Our Flower Patch

Inspiring a new generation of growers

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Ten ways a flower patch can help with exam stress

Poppies in a school flower patch

Gaze into the centre of a flower.

More pupils than ever before (and their teachers) are suffering from unprecedented levels of ‘exam stress’ according to experts. The constant process of revision and assessment is one with which many students fail to cope. Students in the UK are among the most tested children in the world….. ever. My own children complete assessment work across a range of subject areas on a weekly basis. They feel the pressure to perform but have a healthy attitude to how much emotional energy they need to put into assessment work and have developed a range of stress busting techniques to keep things in perspective – mostly sport related in their case.

As millions of teenagers embark on their GCSEs, AS and A-levels and primary schools complete their Standard Assessment Tests, many head teachers are turning to a range of stress busting strategies to support their students. Mindfulness, yoga, counselling, sport and massage are not uncommon in schools up and down the country. And now gardening is being added into the mix.

For schools which have a little bit of land and a school garden it’s an inexpensive and effective way to support stressed out students and teachers. Half an hour spent outside pottering in the garden, weeding, tending plants, caring for wildlife and getting your hands dirty has proven benefits for all sorts of health conditions from depression to dementia. Gardening is a stress buster. As a matter of fact, gardening may be an even more effective stress buster than other leisure activities. A study in the Netherlands involving two groups of students investigated whether reading indoors or gardening for thirty minutes after completing a stressful task had a greater effect. The gardening group reported being in a better mood than the group that read, irrespective of whether they ‘liked’ gardening or not. They also exhibited lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. So here, in a nutshell are the ten ways a flower patch can be a stress buster.

Plant a flower patch and you’ll feel better.

It’s official. Behavioural research shows that flowers are a natural moderator of moods. They have an “immediate impact on happiness, a long term positive effect on mood, and make for more intimate connections between individuals.” Being surrounded by flowers improves one’s health. What are you waiting for? Join us in our campaign to turn school grounds into a patchwork of bee friendly, fabulously fragrant and colourful flower patches and provide your children with ways to relax, away from the pressures of modern school life.

Plant a flower patch and make friends with nature

Slow down and reconnect with the natural world in a fragrant flower patch buzzing with bees. Spending time in nature can help relax your body, restore your attention and revive your mood.

Plant a flower patch and cultivate mindfulness

With one undemanding, repetitive task to complete like planting out seedlings, weeding or cutting flowers you’ll become fully absorbed in the experience of being in your flower patch. You’re practicing mindfulness —a proven way of reducing stress. A garden offers a feast for the senses: colourful and fragrant blooms, birds chirping nearby, bees buzzing and soil to sink your hands into. Soak it all up and let the stress float away.

Plant a flower patch and cultivate your creativity

We all need to express ourselves creatively, and gardening is one way to do that. Let’s face it exams offer little in the way of a creative outlet. Research shows that engaging in a creative pastime can be an effective stress control strategy. Experiment with colour and scent. Plant up a wild patch.  And with a flower patch you have two bites at the cherry by growing creatively and arranging your flowers once they’re cut.

Plant a flower patch and share something with your community.

Many people like peace and quiet while gardening; others appreciate company. Working on a flower patch offers both but never underestimate an opportunity for social connectedness. Research shows that people who spend time around plants tend to have better relationships with others and are much more likely to try and help others. In short, being around plants can help to improve relationships between people and increase their concern and empathy toward others. It’s not difficult to see how a school flower patch can help your students support each other through stressful times.

Plant a flower patch and welcome in the wildlife.

A flower patch provides a home and food for birds, butterflies, bees, frogs, worms and any number of other wildlife. Their presence adds another dimension to enrich your stress-free experience.

Plant a flower patch and enjoy a sense of accomplishment.

Gardening gives you a sense of accomplishment. Seeing the fruits (or, in our case flowers) of your labours is one of the most satisfying feelings imaginable.  Knowing that you have created a thing of beauty which makes people happy is a good way to escape the stress of exam cramming and proof of time well spent.

Plant a flower patch and give meaning to your life.

Being in the garden connects you to the land and gives students the opportunity to focus on the simple things in life, the changing of the seasons, the turning of the year and to experience feelings of abundance and gratitude away from the treadmill of revision and exams.

Plant a flower patch and enter the ‘zone’

Here’s the science bit in a nutshell. Weeding , digging, raking – any number of repetitive flower patch tasks produce a similar effect in gardeners to those experienced by joggers or those who practise meditation. It can activate the parasympathetic nervous system—the body system that counteracts the physiological changes brought on by stress. One good reason to sow those flower seeds.

Children weeding school flower patch

Getting dirty is good for you!

Plant a flower patch and find out that dirt is good for you.

Children who are exposed to dirt in their early years develop healthier, stronger immune systems when compared to children whose parents keep them squeaky clean. They are less likely to suffer from asthma, eczema and allergies later in life. What’s more Mycobacterium vaccae, a harmless bacteria commonly found in soil has been found to increase the release of serotonin in the parts of the brain that control cognitive function and mood. It’s a natural anti-depressant great for anybody sinking underneath a pile of revision.

