UK School Community Garden

Dearest Readers,

Not long ago I did a review of The Family Kitchen Garden which I found a good extension of my excitement about Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. British Jamie, you might recall, did a show on national television about our schoolchildren eating a healthier diet, and creating gardens at schools is a solid way to introduce such new eating habits. I then heard from blogger Liz of the blog Nutty Gnome in the UK who is involved in a school garden project in Chesterfield and I immediately invited her to write a guest post about her project, hoping it might inspire both teachers and children to think of beginning such a project in their own schools. Following is her fascinating and very inspiring report! I particularly like that the students in this school were boys potentially at risk, and the gardening project gave them a focus where they could engage, and that made a difference, as we gardeners might expect! 🙂

Love and blessings,
Kathryn xoxoo

Footnote: Liz has posted a lovely second post about a primary school in the UK which also has a school garden here.

Following Kathryn’s recent post on Jamie Oliver and school gardens – and my comments about the school gardens projects in the secondary school where I am a Governor, and in our partner primary schools, Kathryn very kindly asked me to do a guest post about it. So here it is!

To put things into context, I thought that a bit of background might be helpful. I live in Chesterfield, which is in the county of North East Derbyshire in the middle of Britain (level with Manchester and just below Sheffield on the map). It is a beautiful, picturesque old market town where most of the heavy industry such as mining has closed down. It has some very prosperous areas and some very deprived areas within its boundaries.

The school I am involved with is Parkside Community School. It is a smaller than average sized secondary school of around 500 students aged 11-16. It sits in one of the most deprived areas in both the town and the County and is 46th out of 47 County secondary schools in terms of its social and economic deprivation levels, but its Value Added score is 2nd highest in the County (the Value Added score is the difference between the exam grades students are predicted to get and what they actually get). It is a fantastic school of which I am very proud to be a Governor.

One of our great achievements is the development of the gardening projects. There are currently two ongoing projects which began last year and one new project done in conjunction with the adjoining junior school which has started this year.

Parkside prides itself on knowing all its students well and in offering a personalised curriculum wherever possible. All students follow the core curriculum subjects of English, Maths and Sciences, but have the opportunity to follow an alternative or vocational curriculum as well. It is well known in Britain that boys in secondary education do less well than girls and can become disengaged from learning. Some of the boys involved in the gardening projects were disengaged, disruptive and close to being excluded from school (a process we do not take lightly). Some of the other boys were quiet underachievers who needed confidence building to support their learning.

The first project was the development of a ‘dead’ space behind ‘B’ block – the Science and Design Technology block. This area was an eyesore – messy, desperately overgrown, unused and unloved. Over several cold, damp winter days of 2008, the boys and staff cleared the area, broke through the old tarmac base to provide drainage, built a greenhouse, built raised beds, carted in 25 tonnes of top soil by hand (because the area has two flights of steps to negotiate to get to it) and worked on their planting plans. Unfortunately school didn’t photograph the area before the work began, but these are the earliest photos we do have and shows it partway through the transformation.

The area is north/south facing, bounded on the south and west by buildings and by a bowling green on the east – how terribly British!
Ground cleared
Greenhouse frame being erected

Spring 2009. The main raised beds go round the south and east sides of the garden. Other raised beds were created centrally, the flags laid around the fruit trees, a BBQ and table were built and an old bench rescued and renovated. Two boys, Jake and Matt, who were then in Year 9 (i.e., 14 years old) took over the running of this garden supported by Julie–a Teaching Assistant in school who has no previous knowledge of gardening. She did the initial planning, but the decisions about what to plant, and where, now come from the boys, with a little guidance from Julie who has had what she descibes as “the most amazing learning curve” about gardening, but obviously she has green fingers!
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Matt, Julie and Jake in front of their new raised beds and trellising
The garden is amazing – I was absolutely gobsmacked when I went to see it, [Gobsmacked is Yorkshire for amazed and speechless! ‘gob’ = mouth!] and it’s not very often that I’m lost for words!

This year they have planted:
Potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, broccoli, cauliflower, broad beans, brussel sprouts, runner beans, peas, beetroot, leeks, spring onions, lettuce, radish, spinach, chard, courgette, cucumber, peppers, chilli, rhubarb, two beds of cosmos and pansies. They also have two apple tees, two plum trees, two cherry trees, sweet peas, plus raspberries and blackcurrants.

The boys feel that they have been transformed by the scheme. They were previously both disengaged and disinterested in academic learning. One was close to being permanently excluded from school for what he describes as an ongoing habit of doing daft and disruptive things that everyone got fed-up with. The other was quieter but ‘had his moments’ – as he put it! Now in Year 10, they are immensely proud of what they’ve achieved – and rightly so. They have set up a gardening company and Jake wants to go on to do a Land-Based Studies course at college.
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Jake, Julie and Matt with this year’s crop!
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Raised beds with painted railway sleepers
The produce from the garden is sold into the community at the summer fair and to staff and parents throughout the growing season. The pansies will be sold in plant pots painted by some Y9 girls as part of a science project. The original idea was to sell everything to the school kitchen, but that proved problematic last year for a wide variety of reasons, although negotiations are under way with the new Head Cook. We feel that it is important for our young people to have the link between growing, cooking and eating healthy foods, so we’re working hard to ensure this happens!

The proceeds from produce sales are ploughed back into the project to make it sustainable. In September Jake and Matt will begin to work with new trainee gardeners from lower down the school, to pass on their skills and ensure the continuity of the project before they leave school.

The most recent innovation is that our Site Manager has managed to acquire some bark chippings free from somewhere and they will be used to cover the remaining hard surfaces and give a softer feel to the area.

