you see from our pictures at the top of this post every day is Environment Day. We love providing homes and food for a whole heap of wildlife and our low-impact approach to growing with a reliance on organic methods of pest control and recycling means that we are doing our bit to stop global warming.

Ladybird eating greenfly natural pest control Our Flower Patch

Natural pest control. A ladybird moving in on aphids on a flower bud.

Growing cut flowers on a small scale in individual gardens, in school playgrounds, community spaces, nursing homes, hostels and even churchyards could create a beautiful and fragrant patchwork of biodiverse spaces across the whole country and provide local, seasonal cut flowers for sale in communities up and down the country. That’s our vision and we’re happy to shout about it. What are you going to do?

If you share our vision but are not sure how to start, get in touch.

Bees on a blue cornflower Our Flower Patch

Bees on a perennial cornflower. Increasing biodiversity with cut flower patches.

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Volunteer Week – celebrating school garden helpers (from June 3rd)

Sally, parent volunteer with the Fitz Our Flower Patch school garden group.

Sally, parent volunteer with the Fitz Our Flower Patch school garden group.

Did you know that it’s Volunteer Week? Neither did we but as the website says it’s about time we celebrated the hundreds of volunteers who give up their time, week in week out to make life a little bit better for someone else, unrewarded, and often unnoticed. Volunteers really hit the headlines during the 2012 Olympics when the success of the games was deemed to have been determined by the thousands of volunteer ‘Games Makers’. Primary schools are masters at finding jobs for volunteer parents and grandparents to do. Every week dozens of parents pop in for an hour or two to listen to readers, run cooking sessions, accompany trips, ferry pupils to sports fixtures and help with the school garden. And so in the spirit celebrating unsung heroes this week, I am giving a big thumbs up to Sally, who has helped with the garden at Fitz for years.

Here she is pictured above holding a packet of poppy seeds designed by a little boy who believed his efforts were ‘rubbish’ but who, with Sally’s encouragement, was the first to make a sale. When we started running our ‘extreme gardening’ sessions on a shoestring, with dozens of children, in a 20 minute slot at lunchtime she admitted to knowing nothing about gardening. What Sally neglected to say was that any lack of experience or knowledge was more than compensated for by an abundance of gardening talent, skill and creativity. In fact, it wasn’t long before she was planting up a veg patch at home and scouring Wilkinsons, Lidl and Aldi for bargains to pop into the borders or plant in a hanging basket at school.

Every school flowerpatch needs more than one enthusiastic adult to make it work. School gardens are much more successful when parents are interested and involved and it is a good idea to involve them from the start in planning and discussing the garden. Gather a team around you to share the work and responsibilities. Have regular meetings to share ideas and observations about how the garden is progressing.This will build commitment, spread the workload, help you to avoid mistakes, and stimulate interest in the school’s activities. Make it fun and sociable. Saturday working parties to clear weeds, dig over a new patch or building raised beds are perfect opportunities for sharing food and ideas. Before you know it, your school flower patch will have resulted in new friendships and a stronger school community. It all relies on volunteers like Sally who are prepared to share their time and expertise.

Thanks Sally. We couldn’t have done it without you. But at least we can say thankyou with beautiful flowers this year.