Our Flower Patch

Inspiring a new generation of growers

Leave a comment

A load of rubbish

Large compost bin at a National Trust property.

This is a compost bin to aspire to! Your school compost bin can be a more modest affair!

We’re thinking about compost this week – especially Cally who is wrestling  with the problem of how to get hold of a tonne or two of compost to mulch the beds on her allotment, now that the recycling centre no longer delivery bulk bags to her area.

Her problem is helped a little by the fact that she is fanatical about making compost from the veg  peelings, cardboard, grass clippings, egg shells, chipped twigs and waste plant material which would otherwise find their way into the green bin.

There are plenty of books about how to make compost at home. We’ reviewed a particularly family friendly one by Ben Raskin of the Soil Association earlier in the year. Look out for a repeat of this here on Friday. For the uninitiated the basic principle is this.

Good compost is made from a mixture of green waste like grass and veg peelings  which are high in nitrogen and brown waste ,like cardboard, paper and hedge clippings which is high in carbon. The best mix is 3 parts brown: 1 part green. Chop everything up as small as you can before adding, layer it up, turn it regularly, make sure it isn’t too wet or too dry et voila!

For members we have a whole heap of child friendly activities  coming up to teach you how to be a master composter at school and at home.  If you have shied away from making compost in the past, why not let loose your  eco side and build a compost bin out of old pallets? Or get creative with the plastic darlek type and decorate to your hearts’ content?

Cally doesn’t include many leaves in her compost but keeps these separate to make leaf mould later in the Autumn. (We’ll be leading our members through this adventure in a few weeks’ time.)

And for something a little more exotic, but smaller scale and equally good for your garden, how about making bokashi? You’ll find a few details about it on last year’s school garden blog of one of our members. We’ll be showing our members how to make their own low cost bokashi bin.

Some rubbish is good for your garden. Start mixing and watch your garden grow.

Leave a comment

Outdoor Learning conference. Teaching beyond the classroom (from May 20th)


Our Flower Patch display stand at an Outdoor learning conference.

Our Flower Patch attends an Outdoor learning conference.


In a brilliant piece of forward planning, Sara and I decided to spread the word about Our Flower Patch at the exact time that our own patches needed plenty of attention. So, in amongst all the pricking out, potting on, planting out and direct sowing we’ve been engaged with, we headed down the M4 to Cwmbran last week to an Outdoor Learning conference organised by EAS. Despite the abundance of inclement weather often found over the bridge, the Welsh have decided that outdoor education is a must for young people and it is a mandatory part of the curriculum for children aged 3-7, on whom this conference was the focus. We think this is enlightened and allows children to explore, learn to take risks, have fun, engage with nature and their environment, become independent and work in collaboration with the adults who care for them. It also means that teachers have to be creative in their use of outdoor space and are keen to work with providers of programmes which support the outdoor classroom – like us.

Anyone who knows us will be aware that we had no trouble at all telling the 150 or so headteachers, teachers, nursery managers and teaching assistants in attendance all about the benefits of growing a cutting patch with children. We were delighted to show them some of our sample materials and send seven lucky people off with some prizes donated by some of our generous suppliers and supporters. At this very moment, school gardens in Wales are benefiting from a bee friendly seed collection from Higgledy Ben, corms and tubers aplenty from Peter Nyssen and two lovely books from Ben Raskin, Head of Horticulture at the Soil Association and Bristol-based author Bethany Wivell.

We enjoyed listening to the keynote speech by Claire Warden of Mindstretchers  ‘Roofed Only by The Sky’ about the importance of ‘nature pedagogy’ or education beyond the classroom and the pioneering work which has been going on world wide to support teachers to develop an outdoor curriculum for modern day children who enjoy technology but also are enriched by the freedom of ‘wild time’ spent ouside the classroom.

One of the highlights of our down time on the day was meeting a real life film star in the shape of Houdini, the eagle owl and his friends. As film stars do, he attracted quite a following from among the teachers, service providers and hotel staff present. He really is beautiful, isn’t he?

Eagle owl called Houdini

Houdini the magnificent.

Unlike our members, not all teachers enjoy the support of experts in the field of outdoor education to develop a rich and exciting outdoor curriculum. If you’re stuck for ideas we are happy to point you in the right direction. Get in touch with us here we love to here from folk who are enthusiastic about getting youngsters growing.

Sara Willman from Our Flower Patch holding an Eagle Owl at an outdoor conference

Sara holding Houdini.

Cally Smart from Our Flower Patch holds an eagle owl

Cally holding Houdini the Eagle owl.

Leave a comment

Compost by Ben Raskin (from May 1st)

compost bin, reduce, reuse, recycle

Turning scraps to ‘black gold’ for free!


