Our Flower Patch

Inspiring a new generation of growers


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Gardening makes you happy

child laughing in garden

Have a giggle in the garden!

It seems there is a ‘global day’ to celebrate almost anything now – even belly laughing. (Jan 24th) Gardeners seem to be a pretty happy breed anyway, so you’d expect plenty of laughter to ring out from the school garden or allotment and now we know why. Researchers have discovered that all you need to do is get your fingers dirty and harvest your own crops. At Our Flower Patch we have both areas covered.

We’ve discovered independent research that identifies key environmental triggers for two important chemicals that boost our immune system and keep us happy – serotonin and dopamine. Getting your hands dirty in the garden, handling the soil by weeding, sowing and planting triggers the release of serotonin, the ‘happy chemical’ whilst harvesting your own crops leads to a flush of dopamine released in the reward centre of brain, triggering a state of bliss or mild euphoria. It’s what our hunter gatherer ancestors experienced when they found food and now is also triggered by going on a shopping spree. Gardening is better for you and far less expensive on a daily basis, in our opinion

At school and at home we are very dirt-conscious community but ironically dirt-deficiency in childhood is implicated in contributing to quite a spectrum of illnesses including allergies, asthma and mental disorders. Letting children get up close and personal with  soil on a regular basis is a good idea. Of course, if you are going to do that, garden organically like we do and don’t resort to chemical sprays. Ten minutes’ speed weeding by hand on a frequent basis is the way forward. Our children love it.

It will soon be time to start sowing seeds for your summer harvest of fabulous flowers. If that’s not worth smiling about, I don’t know what is. If you are a teacher or homeschooling parent who would like to use the garden to teach aspects of the national curriculum and keep your children happy and healthy, why not take a look at our outside education programme? It’s perfect timing for the coming growing season.

child laughing in school garden

Laughing is catching!

primary school child happy in garden ourflowerpatch.co.uk

Have a laugh outside!

 

With thanks to Claire Spiller for her photographs.


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“When you see someone putting on his big boots, you can be pretty sure that an adventure is going to happen.”

Wellington boots on for adventures in school gardens.

Putting on your ‘big boots’ for an adventure.

We quite agree with this quote from one of the world’s most famous bears. Last Sunday January 18th was ‘Winnie the Pooh Day’, the anniversary of the birth of his creator A.A Milne. I don’t know a single child who hasn’t enjoyed the tales of Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood. With his penchant for honey and reliance on bees, Pooh Bear would love the fact that we’re spreading the love for flower patches everywhere.

More flowers equals more nectar.

More nectar equals more bees.

More bees equals more honey.

More honey equals one very happy bear.

Winnie the Pooh is a kind bear who cares about his friends and always seems to be happy and positive. A fantastic role model for little people. He’s full of sensible advice for life like appreciating the little things, relaxing, and he knows the benefits of doing nothing from time to time, keeping life simple. We love his philosophy.

We could think of nothing better than celebrating the day by creating some artwork, reading a Winnie the Pooh story and holding a picnic with honey sandwiches in your school flower patch. After all, you’re creating your own ‘enchanted place’, a perfect patch to feed the bees and feed the soul. And as Pooh’s favourite day is ‘today’, it makes little difference if you’re a few days late celebrating the day itself.

And it won’t be long before your school garden group will be able to start sowing seeds to make your dream ‘bee friendly’ patch a reality.

If you like the idea of joining in the adventure with Our Flower Patch in your own school garden then take a look at our website for more information on how easy it is to become a member and start receiving weekly lesson plans for outdoor education activities.

Winnie the Pooh and friends having a picnic.

Winnie the Pooh and his friends have a picnic.


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Wassail! Wake up your plot.

Wassail toast in a tree at Primary school.

Wassail toast in a tree at Primary school.

Some people find January in the garden rather dismal. Perhaps that’s why many school gardening clubs don’t run during the winter months. On our plot we like to take the time to plan and prepare for the craziness of sowing, planting, weeding, watering and harvesting which is to come. But we also see the value in getting children outside in all weathers, getting stuck in.  Winter is a good time to sort out your compost and rainwater harvesting, prepare paths, make planting plans, care for beneficial wildlife, look through seed catalogues and enjoy a bit of downtime, safe in the knowledge that even though little appears to be happening above the ground, it’s all ready to kick off down below.

We also like any excuse for a party and to let off steam so we’d recommend a spot of wassailing with your young growers at this time of year to help the trees and plants make it through the cold snap unscathed.

The traditional folk custom of wassailing fruit trees is still popular in our neighbouring county of Somerset but if your school is in a city centre, it might raise a few eyebrows. Don’t let that put you off!

