Our Flower Patch

Inspiring a new generation of growers

Leave a comment

Ten tips for setting up a school garden.

nature and nurture in the school garden

nature and nurture in the school garden

Learning at school doesn’t just happen inside the classroom. It goes on everywhere. A school garden can be

  • an area for exploring and learning about nature
  • a way of improving health and well-being
  • a chance to learn essential skills like planning, risk taking, resilience, teamwork
  • an outlet for creativity
  • a  place where children who function less well in a traditional classroom can put abstract concepts into practice in real life situations

Setting up a garden is a no-brainer. All schools should have one but it needs someone totally committed to driving the project forward. Where’s a person to start?

If you are a teacher , teaching assistant or a parent volunteer thinking about taking that step, then you are probably feeling excited and possibly just that little bit daunted.

Step forward.

We salute you.

What you are about to do is a great and noble thing.

And so, as a reward for your bravery and commitment, here are the Our Flower Patch top tips for setting up a project to inspire a new generation of growers.

  1. Learn to delegate You’ll need horticultural knowledge,  “people skills”, common sense, enthusiasm, organizational ability and a flair for publicity. You have to to plan, manage, find resources, muster support, communicate with everyone involved, compile lists of garden tasks, plan inspirational lessons, keep everyone happy, motivate the team, and deal with problems. Unless you’re a superhero with no family commitments you won’t be able to do this alone. Gather together a team who can tick everything off the list between them. Older pupils can show younger ones what to do. Everyone likes to be needed. Delegate some responsibility to everyone involved and let them get on with it with support and advice. And remember that all our members benefit from the ongoing support of people who have run successful school gardening clubs in the past.
  2. Practice the art of recycling and upcycling School gardens do not need massive financial investment. We’ve lost count of the numbers of beautiful raised beds and greenhouses which have fallen into disrepair. Flowers can be grown in donated pots, tyres or even old compost bags. Milk cartons can be made into soil scoops and plastic bottles make really effective cloches and watering cans. We have dozens of ideas and you’ll soon begin to see opportunities for recycling in the most unexpected places.
  3. Embrace the idea that the process is more important than the end result Many people are wary of starting a school garden because they worry that things will go wrong. They will but that’s one of the positives as far as we’re concerned. Managing risks and trouble shooting problems are part of the deal.
  4. Remember there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing Gardening is reliant on the weather but don’t shy away from taking groups outside all year round. Our programme has appropriate activities for every week of the school year. Ensure that your pupils are properly kitted out with warm, waterproof, dare we say even scruffy clothing in winter, hats and sunscreen in summer and every day can be a gardening day. The gardens of fair-weather gardeners quickly become neglected.
  5. Know that any space is enough space Even a couple of recycled plastic trugs outside the classroom door is a garden. Small space gardening has provided us with years of pleasure. Apple trees grow in oilcans or barrels. Strawberries do well in a hanging basket. A window box wildflower meadow can be a thing of beauty and a haven for bees. Don’t be ashamed to start small.
  6. Play to your strengths Study your raw materials and plan accordingly. Garden projects can fail because of lack of time, too few helpers or the vagaries of the site. If your only space lacks lots of direct sunlight, choose to grow shade loving plants. If you only have an hour a week in which to garden, plan accordingly for a low-maintenance garden.
  7. Appeal to the senses Memories are built on the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the past. Build  happy memories for your pupils by planting a riot of colour, texture and scent. Add in some tasty treats and soothing sounds too and you’ll find there’s never a moment without someone out there, taking care of the garden.
  8. Go wild Welcome wildlife into your garden and not only will you be looking after the environment and improving the biodiversity of your school grounds but you’ll have a ready made science lab in which to conduct studies and a healthier garden.
  9. Blow your own trumpet Find as many opportunities as you can to publicise what’s going on in your little patch of heaven. The more you talk it up, the more people will want to be part of the party. You’ll spread the workload among a bigger pool of volunteers, children will take better care of it and the whole project will become truly sustainable.
  10. Make connections Gardening is all about making connections. Companion plants support each other and the same is true of gardening buddies who work side by side. It’s also important to make connections between the garden and what’s going on elsewhere in the school. Use the garden to teach aspects of the National Curriculum, to provide opportunities for some practically minded pupils to shine, to develop essential life skills which they can take back into the classroom. Really successful school gardens are right at the centre of school life, supplying the kitchens with food or school reception with a vase of gorgeous flowers very week. When you see a parent snipping a few herbs to take home to cook dinner, a toddler popping a homegrown strawberry into their mouth or a young boy clutching a bunch of schoolgrown cosmos to take home for his granny’s birthday, you’ll know that your idea to start a garden was awesome.



