Friday 23 July 2010

Walled in - almost!

It may be hot and humid where some of you are, but it's turned cold, wet, windy and Novemerberish here these last few days so I thought I'd transport you back to last Autumn to the next phase of the Tea House .... at last!

So, imagine it's Autumn outside, the days are drawing in, a chill settles on the air.......!

The Tea House walls finally started going up in October last year.
First there was a layer of breathable membrane which lets water vapour out of the tea house, but doesn't let liquid water in. This is actually the middle layer of the sandwich, but was easiest to put up first.

Then batons - zillions and zillions of batons - each lovingly (!) hand painted before being fixed on to ensure there was a small air gap between the layers. (Not quite sure why only small air is allowed in - but that's what Himself said, so it must be right!!!)
You can tell it's still only Autumn here - I'm on 3 layers of clothes, but my trusty old body warmer has come out - yet I've still only got my cotton hat on! :D

Next comes the internal layer of thermal insulation - 2 inches of compressed foam to make sure I stay toastie warm!

.....with the outer layer being painted plywood. This is the dodgiest workshop I've ever had - cold, windswept and balanced precariously on wobbly planks over 4 foot of very cold water!!!
I swear Himself does all he can to make sure I'll fall in at some point!

Himself fastening the plywood to the rear wall. Behind him is the path and border that took me 6 weekends to clear in high summer ....... oh how I was longing for it to be warm again now!

I was still on painting duty - any wooden parts that might come into contact with rain had to be painted. The little kick-back in this photo is where a 6 inch deep cupboard is going to be. The front of the cupboard will be flush with the internal walls so as not to take up any space in the already small room. As with many things about the tea house and garden, this was an afterthought and had to be designed in retrospectively - but it works, so hey!

The 3rd coat of wall paint was done in the pouring rain - hence the rather blurry photo as Himself didn't want to get the camera too wet. I did the cutting in with a brush, but the main painting with a roller ...haha, look at me - the decorators daughter thinks you'll all be really interested in how I paint my plywood!!!
This was supposed to be the top coat, but when I went to check on it the next day I realised that it had rained so hard, the water had bounced off the mud and up onto the walls - NOT happy! I had to wash the paint on the bottom 2 feet of wall, re-coat the entire wall, then put down a layer of tarpaulin weighed down with stones on top of the mud to stop it happening again!

By November it was getting really cold - even Himself had to put his hat on!

More baton painting! November and December were really cold and, being the total wuss who doesn't 'do' cold, I was now in about 6 layers of clothing - including a full set of thermals, fleece hat, fleece lined wellies and hot gel packs down my gloves!

Finishing off the external wall and trimming off the membrane at the back of the tea house.
The walls painted pre-rain!
At the end of a long, cold, wet weekend the walls were up, insulated and painted! I was very cold and exhausted but Himself was very relieved to have got it done!

The results so far...........there's still a long way to go -

but then the snows came - and nothing more got done until March........!

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…………!

Thursday 1 July 2010

Guest posts and garden animals!

A slight diversion from my normal-type posts first! Kathryn at recently did a post about Jamie Oliver's American version of his Food Revolution in Schools, which people may remember from when he did it here and mums feed children chips through the school railings!!! Following a comment I left on her blog about what is happening in the gardens at the school where I am a Governor and in one of our partner Primary schools, Kathryn very kindly asked me to do a guest post for her about the various projects. I felt very honoured to be asked - and really rather nervous about doing justice to the amazing young people involved in the projects, but I did it - and had a jolly nice time touring the gardens, catching up on all the developments and talking to everyone involved in the process!

If you'd like to read the posts - Kathryn has had to split it into two because I went on a bit (....not like me at all eh?!), then you can follow the link here to get to the first post. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed investigating and writing it!

Back to more mundane things now. I thought I'd share some photos of the wildlife in our garden as they're all being as busy as, well, bees really!

Busy on the Campanula..........

Busy amongst the raspberries.............

along with an ant or two!

and busy on the azaleas

Aragog the spider didn't die in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows .......... he's alive and well and living in my greenhouse!

- and a big beggar he is too! *shudders*

Also residing happily in a tomato plant in the greenhouse is Thomas the Toad.

Ceefer the ferocious guard cat in amongst my salad bed!

A ladybird-type insect on an unknown and unscented rose (note to self - get your eyes tested!)

Tadpoles and newts in the pond in the front garden - alright, alright - so it's an excuse to show off the gorgeous iris, but the pond really IS teeming with taddies and newts!

Does blackfly on the globe artichokes count?

Evidence of slugs and snails on my hostas

The hostas are enormous - and I suspect the slugs and snails are too!

But my favourite of all the wildlife in the garden is Last-Born on her way to the 6th form prom last night!

No more wildlife, just a few flowers to finish off with :)

White azaleas

The old rose bush by the front door - it has a beautiful scent, but I have no idea which rose it is.

'Heritage' -a climbing rose bought for me for my recent birthday

Red azaleas