Thursday, 20 November 2014

Autumn is time for .... planting trees and shrubs

Another good autumn activity is to plant trees and shrubs. I've been planting fruit trees with several schools.

At Armitage we were given some bamboo and holly by a parent who works at a garden centre. We weren't quite sure what to do with them. Then the School Business Manager said that people were jumping over the short fence in the car park to make a short cut to the entrance. So, Reception children have created an obstacle which is working so far.

Planting these was relatively easy. Dig hole, put tree in, fill hole and tread on the soil to firm the plant in.  A good activity for a cold day.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The A-Z of gardening

Wet weather can sometimes be a problem working in Manchester, although not as often as you might think. I do like to get outside as much as possible but there are some days when it's time for an inside activity. And sometimes there can be 10 minutes spare at the end of a session.

I've found that children love to play the A-Z of gardening. Get everyone in a circle and explain the rules. Children will take it in turns to say a word that has something to do with gardening or plants. It could be a plant, a tool, an activity, anything. The first person has to think of something beginning with "A", the second with "B" and so on. If they can't think of anything they can ask a friend, maybe two. Children with limited English could say something in their language. The aim is to see how far the group can get through the alphabet. Or you could make it competitive where people have to drop out if they can't think of anything.

After one game at Ravensbury, a Year 5 girl said she would come back the next week with something for each letter of the alphabet. And she did.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Autumn is time for .... bulbs

The autumn term is not a great time for planting but you can plant bulbs that will flower in the spring. They are easy to plant but a bulb planter really helps. These pull out a plug of soil leaving a hole into which you place the bulb. You can then simply drop the soil back into the hole. Much easier than using a trowel and if the soil is soft enough, Nursery children can do a perfectly good job with these.

Bulbs will grow in planters,in the soil and many will do perfectly well planted in small pots. Children love to plant one in a pot and take it home for the window sill.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Coming back to school can be fun

At Ravensbury we came back in September to find some mixed results from our summer planting. Some things didn't do well, some completely failed but the leeks .... well, the leeks were magnificent. They are a pretty hardy plant and do well in northern England. As you can see, the children who planted them were rather pleased.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Garlic time

Garlic is a great thing to grow in schools. It provides an activity in late autumn when it can sometimes be a struggle to find things to do outside. Planting is simple and suitable for any age group. You just take a clove and push it into the ground. It's best to buy seed garlic as this gives more reliable results.

It works much better outside and thrives in even the coldest winters. In fact I've heard it said that the cold helps to split the initial seed clove so that it forms a bulb containing different cloves. Then it just sits there over the winter and is ready to harvest in the the last half term of the year. Harvesting is good fun, requiring a bit of digging until the pungent bulbs can be lifted out. It's also a plant that virtually all cultures use in their cooking and can provide a good opportunities for children to share how their families use it.

Flower power

This year we've grown a lot of flowers from seed in the greenhouse at St Johns: sweet peas, nasturtiums, giant marigolds, cosmos, dahlias and they've worked a treat. They look great and then at the end of term children created bouquets to give to teachers or to take home.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Things to do with old pallets, part 73

Old pallets are great. At Armitage we experimented with creating a planter to put along the Nursery fence. It provided an opportunity to use a range of tools, develop some new skills and produce something that looks really good.

We lined the pallet with thick plastic sheeting and filled it with compost. We're going to plant climbers such as clematis or runner beans in it.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Potatoes in a bag

If you haven't got space to grow potatoes in the ground or in a raised bed, then you can always grow potatoes in a bag or sack. You can use an old compost bag, put some compost in the bottom, add the potatoes and fill the bag half full. Top the bag up with compost when the leaves appear.

Children in the Nursery at Armitage put 3 seed potatoes in a large plastic bag and we got a good crop. They loved digging up the potatoes.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

First strawberries of the year

Strawberries are great for school gardens, after the first year! Put in half a dozen plants, everyone gets really excited but you don't get much of a crop in the first summer. However, the plants make babies, about 5-6 each, and really start producing from the second year on. And who doesn't want to eat fresh strawberries?

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Tools and children

Some people start to get worried when children and sharp things come into close contact but I'm all for helping children learn how to use things safely. Some cultures just let kids loose with machetes and knives from an early age but I do like a bit more control than that.

I've had overwhelmingly positive experiences of showing people how to use tools and then supervising them closely while they do it themselves. A colleague at Armitage primary likes to say how children whose behaviour is often pretty poor in the classroom suddenly become little angels when they have control of a dangerous tool, probably out of fear of having it taken away from them. One of the best users of a pruning saw I've seen is a 11 year old girl from Slovakia who maintained her grandmother's apple tree back home.

For me the golden rules are: make sure they understand where the dangerous bit is, show them how to use it safely, ensure they can actually use the tool properly and then stay with them to spot any danger signs. 

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Getting parents involved

At Ravensbury we have a session for parents once a week just after they have dropped their children off at school. In a diverse area like this it has been really interesting hearing people's experiences of gardening and growing food in other countries. I've learnt a lot as well as helping people develop new skills and just having a nice time for an hour.

Harvesting winter crops has generated some interesting moments as well. At St Chrysostoms we picked a lot of chard leaves and gave these away to parents. At one point I was with 4 women:from Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan and China, all clamouring for the chard and sharing stories about how they cooked it and grew it back home.

Friday, 28 March 2014


I've, well the children have, planted a lot of bulbs this winter. I'd never bothered much with bulbs but this has been a bit of a revelation. They're incredibly easy, even for very young children and while you're just starting to plant seeds for the summer, they are really coming through, giving a lot of early colour in the garden. They have really made a big impression with children and parents.

Sunday, 23 February 2014


This autumn has been the first time I've really planted a lot of bulbs. 

One of the parents at a school where I work works at a garden centre and has been kind enough to drop off loads of bulbs that had gone slightly past their sell by date. We've had hundreds of daffodils, tulips but the big hit has been hyacinths, forced so that they will grow in the depths of winter.

They seem to be pretty foolproof and can be grown in very small pots with very little compost. You can also cram a few into a slightly bigger pot for a more impressive display. They seem to flower in early January and although I've seen complicated instructions about keeping them in the dark, most of ours have flowered sitting on  a windowsill.

I often find that children forget the names of plants they're not familiar with, but this one's easy to remember. Imagine you've got a friend called Cynth who you bump into in the street "Hiya Cynth!".

One boy with whom I work has significant social and emotional difficulties and often finds it difficult to focus and concentrate on tasks but he has become devoted to his hyacinth. The TA who works with him created this activity sheet which they have filled in most days.

This is an activity for all ages, most Nursery children will manage it easily enough and the plants make lovely presents to take home.