Plant a flower patch and strengthen your immune system. 

Being outside on a sunny day means you’ll soak up plenty of vitamin D, which helps the body absorb Calcium. Calcium helps keep bones strong and your immune system healthy. Simple. Stress can lead to headaches, colds and general lack of energy. Getting out into your flower patch helps to counteract these negatives.


So there you have it. Use your school flower patch to cultivate some calm over the next few weeks. And if you don’t have one yet, get in touch with us and make starting one a project away from the stress of exams for your students or your own children.

Bee on a flower Knautia

Watch the bees buzz.

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Holiday activities 2015: part 1

Outdoor classroom at National Trust The Courts

Wildlife Garden at The Courts

Our Flower Patch members are on holiday but Cally’s been busy running some more sessions for the National Trust to promote outdoor learning for children and families. In the past these have focused on the #50things to do before you’re 11 and 3/4 campaign but this year they are connected with the heritage of the National Trust properties where they are based and sustainable gardening.

The Easter holiday workshops based  at The Courts gardens in Holt tie in with the cloth making heritage of this former mill owner’s property. Families can follow a trail around the gardens, featuring plants for dyeing and then take part in  a ‘hands on’ activity with Cally in the wildlife garden.

On Maundy Thursday dozens of children got stuck into creating some beautiful botanical art using not much more than a hammer and some leaves and flowers. Next week she’ll be getting in touch with her Celtic roots painting with woad.

Botanical nature art

Botanical Art

More Thursday workshops will follow in the Summer holidays. We’ll publish the details shortly. Why not join us to experience some Our Flower Patch activities first hand?



Rustic hammers to create nature art


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Ten (or more) ways a wooden pallet can enhance your school garden

Pallet compost bins

Pallet compost Bins


Over the next few weeks, in the run up to seed sowing our members have turned into recycling kings and queens. Everybody knows that gardening is good for children and everyone also knows that there’s never much cash around to spare on this part of the curriculum. Add to that the need for eco schools to be as sustainable as possible and to give children scope to be creative and you’ll see that recycling and upcycling is high on the Our Flower Patch agenda. We’ll be doing all sorts of things with plastic milk cartons, CDs, yogurt pots, old wooden spoons, newspapers and even old tennis balls.

In the meantime, we’ve trawled the internet to bring you some of our favourite ideas for upcycling a wooden pallet in the school garden. This is a project for mums, dads, grandparents or even the school caretaker to get their teeth into – ably assisted by young and enthusiastic helpers, of course. The weather is about to turn. Spring is in the air. Here’s something for an after school garden club project as the evenings gets lighter.

Check out our pallet upcycling Pinterest board for all the information.


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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.




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Make it Happen! (Part 3)


International Women's Day 2015 Logo

International Women’s Day 2015

Here is our third and last part of our Make it Happen series for International Women’s Day. Last but certainly not least we feature Harriet Rycroft. Harriet used to be the head gardener at Whichford Pottery, she now describes herself as a free range gardener. Harriet is well know, or is that ‘notorious’ for her planting in pots, and you can now access her expertise through her course on Container Gardening through MyGardenSchool.com the next one starts in April.

Container gardening

Perfect Planting in Pots

My first gardening memory is sowing seeds of candytuft, cornflowers and love-in-the-mist in two little rectangles of soil in front of my brand new wendy house. I was amazed when they came up and flowered, and I can remember looking really closely at the flowers and being pleased that they were MINE! I was about five. My first jobs in the garden were probably picking fruit – my dad made a fruit cage, where we grew raspberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries and strawberries. Our dog liked to pick raspberries too, he did it very daintily with his lips, but we didn’t manage to train him not to eat them all!

I am inspired by lots and lots of other gardeners and the list grows all the time. There are gardeners who write inspiringly about their own and other people’s efforts, there are people who are brilliant at growing vegetables, amazing cut flower growers, people who have huge skills in training roses and trees into beautiful shapes, people who collect rare plants from far off places and people who work out how to make those rare plants happy in this country.

There’s one gardener who I really admire but I can’t mention her name because she works in a very grand place and is very discreet – but she manages a big team and a big budget with incredible attention to detail, and produces the most amazing flowers, fruit and vegetables; she has more skill and knowledge than anyone I can think of, is modest but determined and quietly assertive, and is very generous in sharing her knowledge.

I suppose the group of people which inspires me the most is the British women of the early 20th century, especially during the first and second world wars. They got on with learning about gardening and agriculture, which at the time were almost entirely done by men, and showed everyone that women can do those things too. Beatrix Havergal taught a lot of women at Waterperry and although it is said that Roald Dahl based Miss Trunchbull from Matilda on her (because she was very tall and I think she was quite fierce) it sounds like she was a very determined and fair teacher who made everyone work hard and to high standards, producing some of this country’s best gardeners.

