Monday, 12 July 2010

Schools Gardening Project Part 2.

As many of you saw in my last post, Kathryn at kindly asked me to do a guest post about our local schools gardening projects. She posted the first part of my post about Parkside Community School , but as her posts tend to be short and sweet, my tendency to verbal diarrhoea combined with the huge number of photos that I sent her overwhelmed her and she suggested that I should post it myself and she will link to here from her blog! Serves me right for getting so inspired and producing what Kathryn said could have been a very lengthy magazine article! (she has a point - I've had to cut this down quite a lot myself!)

Anyway, the Parkside school staff told me that I just HAD to go visit the inspirational gardens at one of our partner primary schools. So I made my appointment and trotted off excitedly to Spire Infants School to meet their gardener, Valerie, have a tour round their wonderful gardens and take part in one of their 5 gardening clubs! You can have a look at their website here: , but be aware that some of the garden photos on the website are 2 or 3 years old now, but they show where the gardens started from.

Valerie is funded by school to run all the gardening clubs and a wide range of gardening projects throughout the school. She does 2 clubs at lunchtimes and 3 After-School clubs and is supported by a whole range of staff in different ways depending on the project at the time. The clubs run from February to November regardless of the weather. There are roughly 22 Y2’s and 15-18 Y1’s (5 and 6 year olds) mixed across the 5 different sessions. Younger children in the Reception class aren’t involved in gardening club, but do have gardening sessions at other times.

I started with the tour of the gardens – VERY impressive. Here is the fruit garden with a variety of fruit trees creating a boundary, then raspberries, strawberries, redcurrants etc in the middle beds.

Each year group has a raised bed which this year included onions, cabbage, beetroot, courgette and radishes. There are also potato buckets per year group and a general bed with cabbages in. There are some beautiful Canna Lilies growing by the small greenhouse and the most beautiful variegated ornamental sweetcorn plants that I’d never seen before and instantly fell in love with!

More of the year group beds.

Each class’s bed is carefully labelled and equally carefully nurtured and tended.

The storage shed and flower beds. All the tools are kept securely in the shed as they are proper tools, not the namby-pamby blunt ‘kids tools’ you often find, which are actually useless and don’t help the children to learn how to garden.

Flowers in the cold frames ready to be planted out. Even the Reception children (4+years) grow things. This year they’re growing 3 different coloured sunflowers and short sunflowers.

Next I went into the huge Keder greenhouse to see what was going on in there. 2/3rds of the greenhouse is growing space and 1/3rd is activity space because the children work in all weathers and use the activity space in the greenhouse when the weather is bad.

The day I went, the gardening club were digging up, washing and weighing potatoes for the Potato Council ‘potatoes for schools’ competition. The variety and number of plants was set by the council and the school with the biggest crop gets a prize.

Listening to the instructions.
Searching for potatoes.

Many of the children were very limited about what they were prepared to eat before the gardening project started, but will now try new foods.

Once the children had gone home Valerie told me more about the project and how they link it into the National Curriculum and the school timetable:
Every September there is a whole school gardening project so, for example, in 2008 everyone was involved in planting 50 trees in the school grounds as part of the national Breathing Spaces project. They have also done mass bulb plantings of narcissi and daffodils. This year they’re doing a potato project with every class growing a tub of potatoes, which will be counted and weighed in maths numeracy lessons before being eaten – a whole school version of today’s potato project really.
Planting swede seeds. The swedes will be used to make winter vegetable soup in a cookery lesson in the January/February half term.

The gardening groups hold a plant shop 2 or 3 times each term to sell surplus plants to fund more seeds etc. The Y2’s do all the money handling, adding up the bills, giving out correct change etc – but because it’s fun they don’t realise they’re learning maths by stealth!

Valerie also goes into class lessons and whole school assemblies to do demonstrations and get the children involved with planting and growing. She also involves the children in hard landscaping. So far they have made paths, spread gravel, built bat boxes and hedgehog houses and planted fruit trees – not bad for 4 to 6 year olds!

I asked Valerie about selling the produce to the kitchens on a regular basis. They do supply them with salad leaves, chives, onions, leeks, cabbage and rhubarb in season but they can’t yet sell to the kitchens because:
• Our beloved (?!) County Council who we buy the kitchen services from cannot work out how to charge for the produce from a different supplier (i.e., not them!).
• Apparently neither can they work out how to deduct that cost and amount of fresh produce from the food they supply to school!
• The kitchen staff would love to have the fresh produce as all the food supplied comes ready prepared and chilled or frozen but they don’t have time to prepare fresh vegetables within their allocated hours.
• The lack of fresh food preparation is deskilling our kitchen staff … a HUGE bone of contention for many people.
• There isn’t the funding available to pay for the increase in the kitchen staff’s hours to allow for fresh food prep time.