Leave a comment

Ten ways to acquire plants for free (or almost free)

Nigella seedpod

Nigella seedpod, fab in a vase and a useful source of free seed!

If there are a few gaps in your flower patch and no cash in your pocket to go out and buy some flowery treats to pop in for instant gratification, do not despair. Here are our top ten tried and tested ways to bulk up your garden, plot or school flower patch without spending much or indeed, any money and have a fun adventure while doing so.

Plants for free, you say? Show me where to find them.

Read on.

  • Find them on Freecycle

I love Freecycle and not just to read with amusement the weekly posts from the member of my local community who regularly offers cardboard boxes, jam jars and bits of string whilst simultaneously posting requests for expensive appliances because they have accidentally dropped theirs in the sink/washing machine/toilet/driven over them in the car/had them eaten by the dog……..

Over the years I have acquired and distributed numerous plants on Freecycle. Often you have to dig up the plants on offer, but that is no great hardship. What’s more you’ll probably make a gardening pal for life, whilst helping yourself to their largesse. Win. Win.

  • Save and swap your seeds

It’s quick and easy to save some seeds from easy to grow flowers like poppies, calendula, nigella and cerinthe. One plant has more seeds than you will need to use at once or in a whole season. Nature is extremely generous and prolific. Make the most of it. You can sow some seeds yourself next year and save some to swap with others. Collect seeds on a dry day. Store them in labelled brown envelopes in an airtight tin in a cool, dark place until ready to sow.

  • Cultivate those cuttings

Learn to take cuttings. A small piece of stem is all you need, a pot of compost and some rooting powder, if desired. Pull off all but the top few leaves. Lots of leaves will make the plant work hard keeping them alive when it needs to put its effort into producing more roots. Place your cuttings into a pot of moist compost around the edge of the pot. Cover with a plastic bag to ensure moisture is retained and wait for roots to form. You may need to remove the bag from time to time to ensure that condensation disappears and prevent ‘damping off’.

  • Delve into division

From time to time plants have a habit of outgrowing their allotted space and they look like they will benefit from being dug up and divided into more manageable chunks. Replanting a ‘chunk’ reinvigorates the plant and gives you a few more plantable ‘chunks’ to fill it spaces elsewhere  or swap with friends and neighbours for different plants. Simple.

  • Set up a plant hospital

Large DIY stores with garden sections almost always have an area where they have plants marked down for sale.  This may be due to their slightly less saleable (or virtually dead) appearance,  or a genuine clearance of overstocked plants at the end of the season.  Plants which are pot bound need to be repotted or planted in the garden after their roots have been teased out. Dead head and prune back unsightly brown growth, feed and repot or plant out. I’ve rescued numerous plants which were destined for the skip and no money has changed hands.

Supermarkets too may be happy to let you take away pots of unsold bulbs after they have flowered. Take them home and plant them in your plot. Let them die back naturally and they’ll pop up hale and hearty next season. If you say that you are running a school gardening club, they may well let you know when there are freebies going spare in the future.

