Wednesday, 14 July 2010

All planted up

A little while ago, I blogged about one of the projects that I'm involved in and promised an update. It's high time for it, especially because it was all rather mad and exciting. A group of 12 primary school pupils were on a mission to "replace litter and graffiti with flowers to make our community beautiful and tidy". We had just 4 weeks to make it all happen, and when I say 4 weeks, that translated to 90 minutes per week.

There were a lot of challenges, and even more fun. We went to a local garden centre during school time so that the children could choose what type of plants they wanted. They went there thinking flowers, then saw, touched, smelled herbs and got excited about fruit trees. So the plan was put together to plant a herb garden, a fruit orchard, and three raised beds with a mix of flowers and vegetables.

We also needed raised beds for defnition of planting areas and because the school grounds had very poor soil. These came from Glasgow Wood Recycling, a fab charity that makes reclaimed wood into all sorts of beautiful items (if you're ever in Glasgow, make sure to visit their shop, the Dear Green Place, for heaps of inspiration), who also provided us with compost, wooden bird houses and a massive (empty) whisky barrel.

Starling Learning, a charity providing nature and horticultural training to schools, helped us out with some gardening knowledge so we didn't mess things up. They also handily brought a van with all the tools needed, bought the plans from our shopping list and provided much needed encouragement during the early planting hours.

So here are some of the plants as they saw their new home for the first time:

Then the big challenge started. The school is a newly built school, on the outskirts of Glasgow, at the edge of a housing scheme. The views of the adjacent open land are lovely, the views of the scheme not so. The children are very proud of their new school, however, the decent sized school grounds are not ideal for planting a fruit orchard. We knew this but decided to tackle it anyway. So, the soil the grassy play area was about one inch thick, which was about the depth of the grass roots. Underneath: rubble. Building rubble, glass, unidentifiable stuff. It was backbreaking work to dig holes big enough to accommodate a fruit tree, and the rain didn't help. We ploughed on, with different tools, scraping away until finally, the first of 12 trees went in accompanied by big cheers:

Eventually, all six fruit trees found their spaces, and another 6 soft fruit trees too. We'd been warned that the land services lawn mowers are not interested in fruit trees, so to protect our plants, we fenced them in. Hopefully that will also protect them a little bit against ball play - the grass area is a play area and we were keen to keep it so, while still having a fruit orchard alongside the rather ugly fence.

Once the hard work digging holes into impossibly hard ground was done, the fun of filling the raised beds was just around the corner. The children decided on the best location for the raised beds - they should be visible to pupils, nursery children and visitors alike, and add some colour to the monoblock front of the school. There were many helping hands: the 12 children from the group who came up with the whole idea, support from P6 and the schools Eco Group, as well as some children from the 3-5 year room of the nursery which is also housed in the building. In no time at all the beds were filled and planted:

This was to become the herb garden:

More plants were carried to the raised beds:

And decisions were made where plants would look best:

The children, many of whom had never done any gardening before, got really into it. There was no stopping them. They learned about repotting, plant care, preparing soil, how to fill a raised bed. We discussed best location for bird houses for the next season, and made a plan for maintenance of the raised beds and fruit orchard. They also got right into the design for their raised beds, considering which plants should go where and what would look best. Even the more reluctant group members who were initially a bit worried about getting their hands wet and dirty didn't take long to get into the satisfaction that digging in soil and creating an oasis of beauty brings. The amazing experience was that children ranging from being autistic to hyperactive to extremely quiet all joined in and worked together with one end result in mind: to make their school look nicer and to leave a legacy for generations of children to come.

At 2pm on 24th of June, it was all done. "I never thought we could have done all of this in less than a day!" said one of the children, and the consensus was that it was just "great fun".

And what's more, the whole project initiated a thought process for children, school and us as to how school grounds can become outdoor learning spaces which enhance the school curriculum and how this can be considered right from the planning stages for a new school building or one that is to be improved. Wouldn't it be great if every school could benefit from a bit more biodiversity, green spaces and outdoor learning opportunities literally at their doorstep: the school grounds?



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