And, of course, the knock-on effect is that the children don’t often see the follow-through from seed to plant to kitchen to plate, not do they get to taste the difference in home grown food versus supermarket or fast food outlet cook/chill foods, so it’s a constant uphill battle to move many children and families onto healthier and cheaper diets and away from fish & chips (fries) onto fruit and vegetables!
Picking strawberries.

I’ll come down off my high horse now and explain about the rest of the garden projects down at Spire!

When Valerie was an RHS student in 2004, she approached school for permission to do a 200 hour horticultural project there as part of her course. Jane - the inspirational Head Teacher there, being a very canny woman gave permission for Valerie to do the project as long as she completed it! The whole project took closer to 400 hours!

Valerie designed and constructed (with a little help from a builder for the hard landscaping) a secret garden, a gravel garden, a woodland garden and a bog garden – no mean feat in ground that is almost pure clay!

The secret garden was the first area to be constructed in 2005. It is 3 areas within 1, separated by arches and bowers. Despite having the school on one side and a car park on the other, it feels a very quiet, calm, restful space. The 3 areas each have their own colour scheme in amongst the riot of greenery. The children are accompanied by staff when using this area.

‘The Little House’ was added in October 2005 and its roof incorporates a wooden beam and an old bench from the old school hall which was being demolished around that time.

I forgot to take a photo of the woodland garden as I was too busy looking at the hedgehog house under the shrubbery, but this photo shows the bog garden and the gravel garden, which began in 2006. they are in raised beds as the clay was just so dense it was almost impossible to dig out!

Part of the gravel garden.

The school has entered and won the East Midlands in Bloom schools category three times – and won each time! They were also one of three winners of the Garden Organic competition in 2008 – and I’m sure you’re able to see why they won!

The gardens in Spire Infants School and Parkside Community Secondary School are all very different, but equally inspirational in their own ways and I feel very privileged to be able to access them all …. I just need to borrow Valerie for a year to help me in my own garden now because she has inspired me to bigger and better things!

I feel another plan coming on…………!


Monica the Garden Faerie said...

Hi Liz, it's been so interesting learning more about the school gardens. I love the photo of the kids huddling--Go Gardening! lol It is a shame the food can't be used by the kitchen staff due to politics. Hopefully that will change. It's great kids are changing their eating habits based on things they're growing. (I mean, just that they'll try new things.)

Kathryn said...

HI, Liz! Bravo and well done! Thank you again for helping to get the word out! Kathryn xoox

Shady Gardener said...

Great reports, Liz. We tried having a school garden (several years in a row), but it ended up as flowers after awhile. Our growing seasons and school seasons don't "match." Planting things in the Spring was one thing, but the produce wasn't ready for harvest (for the most part) until Summer, when there were no children! Only one year did one of my second graders plant pole bean seedlings Very Late in the school year (end of May) that grew on teepee poles during a slow-growing summer. By the time we returned at the end of August, the beans were at a perfect time for harvesting and the incoming second graders picked and delivered them to elderly people living across the street.

The Idiot Gardener said...

It's better than my introduction to gardening! I came from the "Punishment Duty" school of thought. Damn, I wish I had some kids so I could make them slave away on my beds!!!

Pondside said...

What an incredible project. I don't know of any school in these parts with that kind of vision.
Beautiful photos too!

Nutty Gnome said...

Hi Monica - I was SO impressed by how disciplined the children were about their gardening tasks and how enthusiastic too! Their parents are slowly getting involved and begining to grow things at home too - result!!

Hi Kathryn - it was a pleasure to do it. Thank you so much for asking me :D

Nutty Gnome said...

Hi Monica - I was SO impressed by how disciplined the children were about their gardening tasks and how enthusiastic too! Their parents are slowly getting involved and begining to grow things at home too - result!!

Hi Kathryn - it was a pleasure to do it. Thank you so much for asking me :D

Nutty Gnome said...

Ooops, not sure how I managed to do that twice...ho hum!

Hi Shady - I know what you mean...we have the same problem with the students being on holiday when the produce is ready! Parkside are getting round it by the gardening boys doing veg boxes to order, then going in to prpeare and deliver them.
Spire Infants have Valerie who is very organised and they grow lots of stuff that will be ready either before they break up (next week) or will be fine for when they return in September. Wish I was that organised! :D

Hi IG - I remember my brother having to do gardening duty too :P
I can lend you First-Born and Last-Born if you like ....they are practically out of 'stroppy teenagedom' now!!!