  • Volunteer in a community garden or help your friends with a bit of arden maintenance

Asking gardening friends, neighbours, family or work colleagues for any plant cuttings, extra plants they don’t need or seeds they may have is one of the easiest ways to grow your garden for free.Pruning, dividing and removing plants that have gone to seed are regular maintenance activities for many gardeners each season.  These are also prime times to add to your own (or your school) garden from what is often plant material that will go to waste in someone else’s garden.

  • Make friends with the local plant nursery 

Sometimes flower farms, local growers and nurseries will advertise end of season, closing down sales or stock at reduced prices. They may be wanting to clear out a greenhouse or warehouse or make a space for new plants, some may have been in pots too long and others are excess stock. My daughter’s school had a magnificent tulip bed last year planted up with bags of bulbs from the Sarah Raven warehouse sale.

  • Raid the local restaurants and cafes

Most businesses replace their plants as the flowers fade. Start a relationship with the businesses in your area. Let them know that you are willing to take the unsightly plants off of their hands after they are finished blooming. You know they will bloom again next year in the garden if you give them some time and tlc!

  • Bulk buy

Club together with friends and neighbours to order bulbs and plants. It will bring the cost down and you might well be the lucky recipient of a few freebies into the bargain for putting in a big order. Higgledy Ben our seed supplier is king of stashing in an extra pack of seeds for good customers. Long may he reign.

Cerinthe seed

Cerinthe seed, not quite ready yet. It will fall easily from the plant when ready.

Cerinthe seed drying

Dry the harvested seed before storing it.

Leave a comment

Mud, mud, glorious mud


Getting muddy around the world

Usually the start of Wimbledon Fortnight and the end of the Glastonbury Festival is the perfect time to get down and dirty with mud, as the June skies cloud over and drop enormous quantities of the wet stuff on us all. However, this year our flower patches are more dust bowls than muddy puddles. It’s scorchio in Wiltshire and Cally is building up her muscles lugging full watering cans over to her allotment on a regular basis.

Nevertheless yesterday was an international celebration of all things muddy. International Mud Day was initiated by the World Forum Foundation, which aims to promote an on-going global exchange of ideas on the delivery of quality services for young children in diverse settings. It’s a great idea. Children love getting muddy and it’s a well known fact that fewer children are allowed to nowadays than in the past. Some children don’t own old, scruffy clothes, I recently discovered whilst working on a community painting project. 

As the World Forum Foundation highlights “studies have recently revealed the positive qualities of earth, soil, and mud. Science says that being barefoot is good for you. Mud has microscopic bacteria that soothes you, relaxes you, and calms you down. So that’s why it feels so good to kick off your shoes and socks!” And that’s why allowing children to dig in the soil, sow seeds, weed, nurture seedlings and get dirty is good for them too. We’d love to help you set up a gardening programme at your school which gets children in touch with the earth. Get in touch with the flower patch girls.


Leave a comment

I don’t want to go to Chelsea? Ten ways the Chelsea Flower Show could inspire young growers.

Chatsworth garden RHS Chelsea 2015

Large boulders & naturalistic planting- simply wonderful, Best in Show for Dan Pearson. Photo by Marie McLeish

