Schools Out!

Staff from the school had seen our show garden, “Sustainability Can Be Sexy”, at the Hampton Court Flower Show in 2008 and had been impressed by many of its features. They had an unused lawn area next to one of their playgrounds that they wanted to turn into an exciting learning space for the children with opportunities to grow vegetables, fruit and herbs for use in both their cookery lessons and in the school kitchen.
A recent NFER study reported that teachers and pupils engaged in outdoor learning experiences to develop their personal and social skills to a high level. They also found that knowledge and understanding increased in a number of curriculum related scenarios. The young people themselves also referred to improved social skills and a greater belief in personal efficacy; some, indeed, referred to a (sometimes unexpected) understanding that learning can be fun!

Planning the Project
The area most in need of renovating was a grass area adjacent to the rear playground, which over the years had become barren through loss of 2 trees due to old age and an ugly container which housed the go-karts belonging to a club who had used the school playground for go-kart racing.
The school decided it was time to develop this area for the children to use as a garden learning environment, so a large seating area was required, but the children also wanted to be able to use the area to sit in at lunch times, so the seating in the pergola was planned so that you could sit facing inwards for teaching and for pleasure of seeing the garden, they could also sit facing outwards. The children, inspired by the sight of a grass snake basking in the sun on a rock above the water, were also adamant that they wanted a pond with a waterfall. The Science department also suggested a log pile and wild area which could be used for teaching science. The maths students helped to decide that the shape of the pergola must be geometrical and have geometrical shapes for the floor. The school also decided that the raised beds should be angular, so that the children could relate geometry to real objects and appreciate maths in a physical way.
The school decided that the pergola must seat at least 35 children, to allow for a whole class with the teacher and teaching assistants and sufficient gap for a wheelchair if necessary. All the pathways needed to have access by wheelchair as well.
School representatives had visited the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Hampton Court Flower show in May 2008 and spent some time visiting the gardens which had been created using sustainable products. A garden designed by Floral and Hardy Gardens Ltd who had won a bronze medal for their display impressed me said Mary Acland, School Business Manager. Our garden display had been almost entirely constructed using eco-friendly materials including products such as recycled glass for the paths, hemcrete for the walls and recycled airline seatbelts for the hammock and cushions.

Work Commences
A large octagonal pergola with built-in benches was constructed using timber from sustainable sources as a pleasant outdoor classroom with scented climbers providing shade.
Radiating off from this, new sleeper raised beds were built in which the children can experience the thrill of growing and nurturing their own produce.
Beyond this there is a wildlife garden with a dipping pond, a waterfall, a bog garden and a log pile, providing varied habitats for many different mini-beasts and scope for fascinating wildlife study.
The planting scheme provides stimulation for all five senses, with bright, colourful flowers, pleasant scents from herbs and flowers, sound, both of water, and the breeze through bamboos and grasses, and touch, with different foliage textures and forms. They will of course be eating the fruit and vegetables they produce too.
The last part of the construction was the re-cycled glass paths, Sparkling crushed, recycled glass set in resin surrounds forms these colourful pathways.
In April the Outdoor Classroom was finished and Floral and Hardy officially handed over the completed garden to the school. The teachers had now become involved; all classes from years 3 to year 6 chose a raised bed each as it was primarily for the children as an outdoor learning environment.
Each class designed the planting of their raised bed and planting took place. The children were involved in keeping the whole garden tidy and bird boxes have been put up on the uprights of the pergola for the birds to get used to, ready for nesting time in the spring. The toadstool table and chairs completed the garden. A low wrought iron fence was constructed as a demarcation to separate the garden from the playground, but leaving the entrance to the pergola open.

A lunchtime gardening club was established and (the staff) run this regularly with the children. The enthusiasm of these staff has passed onto the children and they have become very keen and interested in their project and are learning about growing vegetables and flowers. They have become very excited about their harvest and the produce, some of which they have successfully sold to the parents. They have nearly made sufficient funds to pay for next years seeds. They have had so much lettuce that some has been used at lunchtime in the salads served in the dining room (Mary Acland, School Business Manager)

Floral and hardy gave the school a yearly planner with information of what to plant throughout the growing season.

The pergola with the seating was quickly put into use as an outside classroom; teachers regularly use it for circle time and poetry reading.

Maths lessons have been taken outside and the children have seen the geometrical shapes and copied them onto their own small white boards.

Science lessons have been taken outside and the sun shadows made by the pergola were used in the lessons by measuring the changes at regular intervals.
A year 3 class made bread using the weighing and measuring skills they had learnt in the classroom. They picked the herbs, parsley and chives which they had grown in their plot and used them to make herb butter which they then ate with the bread.

The children have also enjoyed dancing in the pergola area and the area by the waterfall has been used for relaxation, away from other noise.
The children help with re-cycling by emptying the shredding machine and putting the paper shreddings in the compost along with waste from the vegetable garden. In time they will see the fruits of their labours when they can use the compost to enhance soil in their raised beds; this giving another lesson in science.

In such a short space of time I feel we have made great progress. I am so pleased that this area at the back of the school is now such an attractive and productive place for the children to enjoy (Mary Acland, School Business Manager)
We hope that in time the children will all gain from the gardening experience and have a better knowledge about growing of food and the science of growing as well. They will be able to write about their experiences and maths can be used in calculating and measuring their plots and seed spacing etc. and, whilst enjoying themselves, learn some lifelong skills.

The Childrens Comments
We are all proud of our garden and how beautiful it has become over the last few months. We are proud to have been able to work in this garden and it has been fun to have lessons outside. When we came back from the summer holidays we were overjoyed to see how big the pumpkins and courgettes (now marrows) had become

The sunflowers are now massive and we have so many runner beans we are selling them twice a week!

All in all, the new garden is a fantastic asset to the school and will be enjoyed by hundreds of Children for years to come.

Written by Aaron Steel of Floral and Hardy Gardens Ltd, the Garden Designers in Bromley