Our Flower Patch

Inspiring a new generation of growers


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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.

 

 


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Treats for the end of term

Flower posies to say thank you to teachers

Pretty posies to say thank you

The end of term is fast approaching. It will soon be the school holidays and  flower patches should be looking rather abundant. Why not make the most of them?  Use the opportunity to give your flowers a good cut before the summer holidays and use the results of your prunings to make up some beautiful posies to say thankyou to anyone who has helped you during the school year.

Use a jam jar, tin can or other suitable container. If there is time you could decorate them with scraps of fabric or pieces of ribbon or raffia. Cut buckets of blooms and have a play at arranging them together.

Bright flower posy for a teacher

All things bright and beautiful

Cutting back your flowers before the school holidays can reap benefits for you if you are away from your patch a lot over the summer. School patches are often neglected over the summer and home patches are left for weeks on end too when families are away on holiday.  Cut your plants back reasonably hard just at the end of term, and give them a really good water, preferably with a drop of feed too. Don’t leave any flowers in bloom and you have a chance of there still being some around on your return from holiday. (weather depending of course) The sweet peas are a bit of an exception and unless you are picking every couple of days then they will all go to seed. Invite friends and neighbours to pick them. Hopefully someone will be tempted by their gorgeous scent to come in and cut them. If not then they will form seed pods which will be ready for you to collect seeds in September and sow in October.

Sweet peas and snapdragons as a thank you posy

Making the most of the patch harvest


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Mud, mud, glorious mud

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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.

 


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A garden for all ages?

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Julie Foster’s ‘Garden for Every Retiree’

As champions of the school garden we are always delighted whenever we hear that our members are being helped out by grandparents and senior members of the community. They may have oodles of gardening experience to share with young growers or none at all, in which case young and old can learn together.

Recently, we have been contacted by the people behind some of the show gardens at the forthcoming RHS Hampton Court Flower Show and in particular, Julie Foster’s ‘Garden for Every Retiree’ which aims to inspire all those who have retired from work to use their gardens to foster a healthy lifestyle and provide a haven for wildlife. We also love the Henri le Worm Community Garden which aims to show children how much can be derived from being outside in the garden and connecting with nature. It shows how cooking and healthy eating are engaging and can be fun. What’s more it has an outdoor kitchen and an edible green roof!

Henri le Worm Community Garden

Henri le Worm Community Garden

Gardening is therapeutic and for young and old alike.The benefits of young and old working together are well known by those of us who work with multiple generations. However, just recently there has been press coverage about  initiatives such as a pre school opening up inside a care home for the elderly. It’s not rocket science. Generations ago, when families tended to stay in one town or village, children saw a lot of their grandparents and senior members of the family. Nowadays, where people are more mobile and settle away from their extended family, children spend more time with professional carers and they miss out on a huge wealth of important shared experiences with older members of the community.

We love the idea of older members of the community and children working together in the school garden and are delighted that in some of our member schools this is going on right now in the flower patch.

If you’d like to set up a shared flower patch next school year, get in touch and we’d be delighted to support you in getting it off the ground.

 


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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.

 


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Welcome to National Gardening Week

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It’s the fourth annual National Gardening Week. Championed by the RHS, it is the country’s biggest celebration of gardening. Thousands of people, gardens, charities, retailers, culture and heritage organisations and groups get involved in events and activities up and down the country and you can too.

On their website there is a long list of suggestions for activities you can do to get outside improving your garden for yourself, for wildlife and for the good of the environment in general. Many of these are happening in schools where gardening is now part of the curriculum – like our own Our Flower Patch member schools.

We know how much benefit children can receive from a regular dose of fresh air, getting their hands dirty and nurturing crops….. and this week is the perfect time to reflect on how getting outside, working together and tuning into the increased light levels can affect learning in general – for pupils AND teachers.

An interesting article recently in The Guardian reflected on the ways in which teachers can channel the increased levels of energy and curiosity which naturally occur in Spring as light levels increase and there is a feeling of growth and renewal. Our Flower Patch members have been working outside throughout the winter on a number of projects. Evidence suggests that even 15 minutes spent outside increases feelings of well-being. Why not take advantage of the better weather to set this in motion by joining the hundreds of schools where pupils are working together on gardening projects? Or the ranks of families turning over a small patch to growing flowers.

The RHS has a schools programme with plenty of suggestions for how to get started in the school garden and it’s not too late to join us too, either to grow at school or at home. We provide week by week activities which are linked to the new National Curriculum and are fun to do and easy to follow, even for teachers, TAs or parents who have no knowledge of gardening. Growing cut flowers requires less in the way of quality soil and time than vegetable growing and there is never any shortage of customers to buy your flowers or do some holiday maintenance in return for a bunch of flowers to take home, in our experience.

So why not make National Gardening Week the week when you and your children start growing cut flowers? Start here.

cornflowers sweetpeas ammi grown in schools ourflowerpatch.co.uk

A posy that can be grown by Our Flower Patch pupils.


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The Classroom in the Garden – British Science Week

British Science Week 2015 logo

British Science Week 13th-22nd March 2015

British Science week runs from the 13th – 22nd March. It is organised by the British Science Association and activities and events across the UK for all ages help to encourage people to engage with Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.

The website is really helpful and you can have a look to find events near you or to download activity packs. There are also two Citizen Science projects you could take part in. 

Here at Our Flower Patch we do our best to help you teach various elements of the curriculum through the garden. We provide our members with weekly lesson plans for activities to be carried out in the outdoor classroom. Last week there was a business and marketing slant to the activity, as well as elements of practical maths. We have looked at the Science of what plants need to thrive, and used Design and Technology to create recycled items to use in the school garden. There will be plenty of Scientific observation coming up as the seeds get sown, and the seedlings begin to grow. Profit and loss, income and expenditure will all feature once the flowers are being cut to be sold in our members mini business enterprises, excellent examples of hands on practical Maths.

Who knew you could teach so much through a school garden…well…us of course!

There is still time to become a member for the rest of the academic year. Just £85.00 buys your school, or home schoolers access to specially chosen packs of flower seeds and your weekly lesson plans. We will guide you through the whole process of growing flowers, and using the garden as a classroom.

Daffodils in the school garden

Business acumen through a humble British Daffodil.