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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.