Not strictly true, for me. For the last few years life’s responsibilities have conspired against me, mostly parent or teacher related. Last time I went to the Chelsea Flower Show – more moons ago than I care to remember – I was not teaching. Neither was I a parent. It started me thinking about the whole glorious horticultural circus and what, if anything, it has to offer young growers like our members and my own children. Chelsea has never marketed itself as a show for children, or, in fact one which is family-friendly in any way. I’m pretty sure there was a time when anyone under sixteen wasn’t allowed in. Now it’s just the under fives which are excluded. That’s not unreasonable. The site is relatively small, very crowded and few under fives would be engaged in any way.What’s more, it’s quite healthy for plant-loving parents of small children to have a day out without having to concentrate on the wellbeing, happiness and entertainment of little folk. There are other shows more suitable. What’s more we have never advocated ‘playing at gardening’ or child specific gardening.  Our young growers understand the realities of growing – the highs, the lows, the hard work, the teamwork, what’s involved in running a garden related business, the pleasure that you can give by growing flowers and the environmental impact, both positive and negative gardening has. And all of this is to be found at Chelsea. There has been so much talk in recent months about the dearth of youngsters seeing horticulture as an aspirational or even a viable career and also the importance to children’s general health of getting their hands in the soil, learning how to nurture plants. When Wimbledon is on TV at the end of June the parks are full of children playing tennis; when Chelsea is on TV in mid May, shouldn’t there be children out in their gardens, sowing seeds and creating veg plots and flower patches? What, if anything, does Chelsea have to offer in the way of inspiration to get the ball rolling? Does it have a spark to ignite a passion for horticulture which will last a lifetime? This year nine-year-old George Hassall, young RHS gardener of the year was given a high profile, presenting the Queen with a posy of flowers he’d helped to arrange. We think there are plenty of ways a flower show which concentrates on cutting edge garden design, breakthrough trends and new plants could engage all gardeners of tomorrow. Here are ten ways. You may be able to think of more.

Creating inspiring spaces

Just one look at Dan Pearson’s 2015 Best in Show Chatsworth Garden will tell you all you need to know about how gardens can evoke, time, place and atmosphere. Sit in the middle of his trademark naturalistic planting, stone boulders and running beck and you could be anywhere other than a corner of a Chelsea park. People need inspiring outdoor spaces in which to relax and garden designers have the ability to make people happy and transform spaces. That’s something for young growers to aspire to. Study the story of how Dan Pearson has transformed his Chelsea triangle into a corner of Chatsworth House and they will begin to see how projects are managed, how teams come together to make things happen, just how many skills can be developed through the making of a garden and the impact your work can have. Even looking at a flower decorated chair or a planted up teacup on a stand in the pavilion can give them ideas about small design projects they can try out for themselves.

Chatsworth Garden RHS Chelsea

I’d love to spend a while sitting on those stones in Dan Pearson’s Chatsworth garden. Photo by Marie McLeish

Creating links with the curriculum

Two of the most interesting gardens featured on Monday night’s BBC coverage from Chelsea were connected with historical events – The Battle of Waterloo and the 800 year anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. Both  events had been widely researched as part of the design process. For children who find the business of learning and retaining facts challenging, the opportunity to design a garden based on an historical event is an ideal way to delve into the people, places and events of the past in a tangible way. If you’ve planted a mini-meadow, you’ll remember that the Magna Carta was signed at Runnymede. What’s more you’ll have learned plenty about the importance of meadows stuffed with native wildflowers in these times of climate change and lack of bee friendly verges. The use of colours to represent the opposing sides in a  battle and the inclusion of heraldic shields to represent the barons  give strong images to children who learn in a visual way. Children like a project to get stuck into and learning for a reason. Designing a garden could be that project and all the hooks for all those facts, figures, motivations and characters they need to remember. Job done.

Cedric Morris Irises from the National Collection of Claire Austin. Photo by Michelle Chapman

Cedric Morris Irises from the National Collection. Photo by Michelle Chapman

Celebrating an eye for design 

The skills needed by designers are outlined in the national curriculum  and what better way to explore them in practice than to view at first hand how the Chelsea gardens have been created. Here is an excellent opportunity to investigate practical maths, risk management, the ethical use of materials which are fit for purpose, how to fulfil a brief by asking questions, researching and showing initiative, time management, people management and the use of tools and equipment.

Meeting and learning from plant experts

So many experts gathered in one place at one time is a rich resource to plumb to find out how to grow certain plants, which combinations work well together and finding the right plant for the right conditions. What an opportunity for young growers.

