Our Flower Patch

Inspiring a new generation of growers

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A load of rubbish

Large compost bin at a National Trust property.

This is a compost bin to aspire to! Your school compost bin can be a more modest affair!

We’re thinking about compost this week – especially Cally who is wrestling  with the problem of how to get hold of a tonne or two of compost to mulch the beds on her allotment, now that the recycling centre no longer delivery bulk bags to her area.

Her problem is helped a little by the fact that she is fanatical about making compost from the veg  peelings, cardboard, grass clippings, egg shells, chipped twigs and waste plant material which would otherwise find their way into the green bin.

There are plenty of books about how to make compost at home. We’ reviewed a particularly family friendly one by Ben Raskin of the Soil Association earlier in the year. Look out for a repeat of this here on Friday. For the uninitiated the basic principle is this.

Good compost is made from a mixture of green waste like grass and veg peelings  which are high in nitrogen and brown waste ,like cardboard, paper and hedge clippings which is high in carbon. The best mix is 3 parts brown: 1 part green. Chop everything up as small as you can before adding, layer it up, turn it regularly, make sure it isn’t too wet or too dry et voila!

For members we have a whole heap of child friendly activities  coming up to teach you how to be a master composter at school and at home.  If you have shied away from making compost in the past, why not let loose your  eco side and build a compost bin out of old pallets? Or get creative with the plastic darlek type and decorate to your hearts’ content?

Cally doesn’t include many leaves in her compost but keeps these separate to make leaf mould later in the Autumn. (We’ll be leading our members through this adventure in a few weeks’ time.)

And for something a little more exotic, but smaller scale and equally good for your garden, how about making bokashi? You’ll find a few details about it on last year’s school garden blog of one of our members. We’ll be showing our members how to make their own low cost bokashi bin.

Some rubbish is good for your garden. Start mixing and watch your garden grow.

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National Flower Crown Day : September 24th

Young girl with a flower crown by Owl House Flowers.

Young Ava with a flower crown created by Owl House Flowers.

This Wednesday is National Flower Crown Day – a concept conceived by London-based florist Liz Inigo-Jones of Blue Sky Flowers as a way to “celebrate the trend and encourage people nationwide to join in the festivities by wearing their own  flower crown.” We heard about it from some of our florist friends who are championing the cause of British grown flowers. What better way to wave goodbye to the end of Summer than by using some of the seasonal blooms to create a fresh flower crown?

Flower crowns are fast becoming trendy with brides. Children (inevitably) are well ahead of the game and have been creating crowns from leaves and flowers for generations. I haven’t met a child who hasn’t popped a flower in their hair at some point.

Now’s your chance to garner their creative enthusiasm and use  it as an opportunity to experiment with matching colours, mixing filler foliage and flowers with statement flowers or just to work with flowers – all useful for when you start arranging and selling your blooms next year.

I use pvc coated wire when making crowns with children as it’s a bit more comfortable  to wear.  Form a headband rather than a complete circle which can then be secured with ribbon at each end and tied to fit round the head.

Check out this pinterest board for details, instructions and more inspiration.

And remember…………… fresh flower crowns will only last one day so take plenty of pictures.


Dog wearing a flower crown.

Even Tilly the dog likes a bit of a flower crown every now and again!

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Bring a Bulb to School Day

Gloved hand planting daffodil bulbs.

Bulbs grown for cutting can be planted quite closely together.

There are plenty of tasks to be done in the flower patch in the autumn and planting bulbs is one of them. Plant them in drifts around the school grounds or garden; create bulb mazes, spirals and patterns; plant them in groups of five or seven in borders; plant them in pots near entrances; plant them close together in trenches ready for cutting in the spring.

As a general rule you should plant daffodils and alliums in September but wait until November to plant tulips because they don’t form roots until the weather gets colder. If you plant them early they’ll sit in the soil and be prone to attack from slugs and fungal disease.

Bulb planting is a great opportunity to get the community together improving the neighbourhood and sharing the workload. Add in coffee/hot chocolate/juice and cake, some crisp, sunny autumn weather and you have the makings of a perfect few hours.

If you are a school community, it’s a great opportunity to spread the word about your flower patch, get parents in to work in the school grounds with their children and encourage  some regular volunteers to help out. Hold  a ‘Bring a Bulb to School Day’. Ask for donations of lots of bulbs beforehand and cakes and workers on the day itself. Each class could do an hour’s planting and take responsibility for a one area. Then it doesn’t become too onerous.

