In recent news it has become a point of national pride that nearly half of Britain’s schools have not only actively encouraged their students to take an interest in horticulture, but that they’ve made a private space on their grounds a standard as much as the playground, or the assembly hall. This sociological brainchild began with, you guessed it, the RHS, who began their ‘Campaign for School Gardening’ as a means of familiarising children with their natural environment on a local, as well as a global scale. They’ve made the press recently by reaching the 15,000th school on the programme, which benefits from a persistent rewards system.
Essentially, there are varying levels of accomplishment with every new garden, and the schools now race to be first to achieve each new level.
The reward for this comes under the franchise of television horticultural personality Alan Titchmarsh, which grants the winners £200 worth of vouchers.
The RHS aims to continue to introduce new programmes to the primary school environment so that by September, which will mark this campaign’s fifth anniversary since its introduction, they’ll have reached their target of including half of the schools in Britain. These new initiatives include a ‘Young School Gardener of the Year’ award which will be brought on in April of this year.
The most recent addition to the RHS roster is Berryhill Primary school. They’ve pledged their support with the construction of a Peace Garden and an environmentally friendly greenhouse composed of recycled plastic bottles. However, headteacher, Mrs Carrie Nicol, is firmly set on continuing this project with a planned vegetable garden in the near future.
Mr Titchmarsh, echoing Mrs Nicol’s attitude, was quoted as saying:
‘We know the impact gardening at school has on children’s development and wellbeing… the RHS won’t rest until all the schools in the UK are gardening!’
One of the main draws of the initiative is that it is free for any academic institution to register, and, once they have, a benchmark system will track the progress of the school as a whole, the students as individuals, and its co-operation with the local community – this last area being crucial to a school’s rise to higher echelons of the benchmarks.
Any layman can see the obvious benefits of an early exposure to the responsibilities and knowledge of regular gardening. Children learn to earn the success of a garden through devotion, hard work and consistency.
Of course, Floral & Hardy are no strangers to the concept of school gardening and , following our debut show garden at Hampton Court Flower Show, ‘Sustainability can be Sexy’, a Slough based school approached us concerning the possible utilisation of a disused green space on their grounds. It was the techniques used at Hampton Court that had attracted them, and we adopted and repeated some of those eco-friendly themes when embarking on this project.
The primary focus was that the space should represent a form of Outdoor Classroom and so we constructed an octagonal pergola as the frame of the room, whose walls were then represented by climbing vines. This, combined with textured and sparkling crushed glass floor, made the room a feast for all the senses.
Outside of the ‘classroom’ we built raised beds in which the children were able to cultivate vegetables and herbs for use in the school kitchen, and even had enough to sell to parents too! Elsewhere in the space we provided a wildlife pond and bog garden to attract amphibians, bugs and birds, which has become a valuable focus for science lessons.
It is projects such as these that are fast becoming the new school of teaching techniques, as exemplified by the rising popularity of ‘forest schools’ and, with the increase in ecological conscience, an astute awareness of the environment, and our influence upon it, is becoming as relevant a part of the curriculum as Shakespeare or Newton.
By Josh Ellison