Our Flower Patch

Inspiring a new generation of growers

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Telling tales

Snowdrops in a primary school garden

A welcome sight in a winter garden.

This week is National Storytelling Week. We love a good story down on our patch. Cally often takes a book and a flask of coffee to her patch for a sneaky read between bursts of strenuous activity getting her plot ready for Spring. It’s good for your young growers to enjoy their patches as well as work in them. Let them spend time enjoying them at lunchtime. You’ll be surprised how attached they become to their plots and how much more care they take of them.

Why not hold a class storytelling event among the promise of fragrant blooms. You may have a few bulbs springing up or there may be a patch of snowdrops. Look hard enough and you’ll see signs of life but Winter storytelling sessions need thick coats, warm rugs, even old sleeping bags, hot chocolate, a bonfire and the kind of story that whisks you off to a winter wonderland. It’s the way storytelling used to be in the days before kindles, books and central heating. Ask for parent volunteers to come in and share their favourite stories or see if you can book a professional storyteller or author.

You can hold a summer event later in the year, make a den or a tent among the flowers with homemade lemonade or ice lollies. Recycle the lolly sticks as plant labels in the Autumn. However you celebrate National Storytelling Week in your flower patches, you might find these resources useful. Our members will be using their patches to encourage outdoor literacy activities in school this week. We have lots of lesson plans for activities which will get your young growers reading and writing – all the time getting up close and personal with nature.


Credit for the reading tent photograph to Will Heap and Kyle Books. This is taken from the fabulous book 101 Things For Kids To Do Outside, written by Dawn Isaac. You can read our review of it here.

Children reading  in a garden tent

Summer Story telling outside

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Wassail! Wake up your plot.

Wassail toast in a tree at Primary school.

Wassail toast in a tree at Primary school.

Some people find January in the garden rather dismal. Perhaps that’s why many school gardening clubs don’t run during the winter months. On our plot we like to take the time to plan and prepare for the craziness of sowing, planting, weeding, watering and harvesting which is to come. But we also see the value in getting children outside in all weathers, getting stuck in.  Winter is a good time to sort out your compost and rainwater harvesting, prepare paths, make planting plans, care for beneficial wildlife, look through seed catalogues and enjoy a bit of downtime, safe in the knowledge that even though little appears to be happening above the ground, it’s all ready to kick off down below.

We also like any excuse for a party and to let off steam so we’d recommend a spot of wassailing with your young growers at this time of year to help the trees and plants make it through the cold snap unscathed.

The traditional folk custom of wassailing fruit trees is still popular in our neighbouring county of Somerset but if your school is in a city centre, it might raise a few eyebrows. Don’t let that put you off!

Traditionally the idea was to begin the process of waking the fruit trees from their winter slumber to ensure a good crop in the coming year. Cally is never slow to take the opportunity to baffle everyone with her knowledge of ancient languages and so she is able to say that the word wassail derives from the  Old English words wæs (þu) hæl which means ‘be healthy’ or ‘be whole’.

Wassailing involves processing to your fruit trees carrying burning torches and banging pots and pans. Someone carries a special wassail pot filled with a steaming brew of ale, wine or cider. You form a circle around the largest or in our case, only apple tree and hang pieces of toast soaked in apple juice in the branches for the robins, who represent the ‘good spirits’ of the tree. A shotgun can be fired overhead to scare away evil spirits (on reflection, probably not a good idea in school) and the group sings

Wassail! wassail! all over the town,
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown;
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree;
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee.

The ritual should be carried out on Twelfth Night, in other words 5th/6th January (or 16th/17th according to the old calendar which is a better time for schoolteachers who need a bit of time to plan these things). It’s good to find a special wassail bowl – either ceramic or wooden. (It’s amazing what turns up in the local charity shop.)

I use this recipe 1 quart apple juice,1 quart apple cider, 8 oranges, 4 lemons, 6 cinnamon sticks, 8 whole cloves, 6 whole allspice berries and 1/4 teaspoon mace but you’ll have to stick to apple juice for your young growers.  In a large pot, combine apple juice (and cider). Wash and slice oranges and lemons. Throw them in. Create a spice bouquet by wrapping cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice, and mace in a piece of muslin. Add to juice. Simmer for at least 30 minutes. You can also float baked apples or toast in it but I don’t fancy that. Soak pieces of toast in it instead and hang them up for the birds.

Wassail toast in tree at Primary School