It may seem a bit extravagant to give space and time in your cut flower patch to bulbs like daffodils and tulips, which only produce one flower but it’s worth it. They don’t take up a lot of space, are easy to grow and will fill the gap before your annuals and biennials start to flower. Choose a few of lots of different varieties which flower at different times, so that you have something to admire and pick over a longer period of time.

When selecting bulbs choose those that feel firm when you give them a squeeze.

Daffodils like a sunny spot but can cope with a bit of shade. Pop them in pointy side up. The advice is that you can plant them close together but not touching if you are intending to lift them after flowering and about 10cm apart if you are going to leave them in the ground. (My cutting daffodils are planted close together and never lifted!) Don’t forget that all parts of daffodils are toxic. You may want to wear gloves when picking daffodils.

Popping a few paperwhite narcissi in pots will give you some blooming presents for Christmas or something to sell at a school Christmas Fair. They take about six weeks to flower after planting.

If space is tight, the bulbs to grow are alliums because they can be interplanted with biennial flowers and you won’t find them for sale in the supermarket . I plant mine in October in a sunny spot  incorporating some grit into the ground and sinking them to about three times the depth of the bulb.

When the weather is colder, I plant tulips in rows in between my dahlias (which I also leave in the ground). By the time the tulips have died back the dahlias will start to produce shoots, giving two crops in one space. Simple.

It all sounds ideal doesn’t it? But beware squirrels. Squirrels can be  pests, digging up and munching newly planted bulbs in your school grounds. Try a belt and braces’ approach. Clear up any debris after planting (the dry ‘tunics’ which fall off bulbs when planting) so that pests aren’t attracted, provide a source of food for squirrels well away from bulbs and cover pots and trenched bulbs with wire mesh. Above all, stay vigilant. Children will love going on squirrel watch.

A bit of organisation and hard work now will be well worth it in the Spring.

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Foraging and welly walks

Blackberries, Autumn harvest.

Hedgerow bounty!

September is a great month for foraging for there’s no better opportunity for exploring the school grounds, your garden and the immediate locality to hone the observation and plant identification skills of young growers and find out how much raw material you can access for free. It’s a good opportunity to teach  The Countryside Code, responsible foraging and experiment with some simple nature and foliage displays. Our Flower Patch members will find that it will help build the skills they need for later in the year when they may well be selling their floral displays. But it’s fun for everyone.. Blackberries and elderberries (cooked)  are good to eat (or drink) too.

Many children will benefit from a picture ‘quiz’ of named plants to find but older or more experienced foragers could collect specimens for identification in pairs or at home using a simple handbook or internet search. We like the Nature Detectives handbook published by Miles Kelly Publishing but there are plenty available and it’s the kind of homework activity that many grandparents or older neighbours are brilliant at helping with. Sara also recommends Roger Phillips’s books ‘Wild Flowers of Britain’ and ‘Trees in Britain’.

At this time of year look out for conkers, old man’s beard, beech nuts, hazel nuts, crab apples, ivy, elderberries, blackberries, sloes, rosehips, acorns and seedheads. You may also have access to bay, rosemary, euonymous, weeping birch, cornus, viburnum tinus, jasmine , photinia and any number of evergreens in your school grounds. We’ll be providing our members with a list of recommended shrubs which can be planted over the winter in your school grounds to boost the availability of filler foliage for your flower arrangements.
Many will provide food for wildlife, opportunities for science topic work as well as foliage for your arrangements and art projects.

Not everything will last well in a vase. Conduct experiments and find out what works.

Here are a few suggestions for additional activities you can do with your foraged finds at this time of year.

Weave foliage around wire rings or use foliage which is flexible enough to wind into a simple circle and then secure with string. Then fasten your berries, nuts or acorns at intervals around the circle. Once the leaves start to fall, you can use them to make crowns or wreaths by sticking the leaves onto cardboard circles and then adding other foraged materials.

Set up a constantly changing nature table and label your finds.

Collect conkers, hold a conker championship and find out what else conkers are good for

Make blackberry and apple jam, crumble or blackberry fool.

Try out  Cally’s elderberry cordial recipe.

Collect seeds and plant a tree. Good seeds to look for are hazel nuts, beech nuts, seeds from Scots pine cones, acorns and sweet chestnuts. Check that they are fertile (they should sink in a bowl of water). Sow into a pot of sand and compost mixed. Pine seeds should be sown near the surface; others 2cm deeper. Label and leave in a cool, shady place until spring. Then water carefully  (not too much) and wait until they get to about 25cm tall before planting out in a space in your garden or school grounds.

Collect flower seeds. Check that they are ripe (not green), pick them off, dry them out, seive the seed to get rid of the chaff and save them in labelled envelopes to plant in the spring. Cornflowers, nasturtiums, poppies and calendula are all great choices.

