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

Composting – Turning with Gardening Club

Getting grubby in the compost

We’ve been tidying up the compost area after winter as this school is so good at composting everything that we have had to order more bins. Today at school one of our new compost bins was ready to use, so as it was a Gardening Club day and we’ve had a couple days of sunshine it was time to turn one of the older ones and rearrange.
The bins sit in front of a fence and tree line that has over the past year been absolutely covered in a vine, planted for quick growth and screening when the school was built. This does get cut down but quite often it’s only once a year and loads of the little bits get left behind. It’s tricky, because the school have requested it be completely removed and all of those little bits that all regrow really quickly, but it can take up to four months for that to filter it’s way through to the correct department and for action to actually happen. Don’t get me started.

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This school is awesome at composting, if you visit the school in the morning you will see a succession of visitors to top up the bins; small children with compost buckets and their fruit snack scraps as well as lovely catering staff with the raw food waste.

Gardening club tonight is a new group who have only been together a few weeks, I have taught some of them through previous Gardening Class but we had never attempted to turn the compost so I wasn’t sure how they would react. Children who don’t have any regular access to outdoor space are not on the whole used to bugs and beasties. The group tonight were also, due to various reasons, all female.

When I suggested investigating the compost there were squeals but I was thrilled to note they were delight rather than of horror, and they all rushed directly to the bins.
I turned the top couple of inches onto a tarp and we picked through with a stick, to see what we had. This bin has been sitting covered since Club finished in October.
As it’s a school there is always an element of extra bits; glue sticks, pen lids and some crisp packets but they are the exception definitely not the rule.
When I suggested we swap our hands for the stick to see what else they could find, they all ran for the gloves and within minutes were turning things over and exclaiming at all the lovely worms. As a general rule we don’t use gloves but I do think it’s a good precaution for compost investigation.
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Our garden sieves had both mysteriously disappeared so we improvised with a basket, sieving into a wheelbarrow, one shovel at a time. The girls took it in turns to shovel and various tunes were used as a dance rhythm to shake the sieve to. Large lumps were investigated and broken up if possible, plastic put in the bin pile and teabag outers went back in to a pile to break down for another few months.

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By the end of Club today we had a full wheelbarrow of absolutely gorgeous home made compost and a group of very dirty children, all of whom went home talking about worms. The glue stick and pen lids  went back into class after a wash and a couple shovel fulls of worms went into the new compost to give it a head start.
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Parts of a flower

Finally got the new phone and had a chance to play with the closeup on the tulips. Such a good example to show the children of the different parts of a flower.

Tiny flowers

Erodium Roseum

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Sometimes a small flower can have a large impact; this tiny alpine is a fantastic ground cover and forms into hummocks (love that word), keeping the weeds down beautifully under larger shrubs. A friend has this on two long patches on the driveway and it gets run over regularly but still produces beautifully.

Picture of healthy looking pea seedlings

The peas we sowed into old cat food boxes which were surprisingly healthy after the Easter break.

Holiday weather, windy composters and purple carrots

It’s not always easy to get access to the school out of term time and my own children are off school so work gets a little more complex. The sudden gloriously sunny weather made me slightly nervous about what we find at our first garden club of term 5. It was a relief to find a lot of germination had happened and little green shoots were poking through of a large number of modules. Some had in fact appeared and then dried too quickly, which was a shame but it was a batch of saved Calendula seed and I saved at least 1000 seeds last year so we simply resowed.

A bigger issue was the wind we had had, one of our barely full new plastic composters was at the other end of our space, with it’s contents strewn, most of our unused pots were everywhere and it all looked a bit unloved. Twenty minutes later, some sweeping and sorting and it felt a lot better. There is something soothing about stacking and matching small plastic pots that pleases part of my brain.

We sowed more flowers (hollyhock, nasturtium, marsh mallow) with a few for the summer fair garden sale. I had ordered some exotic coloured corn with blue, red, purple and black kernels.Picture of planting modules and corn packets
We also put in sunflowers; giant, red, lemon and multi head so as to have a real variety and some carrots; Nantes for a relatively sure early crop, small round, purple and red to be more interesting to look at.  Much as children in inner city school’s can be totally surprised and thrilled by eating a straight, orange carrot they helped grow, the look on their faces when they pull a purple carrot is amazing and I do believe the memory stays with them longer.


Helping Young Minds Grow


...an emerging social science

Jack Monroe

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