I think it is very important to encourage young people to garden because our green spaces, both wild and cultivated, are shrinking all the time, and it is only when you get the chance to really immerse yourself in such a space and begin to find out how complex and fascinating it is that you realise how essential plant communities are to the world and to all the creatures that live there – including humans…

I think it is vital that girls (and boys) are shown at primary school age that getting outside and interacting with the natural world is a normal thing to do. I think many adults have become afraid of letting children explore for themselves, afraid of letting them get dirty and take a few risks, and that fear gets passed on to the kids. I have met far too many children who are afraid to get a bit of mud on their hands! I don’t think it’s helpful to make a big deal of it but we need to show them in an every-day kind of way how much we enjoy it and give them the freedom to experiment, the patience to observe the natural world, and the perseverance to try again if something doesn’t quite work.

As regards girls and gardening – whether amateur or professional – well, if we give them confidence in themselves and help them to challenge stereotypes and assumptions about gender roles plus the opportunities to try out as many things as possible, then those who enjoy it will do it.

I would like to say to girls embarking on horticultural careers: Do it on your own terms, don’t let people tell you that you can’t do certain things as there will always be a way of doing it that they haven’t thought of, horticulture is hugely diverse and there is room for everybody’s talents. Don’t be too proud to ask for help and advice, and remember to help other members of your team. Be interested and willing to try different things – for example don’t assume that machinery is ‘toys for boys’, there is no reason you can’t learn to operate and maintain it too. People (even other women) may not think of giving you the opportunity – don’t wait to be asked, if you see any interesting opportunity enquire about it. And don’t assume that the men in your team are all unskilled muscle – there are plenty of skilled and artistic men out there who just get asked to dig veg beds and mow lawns, equality works both ways!

Gardening well requires the ability to look at a task from many different angles – you need an awareness of science, history, even psychology, all with an artistic and observant eye. If you like being outside and you don’t mind getting wet/dirty/cold sometimes then go for it! Parents and teachers often EXPECT girls not to enjoy the more practical aspects of life but it’s easy to prove them wrong.

I remember helping a class of children at the local primary school to dig holes and plant daffodil bulbs all the way along a path, a really simple but quite laborious task – seeing their pride in the result the following spring was a real treat! So much of gardening seems like magic when you get your first little successes, and the best thing is that for many of us the magic never fades!

My desert island garden tool would be a little pointy spade only 2ft long, made by Sneeboer, a Dutch company which makes tools by hand. It’s great for splitting plants and replanting and it’s really sharp so you could find other uses for it too…

Plants are more difficult – if it really was a desert island I might want something edible like potatoes or runner beans (neither of which I could get sick of), but if I had to choose just one ornamental plant it would probably be a tulip bulb, or preferably a small assortment of tulip bulbs because then I could have fun cross-pollinating them and trying to produce new colours, which would give me something to look forward to.

Books – also tricky, but I’d choose something by Christopher Lloyd or Beth Chatto because they both bring plants alive in their writing and can be very funny at the same time.

My favourite thing about gardening? Being OUTSIDE! I’d hate to be stuck in an office all week.

Thank you so much to Harriet for answering our questions. You can find Harriet on Twitter and read more about her thoughts on gardening and other matters over on her blog A Parrot’s Nest

Harriet Rycroft

Harriet Rycroft

A final big thank you to our three fantastic contributors. It is exciting to see the passion and enthusiasm for gardening that you ladies display, and also that you are united in your commitment for engaging young people with the natural world. Something as you know we are committed to also with our Educational programme.

Just in case you missed any you can have a look back at the blogs by Rosy Hardy, and Christine Walkden.


World Book Day

World book day gardening books

Just a few of Sara’s favourites.

As World Book Day approaches  – it’s on Thursday March 5th – we’re certainly not short of reading material on Our Flower Patch , having been the lucky recipients of several garden-related books to review. Sara went to the launch of Charles Dowding’s latest book at the Garden Museum in London recently and Cally has been working her way through a series of exciting, new and beautifully illustrated books. Keep your eyes peeled here for reviews over the coming weeks before the business of sowing begins in earnest and you are spending every spare moment tending your seedlings rather than reading in front of the fire.

To celebrate the day itself Cally’s daughter is dressing up as Scout (To Kill a Mocking Bird). There are sure to be several well known literary characters masquerading as teachers at school. Cally even gardened as the witch from ‘Room on the Broom’ once. This year however we are marking the occasion with a give away. You could be the lucky recipient of a copy of Georgie Newbery’s book on flower farming. In case you missed it first time around here is Sara’s review of this popular and beautifully photographed guide to the Somerset flower farmer’s patch.

To be in with a chance of getting your hands on a copy, all you have to do is subscribe to our blog and leave a comment here telling us what is your favourite gardening book. By subscribing to the blog, you’ll be sure never to miss out on hints. tips, reviews and giveaways for the school gardener or home flower farmer. It’s a win win situation. We’ll pick a winner at random on March 20th and publish the name of the lucky recipient here. (You must live in the UK to be eligible for this competition)

Tell us. What’s your recommendation for World Book Day for gardeners?


Our Flower Patch reviews The Flower Farmer's year by Georgie Newbery.

Enter to win this!

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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.