Traditionally the idea was to begin the process of waking the fruit trees from their winter slumber to ensure a good crop in the coming year. Cally is never slow to take the opportunity to baffle everyone with her knowledge of ancient languages and so she is able to say that the word wassail derives from the  Old English words wæs (þu) hæl which means ‘be healthy’ or ‘be whole’.

Wassailing involves processing to your fruit trees carrying burning torches and banging pots and pans. Someone carries a special wassail pot filled with a steaming brew of ale, wine or cider. You form a circle around the largest or in our case, only apple tree and hang pieces of toast soaked in apple juice in the branches for the robins, who represent the ‘good spirits’ of the tree. A shotgun can be fired overhead to scare away evil spirits (on reflection, probably not a good idea in school) and the group sings

Wassail! wassail! all over the town,
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown;
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree;
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee.

The ritual should be carried out on Twelfth Night, in other words 5th/6th January (or 16th/17th according to the old calendar which is a better time for schoolteachers who need a bit of time to plan these things). It’s good to find a special wassail bowl – either ceramic or wooden. (It’s amazing what turns up in the local charity shop.)

I use this recipe 1 quart apple juice,1 quart apple cider, 8 oranges, 4 lemons, 6 cinnamon sticks, 8 whole cloves, 6 whole allspice berries and 1/4 teaspoon mace but you’ll have to stick to apple juice for your young growers.  In a large pot, combine apple juice (and cider). Wash and slice oranges and lemons. Throw them in. Create a spice bouquet by wrapping cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice, and mace in a piece of muslin. Add to juice. Simmer for at least 30 minutes. You can also float baked apples or toast in it but I don’t fancy that. Soak pieces of toast in it instead and hang them up for the birds.

Wassail toast in tree at Primary School

Wassail!

 


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Bird spotting in the flower patch

song thrush in the snow

Song thrush in the snow

Name a bird!

Go on. Name another one.

We’ll bet you already know what this is.

robin

Robin

 

But you’re probably not going to see one of these in your school playground or garden.

parrot bird identification for primary school

A parrot at Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

 

Over the next few weeks the RSPB are holding their annual Big Birdwatch for home gardens and schools. It’s easy to get involved. You’ll find all the details about the schools birdwatch here and the home one here

Working on a healthy flower patch will provide you with plenty of opportunities to spot birds and being able to identify and name the birds you see is fun. Sadly it’s a skill which is in decline nowadays but it’s a great way to teach close observation skills to young children.

How many birds can you name? Can you recognise all those that you can name? I guess, unless we are ardent bird watchers, then we all have our handful of birds we can name and identify. I’m ok with the more colourful characters, but tend to get a bit stuck with anything small and brown. I still think it is very “unfair” that the males of the species are often easier to spot and correctly identify, whereas I tend to be a bit confused about some of the females.

Do you have some regular feathered visitors to your school grounds or garden? Do you already feed the birds?

Hopefully if you already have some bird visitors then you can spend a bit of time with your children watching them. If they are rather scarce on the ground, then we have some bird feeding activities coming up to help encourage them to become more regular visitors. The RSPB has a host of activities too.

Have a look in your library for any bird identification books or posters you can find.

We have created a Pinterest board featuring some common British garden birds so that you can use the images in your activities. If you have any other birds that regularly visit your grounds or garden then look online or on Pinterest for images of those also.

There is a free RSPB bird quiz available on my ipad! I wonder how many I can complete?

There are also some free apps and some to buy for bird identification. Let us know if you find any especially useful.

The RSPB even has a bird version of top trumps on their website.

You can download their bird cards. These come with instructions on how to play Big Card Bird watch but you could easily use these for other activities. They have lovely illustrations of 30 British birds.

chaffinch

Chaffinch

Make an event out of bird watching. Build a bird hide if you are feeling adventurous. It doesn’t need to be high tech. A few poles and a tarpaulin will do. Build it a few days before you want to do your bird spotting so that your feathered friends are used to it and position it close to a source of bird food. Then quietly sit in it and wait. Alternatively, turn your classroom into a twitcher’s paradise. Obviously adding in a drink and a snack of nuts, seeds and fruit is a bonus for children and provides an opportunity to discuss with them why it’s important to feed the birds at this time of year and what food birds need to survive.

Now when it comes to bird calls … I’m lost! An area for personal development I think! Perhaps I should make a New Year’s resolution to listen to Tweet of the Day.

We provide outdoor based lesson plans and activities for teachers and home schoolers on a weekly basis to our members. It’s a fun and affordable way to explore growing, nature, wildlife and the outdoors with primary school children. Check out our website for details. We’d love to welcome you into our club in 2015.