Promoting campaigns – the use of peat free compost, the benefits of front gardens, the importance of growing british flowers

The RHS and others with an interest in promoting horticulture quite rightly take the opportunity of so much media and public attention focused on gardening during the week of the Chelsea Flower Show to highlight areas of concern and interest. This year attention has been on the negative effects of paving over front gardens to create more parking, in particular increased flooding and lack of biodiversity leading to a decline in pollinators. Other burning issues, in particular on social media have been the use of peat free compost and how best to convince commercial and home growers to avoid using peat. Then of course there is the resurgence of the British cut flower industry and renewed interest in growing traditional native blooms. Inevitably heated discussions have taken place. A balance needs to be struck and there is a commercial as well as an ethical side to the debate. Young growers are interested in environmental issues but also need to be educated in the realities of how people make a living in the world of horticulture and how differing needs must be addressed. It’s a rich resource for a teacher to explore.

Promoting the rewards of hard work

Ask anyone who has spent the last twelve months preparing for Chelsea and they will all tell you that it is very hard work. Twenty hour days in the final weeks leading up to the show and numerous sleepless nights is the order of the day. Many contributors swear that they will never take part again. And yet they do. Hard work pays dividends and young people should hear about the realities of what it takes to bring a project to fruition. They will also learn the harsh lessons of working hard and not quite obtaining the reward of a gold medal at the end of it. Life is tough sometimes.

Gorgeous Foxgloves in Jo Thompson's garden

Gorgeous Foxgloves in Jo Thompson’s garden. Photo by Petra Hoyer Millar

Promoting teamwork

Every exhibit, every garden at Chelsea is the result of a team of people working together to make a project happen. Youngsters need to understand and model the way people work together in teams. It’s a life skill which can be fostered on the sports field or in the classroom. And here is another opportunity to explore the art of teamwork. Ask any designer to talk about their garden and what comes up time and again is their determination to celebrate the team who helped make it happen. My daughter in particular was overjoyed to hear about Jo Thompson’s all female planting team on the beautiful M & G Garden she designed this year. Girl power at its best!

Jo Thompson Garden RHS Chelsea 2015

A natural swimming pool in the Jo Thompson garden. Photo credit to RHS

Thinking about sustainability

I’m sure that building so many gardens from scratch and having to nurture excessive numbers of plants into peak condition, especially  out of season, many of which will be rejected has a huge environmental impact. Chelsea’s carbon footprint must be off the scale. However many of the gardens will be rebuilt,at least in part elsewhere after the show and plants will be sold off to the public at the end of the week. For example the Summer Solstice garden designed for Chelsea in 2008 by  Tomasso del Buono and Paul Gazerwitzin  has been rebuilt at Daylesford Organics in Stow on the Wold and now serves as a comfortable and inspirational workshop space for courses on growing food and raising livestock. This year’s Chatsworth garden is going back to the stately home in Derbyshire to be reconstructed in situ and Prince Harry’s charity Sentebale’s garden designed by Matt Keightley will be dismantled and some of it will be taken to the charity’s main centre in Lesotho. What happens to the gardens after the show is part of the application process required by the RHS. Thinking about the sustainability of the gardens, how to source plants and materials responsibly and how to use them to impact positively on the lives of others in the future is something young growers can see in practice at Chelsea.

Understanding how to harness the cult of celebrity and the power of social media

Like all industries the world of horticulture benefits from celebrity endorsement and personal recommendations to keep its practitioners in work. To be able to catch the eye of a celebrity and to engage with the public via social media to promote a business can lead to increased sales and a solid professional reputation. Young growers can use the Chelsea experience to reflect on this and develop an understanding of how successful marketing works and how professional reputations are built and potentially damaged.