Nutty Gnome said...

Hi Pondside. Schools gardening has been slowly growing over here over the past 5-6 years. A couple of the big supermarket chains do 'freebie'vouchers for schools to collect and use to get gardening equipment ...the more you spend, the more vouchers you get for school. It may be a marketing gimmick, but the schools are benefitting from it, so I don't mind!
I'm glad you like the photos - it was a bit of a job to not get any faces on there!

Thomas said...

What a lovely edible schoolyard! I wish we had this at school when I was growing up. The only thing growing in most schools in America these days are waistlines....I mean, the fact that french fries satisfies a school's lunchtime vegetable requirement is ridiculous.

Nutty Gnome said...

Hi Thomas - they count chips, sorry - fries in the vegetable requirement??? But that's just daft! Here we have the '5-A-Day' campaign to get everyone to eat a minimum of 5 portions of fresh fruit and vegetables per day - but potatoes are NOT included in the choices and chips -sorry, fries definitely aren't!
How bizzare!
The vegetable gardens are impressive and the children love being in there :)

Woody Wilbury said...

That's really impressive. I still remember doing those sort of gardening projects when I was in infant school, umpty-ump years ago. It's so clear in my mind I can picture exactly where it was in the school grounds (long since sold off and the school closed). But it clearly made a big impact.

楊容茂楊容茂 said...


Nutty Gnome said...

Ey-up Woody. You're right - the gardening at Spire Infants is really quite inspirational - and it's working to get parents interested in growing their own flowers and food as well.

This translates as:
Yang Rong Yang Rong Mao Mao said ...
"Encounter that is destined to leave a word ~ ~ greetings voice too wish you safely and smoothly"

Thank you for visiting and for your kind words Yang Rong Yang Rong Mao Mao and I hope you visit again :)

亦妮亦妮 said...

A liar is not believed when he speaks the truth...................................................................

冠宇 said...


Britta said...

Dear Nutty Gnome, that is a very interesting and rewarding project! I like especially the photographs with the green capped children - lovely and eager! Thank you! Britta

Nutty Gnome said...

Ni-ni. Thank you for your comment. I'm not sure I understand it, but thank you for letting me know you've visited :)

This translates as:
Guanyu said ...
"Like to see our article, each is a story, is a kind of mood ~ ~ I wish you all happy happy "

That is lovely - thank you :D

Hi Britta - the Infants school children were all so lovely - keen to learn, keen to show me what they'd been doing and keen to taste what they'd been growing. I had a super time with them :)

祐音祐音 said...


Nutty Gnome said...

Yuon Yuon says:
"To see you around blog Hello, come on!"
Thank you Yuon Yuon and welcome to my blog :D

Patsi 'Garden Endeavors' said...

What a wonderful idea...gardening clubs for children. I guess that's what you can call it or maybe classes that last 200 hours or more. Think I read it that way.
Either way, it looks like you've seen some happy little gardeners.
I wonder how good we would be if there were classes for us when we were little. Kudos for the teachers !

Catherine@AGardenerinProgress said...

This was another really interesting post about the garden at the school. It's just amazing what those kids are doing and learning. They look so cute in their little green hats.

Rob (ourfrenchgarden) said...

I can't believe how professional these gardens look. Truly stunning.

I wonder whether stuff grows better as they are all wearing green hats - de rigueur - ha, ha.

No wonder they've won schools East Midlands in Bloom plus garden organic, really impressive stuff.

joey said...

A wonderful enlightening post, dear Liz. You are a dear to share and shed light on this amazing project ... I have no clue but do hope we have similar rewarding projects going on here also ... I'm going to snoop!

雅俊芬凱陳許 said...

好文不寂寞~支持!!!!@@a 搞錯了,這不是論壇推文 XDDD..................................................................

Nutty Gnome said...

Hi Rob - the gardens are are real inspiration, I was so impressed - especially as it's 4-6 year olds that have done it! Valerie the gardener is amazing with the children and the parents. We all need a Valerie!
The green hats are indeeed de rigueur in Chesterfield primary schools!!!

Hi Joey. I hope you find something similar in schools where you live - but if not, just give them the blob link and let that inspire them to start! :D

This translates as Masatoshi Fen Kai Chen Xu said ...
"Good Man is not alone ~ support !!!!@a mistake, this is not the forum to promote culture",
which I'm not sure I fully understand, but thank you for your comment :)

莊雅和莊雅和莊雅和 said...

Good mind, good find...................................................

Nutty Gnome said...

Chuang Chuang Ya Ya Ya and the Zhuang - I'm glad you like my post and thank you for visiting my blog :)