The second project is not quite as advanced as this one because the Teacher and Teaching Assistant involved have less time to commit to it because of their timetabled classes. However, it has involved up to 8 boys, mainly from Years 8 and 9, who have learnt the practical applications of maths as they have, under supervision: laid a concrete base for the shed (twice – because the shed had to be moved!), laid paving slabs, installed taps, helped construct the polytunnels, made raised beds in the polytunnels and outside – and worked out the volume of soil required to fill them, harvested rainwater via water butts they installed, and sited the compost bins – which take compost from the Food Technology classroom behind the garden. The boys now want to repaint the shed “because it’s a bit girlie!”, make a pond and build a herb garden.
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Tying up tomatoes
There was some reluctance to be photographed, but I think the boys deserve all the credit for producing a great small garden from scratch ….and I wish I could lay flagstones as well as they have!
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They all feel that they have benefited from the project, not just by “getting out of lessons!” as one boy said, but by seeing maths in action, having something that they could see develop as they worked, learning practical skills, working as a team.

18 Responses to “UK School Community Garden”

  1. WOW!!! What a great post!! I loved reading about this school project so many miles and oceans away!! Great idea having a guest – and a wonderful story. Bravo!!

  2. Hi, Pamela! Isn’t this the most endearing story? I hope teachers and students around the planet will be inspired to do same! It can be done! Kathryn xoxo

  3. Just great. I know how important our garden is at the Linworth Alternative Program where Sue & Adam went to high school. Nothing like learning how to grow & then eating what you worked so hard to make happen. Keep these wonderful stories coming.
    Hugs, Julie

  4. Good morning, Julie! So glad you appreciate firsthand the value of starting these gardens in our local schools! Thanks for the support! Kathryn xoxo

  5. This is a terrific model in so many ways.
    I think that an important point was there was guidance, but also decisions on what to plant came from the students. One cannot underestimate the feeling of ownership, and decision making. All gardeners know that if something does not work out, there is always next spring! That is a good metaphor for life.
    Also, so many schools are such sad looking places. Children love beauty, too. That should not be underestimated. What does it tell our children about their value if we send them to a place that looks worse than a prison?
    Our local school had a complete makeover by the parents and children: bright colors, and even grape vines covering the chain link fences. Grapevines!!!!
    You post made my day, Liz
    Thank you, Kathryn for sharing this!

  6. Hi, Philip! So glad you loved Liz’s post as much as I! This IS a “terrific model”!
    And, yes, it doesn’t take that much effort for parents and teachers to inspire kids to create more beauty at their schools. So true! Grapevines is a great idea! Love it! Kathryn xoxo

  7. What a fantastic project! Very inspiring, indeed! Lovely to read Liz’s post and be transported across the pond for this creative and important story.


  8. Hi, Sweetie! So glad you like Liz’s story! Yes, very vital. I’m spreading the word! Love, Mom xoxo

  9. It looks splendid, and I can attest to the fact gardening changes lives. There’s something about growing your own vegetable, flowers and fruits which makes you feel accomplished and that you can care for yourself. Thanks so much for the guest post.~~Dee

  10. Hi, Dee! I think you are so right! To connect with the Earth and to know you can grow your own food and contribute to your own survival directly in a really healthy way is a very empowering experience. Would that we all knew that in our bones. Thanks for the visit! Kathryn xoxo

  11. Wow, I’m truly amazed at the great variety of things the boys choose to grow, esp. the fruit trees. Good for them! That age range is especially difficult to engage and it’s wonderful how they took to gardening, and also that they sell the produce.

  12. Hi, Monica, and welcome! Yes, weren’t they amazingly ambitious in their new endeavors? Good point that this age group would be particularly difficult to engage. It truly is a very inspiring story! They all deserve to take a bow!
    Thanks for the visit! Kathryn xoxo

  13. Thank you eveyone for your wonderful and supportive comments about our gardening projects. I’m so proud of everyone involved and what they’ve achieved!
    The boys had a successful night selling the produce at the school summer fair last night and even took some advance orders for vegetables that aren’t yet ready! 😀

  14. Good morning, Liz! Thank YOU, again, for this fine story of a wonderful modeling of what’s possible! I hope you will keep finding ways of letting folks know about your endeavors. Folks need inspiration. How about a documentary? Kathryn xoxo

  15. What a great success story! Projects like this should be done at every school. It teaches kids more than just gardening. They learn for live and it will also give them much more appreciation for other peoples work. Just great!

  16. Hi, Anja and welcome! I totally agree. It’s a travesty that school gardens are not a part of the life of every child everywhere. Truly. We all need to reconnect to Mother Earth. 🙂 Thanks for your visit. Kathryn xoxo

  17. Hello
    nice to hear your storey but may i ask how founded it. i agreed to help a group of kid run a garden project like Matt, and Jake but our teacher how stared left the boys are struggling in school but the school have given us some land to use but cant found it and the boys don’t what it just to help with their school curriculum they what to learn the horticulture side to gardening one boy whats to start a free holding and have pigs and chickens as well as grow thing the others what to do gardening as a Career. but i have found it hard to find funding and info its ever been to old or to young for the boys that will help them do horticulture side they would like to do a OCR or BETEC course .
    i hope if more secondary schools will see your story and breach the gap from primary school to colleges may be more 11 to16 year old will keep gardening seeing your story has made me decide to keep going . so well done and good luck

  18. Hi, Kay, and welcome. You would have to ask Liz at Nutty Gnome about funding. Link in this post. Glad you are inspired. You can do it! Explore affirmations. Write it down! Every day! Best of luck! Kathryn xoxo

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