Joanna Lumley at RHS Chelsea

Joanna Lumley launches the M&S Blooms of the British Isles exhibit. Photo credit to RHS & Hannah McKay

Exploring how business works

Horticulture is a business as well as a vocation and a way of life. For young growers to aspire to a career in horticulture (or even to be ready for the world of work) they need to see how a business works, how it will provide opportunities for job satisfaction as well as a way to make a living. Observe the way gardeners, designers and nursery owners use Chelsea to build relationships, network with each other,celebrate success and innovation, make sales, communicate their passion for what they do and showcase the best they have to offer to the public and they will begin to understand that it’s a business which might be for them. Delve a little deeper into how Chelsea gardens are sponsored and funded , how a bid is put together, how the project is managed over time, how many people are involved and the variety of skills they bring with them and it begins to sound really interesting. Add in the time pressure, coping with the vagaries of the British weather, the potential rewards for being at the top of the game and the positive, transformational effect you can have on people and the environment and a career in horticulture sounds an exciting proposition.

Open up the world of Chelsea to young growers and you won’t regret it. Gardening with young people is so much more than sowing a few sunflower seeds – although that’s a good place to start.

Baroness Floella Benjamin, OBE pictured on the RHS Garden

Baroness Floella Benjamin, OBE pictured on the RHS Garden. Photo Credit
Bethany Clarke / RHS

1 Comment

Ten ways to deal with slugs and snails.

Snail racing in a school garden

Wear out your snail by racing them.

It’s never too early to start protecting plants from slugs and snails. As soon as young shoots appear or seedlings germinate, the slugs are out in force munching them to shreds. Before you know it, you’ll be engaged in #slugwars. To win you’ll need a range of weapons in your armoury. Here are our ‘recommendations’ in increasing order of bloodthirstiness. Take your choice.

Vigilance At this time of year when you may have lots of pots and trays in the green house, don’t forget to move the pots and trays around regularly to find any slimy characters that may be hiding in amongst them. After all, its the seedlings you want to nurture not the slugs and snails! If you are bringing things in and out of the greenhouse during the day to start hardening off, you can easily bring slugs and snails back into the greenhouse where they will feast on your precious seedlings. A vigilant gardener is a successful gardener. Nip problems in the bud before they overwhelm you. A foray into your garden in the early morning or late at night with a torch will reveal a whole community of slug families that you just won’t see in the middle of the day. Remove them! Of course, what you do with the offending slugs once removed from your precious young plants is up to you. A game of snail racing is fun for children and may exhaust the offending molluscs for a while. A friend of mine takes them on a one way trip to waste land; another adds them to her green recycling bin, where they can munch on her garden waste until their trip to the composting depot. Others prefer to despatch them swiftly. The choice is yours.

Sacrificial plants I have grown a salad crop around my precious seedlings especially to feed greedy slugs. The thinking behind it is that they are so stuffed with lettuce that they will leave the flower seedlings alone. If you are of a squeamish disposition and don’t wish to commit mass slug murder and don’t mind a plot surrounded with shreds of lettuce, try it.

Barriers Keep your seedlings away from marauding slugs by putting up barriers. Crushed egg shells placed around plants may act as a protective barrier but are not 100% effective. Cloches made from cut up plastic drinks bottles work, place the cloche over the plant and push the edge of the plastic into the soil to prevent the slugs accessing the plant. Copper tape can be placed around the tops of pots or raised beds but this is an expensive option. A less expensive option for a small area is to glue copper coins (pre 1992 coins have a higher copper content) around the top of pots. I garden with a copper trowel, which has a limited ability to keep slugs at bay. I have no idea how it works but suspect traces of copper may be left around the plants.

Wildlife This is my prefered method of keeping the slug population under control. Ducks are effective slug munchers but most schools and home gardeners don’t have the facilities to home a duck family. The most enterprising among you might welcome some visiting ducks from a nearby owner from time to time. Frogs and toads will keep the slug population in your garden manageable. Make a frog a home in a damp, shady corner. Some old, broken terracotta pots are ideal. Attracting a hedgehog to your garden will also keep slugs at bay. There are far too few hedgehogs in evidence these days. In fact, some are the victims of eating slug pellets. Give one a home.  