If you’re lucky, the promised heatwave will continue and you won’t even need your wellies.

To find out more about our garden based educational programme for primary schools and home schoolers and receive weekly learning zone activities, direct to your inbox, click here.

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Happy New (School) Year

Autumn colour

Autumn colour

It’s the first week of term… new class, new diary, new bag, new school year……………..new school garden.

I love this time of year, not just because of my penchant for stationery, which I have ample chance to indulge,  but because it’s so full of possibilities. Whether you are starting from scratch and forming a whole new garden on a spare patch of ground or are working with an existing garden, there is a sense of turning over the page and writing on a clean sheet.

If your school garden was productive last year, it is highly likely that you’ll have some things to harvest, seeds to collect and weeds and spent crops to clear. If not, then there’ll be plenty to keep your classes occupied getting ready for growing. Here’s a bit of advice for the coming weeks.

  • Wildlife gardening If you have been growing sunflowers, do leave some heads for the birds as well as harvesting some seeds.
  • Collecting seed Sweet peas which have gone to seed can be collected ready to sow in a few weeks’ time in modules. Calendula seeds are easy to collect too. Use a paper bag. Carefully cut the dried seed head off the plant and place it into the bag. When you’ve collected plenty give the bag a shake and the seeds will drop off. Then you can carefully sort the seeds from the waste plant material and divide them between envelopes, which the children have decorated. Any seeds you don’t need can be sold at the Christmas Fair. Spread the flower love.
  • Clearing away spent crops and weeds may make a whole heap of debris. If you haven’t sorted your compost, now’s the time to start. Last year’s weeds and dead stems are this year’s free fertility. Why buy compost when you can make your own? Don’t forget to chop everything up (or borrow a chipper) and don’t include the roots of perennial weeds, weeds that spread by runners (unless you’ve fried them for a couple of months in a black bag, into which you’ve poked some holes) or weeds that have gone to seed. They can go in a green bin.
  • Starting a new garden doesn’t have to be about back breaking digging. If you have time, putting down a double thickness of damp cardboard, weighted down with stones will ensure that by Spring sowing time you’ll have a weed free patch for planting. But some digging in time for Autumn sowing is a great work – out.
  • Spread the word. A great flower patch has a buzz about it. That means there will be buzzy bees feeding from it when it is in flower and  busy bees working in it all year round or queueing up to buy your flowers. Now’s the time to spread the word and tell the school community about it. Ask for volunteers to help out, compile a list of potential customers and hold work sessions where there are specific jobs to do and yummy refreshments for the workers. If your school has a ‘Back to School’ Night early on in the term, ask for a slot to tell people about what you’re planning.
  • Set up your recycling bank You’ll get through a whole heap of cardboard rolls, plastic cartons, trays and bottles during the year. You’ll also be able to make use of old plant pots, seed trays and half used bags of compost. Some of you may wish to be the happy recipients of divided perennials, seeds, bulbs and cuttings. Decide what you need and set up a mechanism for letting people know that and collecting it easily. If you’re not organised you might end up with nothing or (much more likely) too much stuff you can’t use which you then have to dispose of.
  • Have a bulb moment  Autumn means bulbs – daffodils, tulips, alliums… The sooner you order them (or ask for donations) the better as you’ll have the pick of good quality bulbs. Nothing squishy or dessiccated will do. Start with daffs in September, then alliums but don’t bother putting in tulips until November, especially if the promised heatwave actually happens as they need the cold weather. Hold school community bulb sessions. Spread the load. It’s no fun planting hundreds of bulbs on your own. Welcome with open arms (and trowels) those valuable parent and grandparent volunteers. Coffee, hot chocolate and cake is a must for the workers obviously.
  • It’ll soon be Christmas I know. I hate to think about it this early but if you want to make some money at the Christmas Fair you’ll need to plan ahead. Selling potted bulbs, natural Christmas decorations or door wreaths are all great ideas.
  • Cultivate a foraging habit The autumn term is a great time to get to know your locality and see just how much is available for free. Blackberries, elderberries, sloes, holly, weeping birch may well be just a short walk away. Honing those vital observation skills is a useful class activity. Sara can spot a useful piece of greenery at sixty paces.

If you’re one of our member schools we’ll be posting up lots of activities, suggestions, hints and tips this term to turn your school flower patch into a vibrant learning zone. If you’re not, what are you waiting for? Use this blog as a starting point to see what we’re all about and take the plunge. Where else can you get a whole year’s National Curriculum linked outdoor learning opportunities, seeds, staff support and advice from experts for just £85?