Garden Journals and End of Term

Most of my gardening clubs/classes run all year round or March-October, however each year for some children it is time to move on to secondary and say goodbye to the garden they have helped build.

It always feels a little sad but gives me a good chance to reflect on the work we have done and update worksheets and lesson plans. It also means a last look at the Garden Journals we use.

I don’t mind that its my totally biased opinion, I love these journals.

Purple Broad Beans

These are some of our overwintered broad beans. They went in directly back in late September and have done fantastically. A heritage T&M variety the kids were fascinated to be growing two colours. They shot up very quickly in the raised bed and we popped a netted tunnel over them in mid december. Am thinking I might get them to mash them up for a broad bean dip to make the most of that colour. Need to check some recipes and preserving tips as well. Would love to still have some for one of the schools community cook events.

Broad Beans again

I’m quite fond of broadies, they are great for younger children with less manual dexterity and having something to sow in September. We planted these a couple of weeks before half term and as the weather was very nice we had some pop up so they were there for the children to find after the break.

2017-05-04 13.21.12Now they look like this and the children can see the lovely multi coloured flowers designed to provide a landing pad and a guidance system for the pollinators to get to the nectar. We looked at how bees see colour, the fact they don’t see red and talked about plants and flowers that were multiple colours to help bees and other pollinators to see where they are going.

As they are year two we didn’t get too technical but it did remind me to pick up some coloured plastic so that children could see how a bee sees. For those who do want to get a little more technical, there’s lot’s of research on Bees and colour.

Mystery Radish

At Whitehall, at the end of one hideously rainy session we quickly threw some old radish seed I found in the bottom of my seed box into a pot. It got moved to one side the week after when I saw the pot with no label and realised I’d forgotten what I’d hurled in. Luckily, by the next week they were up and a quick taste confirmed my radish suspicions. Can’t wait for them to be big enough to harvest so that we can identify the variety

A bit of a gap

You may have noticed there is a bit of a gap in my writing and work. Unfortunately in Aug 2015 I was involved in a hideous car crash which meant time in hospital and a long rehabilitation. Now, Sep 2016, I’m returning to work part-time and building up hopefully to full-time again. The long term effect of the crash has meant I have different capabilities in terms of the hours I can put in and how physical the work gets. As with most people who have suffered an accident and spent time within the NHS I am happy to sing the praises of all of the staff I have come into contact with (bar one arrogant consultant!). I am only alive because of the emergency services which has made me even more of a NHS supporter and I would like to scream in frustration at those who talk it down or think it’s ok to cut funding.

Purple Podded Peas

Adventures with Peas

This year for the first time we grew purple podded peas in three of my schools. They were from the lovely Mark Diacono and Otter Farm . After some serious sowing sessions we had a great germination rate and the seedlings all grew beautifully, when we transplanted them, they went into a traditional style raised bed with bamboo poles, they went into pots with sticks, in a trough and up onto the trellis up the side of the pagoda, anywhere we could fit them in. My favourite setting were these growing up the football field fence.

The first batch were ready just in time for the Year One’s at one school to harvest on their last session before the holidays. Huge excitement at the act of picking as some children had never picked something from a plant. Then the thrill of opening the pod and seeing the gorgeous green peas nestling inside, the crunch of peas, the conversations about who had the most in their pod. It was a fabulous session and reinforces to me why I do this job.

And it wasn’t just the Year One’s. At a different school I repeated the process with some Year Five’s, again some had never picked something from a plant and eaten it directly. The third school with these had planted them much later and we are still awaiting flowers so hopefully they will be ready in September.

Most of the children had never harvested something and eaten it straight from a plant. Can you imagine that?

For me, picking and harvesting was just something else you did. One of my first regular chores was making the mint sauce, for the lamb my uncle had given us, this meant simply picking some fresh leaves from the plant in mums garden. It never occurred to me that I was harvesting natural organic local produce, to use on fresh free range produce from a trusted local supplier, it was just what I did on some sunday mornings.

Wildlife hatching on the Hollyhocks

Bright Green Eggs

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Not quite sure what these are but they used to be bright green. The year one’s and I have been watching them for two weeks and are excited to see what they turn into. They are living on the underside of one of our hollyhocks.

Dry shade flowers

Astrantia Beauty

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One of the gardens I work in has a really long border made up of really really dry shade. It gets at most 30 minutes of direct sunshine a day when the sun peeps through the buildings it is surrounded by. Over the last two years I have read lots of shady space books and scoured the internet for dry shade loving plants that are not too dangerous to be in an area with lots of small children. I have replanted it with a variety of plants at least four times; of course once was because of careless builders dumping scaffolding boards on a month old planting scheme.
My latest attempt was put in, last spring with Hellebores, Heucheras and this gorgeous Astrantia ‘Buckland’. Nothing much happened with it the first year, a few flowers but not the greatest show. I didn’t divide it because it wasn’t looking hugely strong but it has more than made up for it this year. It’s been flowering fantastically for a while and the children simply love it.

Tigers and sweetcorn and cost benefit analysis


This is one of the beds at one of my schools, put in in March and now flourishing with sweetcorn, leeks and sorrel. It’s part of a larger project of greening a grey playground that has been wonderful to be part of.  I started to write up some notes on the project last week trying to measure the impact the project has had. As a school gardener I’m often asked to provide schools with cold hard data in order for them to be able to allocate and justify funds for an outdoor project like this one.

Now, I can price this one bed at about £100 in terms of materials/labour/compost and seeds. It’s approximate because all of our beds are different sizes, we still have a bit of compost and wood left out of our bulk buys. In terms of usage so far at least 2 classes of children (50 in total) have observed/weeded/watered/snacked on this bed at least once a week for 20 weeks

Anyone able to do the calculation?

Does it help if I point out that the beds will probably last four seasons at least and we will gather seeds for next year? That we bought high quality compost to ensure a better growing season and that the compost bins we put in are already filling up?

Is it easier to measure if I tell you that I see children who aren’t part of the gardening classes grabbing a few leaves of sorrel to munch on as they scoot past or one of the children out with the SENCO stroking the sweetcorn leaves?

Obviously, but sadly, schools have to evaluate everything they do as part of the educational process. Each penny must be shown to ‘add value’ and each experience the children undertake must count towards the budget to meet targets.

Preparing our children for adulthood is now more like a business than ever before and as I operate in this world and need to be paid for my work to support my own family so I must understand the mechanics.

But I don’t have to like it.

Planting out

Bamboo and Twine

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Gloriously, all the beans and peas the children have planted have become little seedlings and as all the forecasts are pretty sure we’re safe from frost it’s time to plant them out.

I showed them a very simple bamboo pyramid and then gave each child in year three a piece of twine and a cane to make the tepees with. We now have the most gorgeous structure with organically random twine patterns all over the place for our veg to grow up.
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Not particularly tidy and definitely quite wonky but the children were pleased with the effort and I’m sure the veg won’t care

PlayGroundology emerging social science


by Jack Monroe, bestselling author of 'A Girl Called Jack'