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?