Gardening for Schools

School visits to our garden

Petworth Community Garden have hosted school visits from Petworth Primary School, Ingfield Manor School, Fordwater school and St Anthonys school and we always love showing pupils and teachers around our diverse garden.

School gardens created:

Petworth Primary school eco garden

Our garden education coordinator has  created permaculture designs for Petworth Primary Eco garden, a beautiful outdoor learning garden, which she implemented with pupils, teachers and parents in 2009-10. She now runs a weekly gardening club there, and it is used by all classes for learning across the curriculum.

Duncton school permaculture garden

This is a diverse wildlife garden with raised beds, a forest garden fruit area, willow dome, wildflower beds, a pond and an orchard and was designed and developed along with year six pupils and parents as part of our  Local food funded ‘Growing for All’ project. Also as part of this, our garden education coordinator has been running a weekly gardening club for pupils and parents there. This space is used by the school for eco activities, learning across the curriculum and special needs support.

Graffham nursery and infant schools ‘Dragon Garden’ and orchard

In order to enthuse children at a very early age, the head teacher, Helen Martin and our garden education coordinator, designed a ‘Dragon Garden’ where the outdoor space was to be transformed into a huge 3D Dragon for the children to run and climb on, with sandpit wings, a story circle tail and a wonderful tunnel through it. With help from the pupils, teachers, parents, the army at one point, and the fantastic team from Petworth Community Garden, the design was implemented, and local environmental artists, Jules Simmons and Tim created the wonderful head and foot. An orchard was donated by one of the pupil’s grandparents, and raised beds and the eco growing areas are looked after by the schools Michelle Ball, amongst other teachers and the pupils.
This allows children from as young as two, to become engaged in the magic of gardening and is another school garden design and implementation supported by the Big Lotteries ‘Local Food Fund.’

Designing a school garden

Any area in a school can be transformed just by the addition of tubs or raised beds, even window boxes, and children love to grow food and flowers and be engaged in wildlife and eco activities.

Each design will be unique to the school, its available area and needs; however the theme running through most is likely to be low maintenance, as staff are often extremely busy and stretched for time. It is better to start small and be able to manage the area well and safely, than become overwhelmed and ending up grassing it over again! It is important to communicate well with all involved and find out what the garden will be used for, how much time and money is available, who will be involved etc.

What about the holidays?

The other major consideration is the term time schedule. School gardens are likely to be left from the end of July until September, when many fruit and vegetables are ready to pick. The trick here is to choose your crops and varieties carefully. It is also a great idea to have a rota of parents and pupils to keep an eye on the garden through holiday times, and many permaculture design and organic gardening techniques such as good mulching, can greatly help reduce weeding and watering needs.

Choosing crops

When choosing fruit bushes plants and trees, as they each have different cropping times, paying close attention to these can mean you can be picking fruit before the end of term, and from September but are less likely to have a glut of fruit rotting when you return from the holidays. Autumn raspberries are better used here than summer ones, early strawberries are a must!

Planting times

Planting crops in the Autumn, eg broad beans, garlic, and autumn onions, can mean that you will be able to harvest them before the end of July, and choosing fast growing seeds such as early peas, (eg Oska variety) ‘Rocket’ new potatoes, radishes, salad leaves etc ensure that the children get to enjoy the fruit of their labours within the school year. Having perennial crops, and crops that stay in the ground a long time, such as parsnips and purple sprouting broccoli can add to vegetables that can be picked during the school term. Children love to harvest! Of course children do also love favourites such as tomatoes and runner beans, that crop over the holidays. Rather than not growing them, often we will plant tomatoes in tubs, which can be taken home to be looked after by pupils and parents, and plant runner beans late in the season (June) for a September crop.

Wildlife area

A wildlife zone or area is always great, however small, planted with native wildflowers or insect attractant shrubs and plants such as butterfly bush (Buddleja), honeysuckle, wild rose species etc. Leaving an area with piles of logs, leaves, and seed heads is very helpful to wildlife and it is wonderful for pupils to explore the mini beasts and wildlife that will take up residence there. For a great resource about this please see:
Plants for a Wildlife Garden

Pond

Water is important in the garden for wildlife, and children are fascinated by pond life and insects there. To see frog spawn appear, turn into tadpoles, froglets and frogs in their own garden is subject to great excitement, and the frogs going out on slug patrol is a huge bonus to your pest management too.

A wildlife pond does not include the introduction of fish however, as they will hoover up too many mini beasts and change the balance of the pond.
A pond is best situated where it can have some sun on it, but not be in full sun, deep shade, or directly under trees. Full sun can encourage too much algae growth, but it will need some sun to benefit the plants growing there, trees can drop too many leaves in the Autumn and ‘clog’ it up. It will need some plant cover, please choose non invasive native plants, a mixture of free floating weed, surface cover eg water lilies, and marginal edge plants, is best, and about half of the surface should have some cover across it. A wildlife pond needs to have sloping sides or ledges, for the wildlife eg newts and frog lets, to enter and leave the pond, and a deep centre, at least a meter deep for winter hibernation.
It should also be situated close to water butts for refilling, as tap water is not healthy for a pond.

If you give wildlife a habitat, they tend to find it quite quickly. At Petworth Community Garden, we dug our wildlife pond, lined and filled it, then covered it overnight with wooden planks to keep it safe before the next day’s work. In the morning a frog and a toad were both nestling under the wood, almost tapping their finger nails with impatience to inhabit their new home!

Safety

Safety however, is paramount here. A fenced off pond area is usually the answer if there is space, and allowing only supervised visits helps with the risks. We always also create a trellis effect pond cover either from strong wood or metal, to avoid any possibility of accidents. The plants and wildlife grow through these happily, and all are kept safe.

Living willow tunnels, domes or structures

If you have space, these are a great addition to any garden, they are easy to implement, low maintenance and capture children’s imagination, many different structures can be created from tunnels and tipis to seats and even whales! For inspiration and kits please see Living Willow Structures

Health and Safety in the garden

It is vitally important that all are kept safe. Risk assessments of the area and projects need to be made, the garden checked before use. Tools and equipment need to be appropriate and used safely.

The Rules of the Tools

We always incorporate routines such as ‘The rules of the tools’ at each session. Simply teaching safety rules and encouraging the children to remember them and use them at each session can be fun and part of the club. ‘No Tom and Jerry moments’ is a favourite! (i.e. always leave a rake with the prongs leant up and away against a wall rather than leaving it to be stepped on and hit someone in the face.)

Other rules for us are:
Always wear gloves! (Vital if local cats enjoy your garden)
Listen! (Pretty important when you have a group of 15 little people all speaking at once)
No running with tools in the garden
Always carry tools prongs down
Always leave your tool prongs down in the ground. (Rather than lying around anywhere to be tripped up on.)
Learn to use the tools properly
Be aware of both ends of the tools
‘No hobbit re-enactment moments’ is another one that one club has developed. (You get the gist)

For activities throughout the year please see our activities page.

For CPD training and a benchmark scheme to get you started, look at RHS Campaign for school gardening

Garden Organic for schools website is also a fantastic resource full of information for your school garden project.

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