My family will tell you that I am positively evangelical about making compost. In fact, I once took on a gardening job just so that I could sort out a family’s problem compost pile. It’s true! So when Ben Raskin’s engaging family guide on how to turn scraps into ‘black gold’ for your garden arrived on my desk I read it in a single session with a large mug of coffee and the last slice of Lemon Drizzle. (Sorry kids. Mum got to the cake before you, for once.)

The front cover from Ben Raskin's family friendly compost guide.

The front cover from Ben Raskin’s family friendly compost guide.

Ben is a local boy who lives just down the road in Wiltshire so we took the opportunity to find out a little more about how he got into gardening and why he thinks encouraging young growers is such a great idea. You can read his comments at the bottom. Ben is a father of two who also happens to be Head of Horticulture at the Soil Association so he knows a thing or two about compost and how to get your little growers interested in helping out. His book is utterly child-friendly and is of the sturdy kind, which will happily take being flicked through by grimy fingers. It’s held together with metal rivets (so don’t leave your toddler alone with it) and the rest is compostable. ‘Rot this book – add it to your heap’ is stamped on the cover. Not that you’d want to. It’s stuffed full of useful information, engagingly presented and written in a warm, humorous way with just the right balance of fact and yuk factor which children adore.

Read it from cover to cover or dip in and out when you feel like it, this book will answer all your family’s questions about how the entire composting system works, the difference between hot and cold composts and how to troubleshoot any problems. Children will love the pull-out pages to measure worms, spinning wheels of suitable ingredients, games and stickers. The book is written with the American market in mind with multiple references to ‘yards’ rather than gardens and charming folksy illustrations but it has universal appeal and ought to be recommended reading for every school gardener. It’s produced in association with the Soil Association and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.

Cartoon illustration of compost layering.

A charming way to illustrate compost layering.


Compost Tea cartoon

Do you fancy a ‘nice’ cup of tea?! Your plants certainly do!

Here’s our interview with Ben about his love of gardening, his earliest gardening experiences and why he thinks inspiring a new generation of growers is a good thing.






Gardening seems to connect with people in a unconscious (if not sometimes spiritual way). Perhaps I sensed as a child that adults somehow seemed happiest when in the garden or was it just that I liked playing with mud? I had a fair amount of exposure to growing as a child, my father grew most of his own vegetables in his garden in Bath and my grandmother was a very skilled gardener. My earliest memories are probably picking peas and beans (thinking I had got them all, only to be told to get back out and finish the job), and going round my grandmothers garden in Wellow picking bunches of flowers to take home to my Mum.

Despite these positive experiences I never really considered gardening as a career although I knew I didn’t want to follow my parents into the legal profession. My love of food took me from catering, via an Ancient History degree and a transformative couple of years living in Italy, to a one year horticultural course at Lackham College (now part of Wiltshire College).  Various growing jobs around the UK eventually led me back to the South West to work for the Soil Association in Bristol where, as Head of Horticulture, I now work supporting our 700+ professional fruit and vegetable grower members.  I feel very privileged to spend my time working with and for such dedicated and skilled organic producers, and perhaps the biggest perk is that I get to visit farms on a regular basis and learn so much about growing. I only have an allotment now, so miss the practical growing of previous jobs and still struggle with working in an office too many days in a row.

When I was about five years old one of my teachers apparently said to my parents “the trouble with Ben is that he doesn’t seem to understand the difference between work and play” to which they replied “isn’t that great, let’s keep it that way as long as possible”. If you enjoy something – or others make it fun – then it’s not a chore. While there are important messages and wider political context to gardening and compost; food security, dwindling fertility resources, soil erosion, obesity and so the list goes on, I believe the best way to engage people (both children and adults) is to show the excitement and wonder of growing your own food. Even after 20 years in horticulture I still get a thrill as seeds germinate and the first shoots poke from the soil, and the more I learn about what is going on under our feet in the earth the more I want to know. My reason for writing the book is to share this with people, and perhaps encourage them to compost and grow for themselves.

I have 2 children under the age of 4 and both love being in the garden with me, the older one particularly enjoys sowing and weeding (is this one a weed Daddy? as he pulls up yet another beetroot). However gardening is often seen as a pastime, while only those who have “failed” at school are encouraged to look at horticulture as a career. Producing our food is one of the most important roles of a society and yet the UK does not appear to value it or put any investment into it. One of the things I am proudest of being involved in since joining the Soil Association is our Future Growers Apprenticeship and Trainee schemes which trains people to become growers, but we are only scratching at the surface of the issue, we will need thousands more skilled growers to produce our food. A good grounding in the basics as children (even if they forget about it a little as teenagers) is a start. 

My top three tips for composting are

  1. Keep looking at it, and turning it – then you can begin to understand what is happening
  2. As long as it’s covered then keep it maturing for a long time – this will help the stability (and disease suppressing quality) of the final compost
  3. A small amount of sieved compost as top dressing for potted plants is the best way to keep them healthy (though doesn’t help the weeds)
Raw waste materials added to  a compost bin

From this…


Finished well rotted compost

…To this. What’s not to love?