Traps Scooped out grapefruit halves are a great way to trap slugs. They love munching on the pith. Then collect them up and move them well away from your precious seedlings …. or despatch them swiftly. Beer traps are widely recommended but need to cleared out regularly. It’s a bit like working as the props manager on a horror movie. Also be aware that slugs are members of CAMRA and only real ale will do for them. The cheap stuff rarely works.

Slug pellets We don’t recommend slug pellets unless they are the ‘safe’ non chemical kind. Avoid the ones that contain Metaldehyde or Methiocarb. Sara uses a type containing Ferric Phosphate which are broken down into Iron and Phosphate in the soil (both of which are beneficial to the soil). There are some wool pellets available which create a protective barrier which slugs are not inclined to cross. Some slugs haven’t read the instructions and will cross anyway!

Nematodes Organic gardeners often water on nematodes but explaining to children exactly how they work may give them nightmares.

Bran Bran may appeal to some of your young growers – the ones who crave the yuk factor as it makes the slugs swell up and look like they might explode.

Salty water This was a method used very effectively by my mother. She regularly went out with a torch, rubber gloves and a bucket of salty water after dark. Any slugs discovered were popped into the bucket. Goodnight Vienna. Effective but disposing of the sludgy mess is not pleasant.

Scissors If  you can bring yourself to do this (Sara is a bit of an expert slug scissor snipper) it is uber-effective. Snip the slugs in two and leave them to be eaten by birds. Those of you who are gardening with children may not want to encourage such widespread and bloodthirsty destruction of living things, even though slugs are a pesky nuisance. However, gardeners can be driven to the edge by slug damage and so we thought we’d better include it anyway. Another of our gardening friends uses the roots of couch grass to stab the slugs. Multi- tasking par excellence.

Happy hunting! May your chosen method prove effective.

Zinnia school garden flowers

With a bit of luck and vigillance you will soon have beautiful blooms.


Six Top Tips for sowing seeds with children.


Higgledy Garden seed packet

Little packets of hope and promise

So, it’s that time of year when you start seeing seed packets everywhere. Little packets of hope & promise, often with bright shiny photos on the front. Most of us have been tempted to pop a packet or two into the trolley or basket at this time of year. In fact if you are one of the #Britishflowers seedaholics you might be tempted by more than one or two packets. In fact you might find you take your new purchase home to find you already have the exact same variety already. Of course that would *never happen to me!

Flower seed box

Just one or two packets!

If you are an Our Flower Patch member you will already have your wonderful Higgledy Garden seeds, sat waiting patiently. If not then you can always join us, buy from Higgledy, or pick up some flower seeds that look promising.

How can you help seed sowing go well with children. Here are our six top tips.

  1. When filling modules or pots with compost make sure they are well filled. They should be filled to just below the rim. The levels should be checked again after tamping.
  2. Don’t overtamp the compost. The compost should be gently firmed into the pot or module into which you are going to sow seeds. This is often best done by tapping the pot onto a firm surface, rather than letting the children press the compost into the pot.
  3. Sow from a plate – children often find it easier to push seeds off one by one from a plate, or from the crease of a piece of folded paper. They may find it difficult to sow smaller seeds thinly from their hand. The plate method may help with this.

    Sowing seeds from a plate

    Sowing from a plate may be easier for small seeds and small fingers.

  4. Mix small seeds with fine sand for direct sowing. This helps you see where you have sown and also helps the seeds be distributed more evenly.
  5. Don’t overwater. Best practice is to either water the soil before sowing for direct sowing. Or in the case of sowing into modules or pots, place the newly sown pot into a tray of water to allow the water to soak up from the bottom. You could also use your wheelbarrow to do this. Both pre-watering and bottom soaking reduce the risk of washing away seeds with over enthusiastic watering. Pots and modules should only be watered when they are dry. Don’t keep them too damp whilst the seeds are germinating.
  6. Labelling. No matter how well you think you will remember which pot had cosmos and which had cornflower, you will most likely forget. Make sure everything you sow is labelled, whether it be a pot, a module or a direct sown row. Apart from anything when you are growing plants in a school environment other helpful people may move things around.

Hopefully these top tips will help you sow seeds successfully with children. We’d love to hear any of your top tips. Please share them in the comments, on our Facebook page, or our Twitter feed.

*has happened…frequently…probably every year I end up with doubles!

Zinnia with bee

Soon you too could have blooms like this.



Eastfield Academy – encouraging literacy in the school garden

We often hear of good work going on in schools and nurseries around the country to encourage teachers to use the outdoor classroom. We know that taking children outside can open up all sorts of possibilities to teach a range of  skills and we thought this week would be a good week to highlight some of the initiatives we like. We asked Claire Lowery of Eastfield Academy in Northampton to share some of her experiences with our readers. Claire is positively evangelical about using the school garden to teach all kinds of skills. Here are just some of her ideas.

At Eastfield Academy we are very lucky to have a fantastic school vegetable patch. These are some of the ways in which we utilise the space to develop our early literacy in the Early Years. With a high proportion of our children having English as an Additional Language, huge emphasis is placed on encouraging the children to talk and to develop their vocabulary. We passionately believe that this is achieved through giving our children rich and real experiences. Therefore we take the children on weekly walks which take many guises…


In this instance the children created their own ‘treasure maps’ with meaningful marks. They then ‘read’ them to find the treasure. Perfect for encouraging reading and writing for a purpose.

making meaningful marks in the early years treasure hunt ourflowerpatch.co.uk

Treasure maps


Another example is from when we focused on developing the use of spoken prepositions. We hid ‘aliens’ all over the garden and encouraged the children to describe where they were.

Using spacemen as a stimulus for literacy in the early years outside classroom

Spacemen came travelling


We also like to create props in our workshop which we can then take to the school garden to test and use. In this instance we created bug catchers! Opportunities for reading the environmental print and signs were encouraged.

Bug hunting in an early years outside classroom

We’re going on a bug hunt!



I am yet to meet a group of children who are not intrigued by minibeasts. A good old fashioned minibeast hunt creates opportunities for talking and recording what they have found. Encouraging the children to pose questions and use reference books or the internet back in the classroom to find out more.


Minibeasts as a focus for literacy in an early years outside classroom

A mini-beast adventure.
















Taking scissors out to the garden to trim the hedges is super cutting practice. We also set up some turf back in the nursery to continue with this skill development.

Early years children improving scissor skills in the outside classroom

Tiny topiary

early years hedge cutting scissor skills ourflowerpatch.co.uk

Snip snip!










Harvest time is a great time to develop those fine motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination needed for writing! Again positional language, describing words and counting all are developed here too.

Picking berries as a fine motor skill activity in the early years ourflowerpatch.co.uk

Harvest time.

flavouring yoghurt language skills early years ourflowerpatch.co.uk



When we returned to Nursery we squished and squashed the blackcurrants to flavour the yogurt. Further opportunities to develop the children’s language- extending their vocabulary through developing describing words.


Following harvesting the pumpkins the children were challenged to predict what they thought would be inside the pumpkin. They made meaningful marks and drew, explaining to the teacher their thoughts and ideas about what they thought would be inside.

improving literacy in the outside classroom early years observational drawing pumpkin ourflowerpatch.co.uk


Improving literacy in outside classroom inside pumpkin adjectives in early years ourflowerpatch.co.uk

Exploring inside a pumpkin

We then opened the pumpkin together and took it in turns to ‘feel’ the contents on the pumpkin using our describing words.

These are just a few of the examples of how we use the school vegetable patch and we can see that all of these opportunities to develop talk and early literacy will impact on their reading and writing as the children move through the school. Introducing the children to word groups such as adjectives, encouraging them to pose questions and organise their thoughts and ideas. Who would have thought it…grammar in the garden!