The Mystery of the School Garden

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Our local school, like many, has a school garden. There are around 25 raised beds in it with a fetching chainlink fence surrounding it. There is a cute wooden gateway that was made by one of the parents a few years ago. There is a small, but well-stocked shed with a door that looks like it has been broken into a few times and fixed. All par for the course when it comes to school gardens.

The problem was I never saw any children in the garden. The occasional white-haired couple, some of the local parents accompanied by their dog. But not children. Strange, I thought, for a school garden.

A year passed and the mystery was still bugging me. It seemed like the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory of school gardens – ‘nobody ever goes in and nobody ever comes out.’ No-one mentioned the garden, either in the school newsletter or at meetings. It wasn’t that it was overgrown, no that wasn’t the case, infact it was well tended, but by who? The munchkins?

Finally, at the beginning of this school year I could take it no longer. I emailed the principal and asked her who I should contact about the school garden. She put me in touch with a lovely lady who actually lives down my street. Who knew?

A couple of meetings later and I was up to speed on the ‘history of the garden’. Yes it is a school garden but the teachers (with the exception of one or two) are too busy to commit to tending it. The plots that are left are offered to community members who keep the garden looking nice (- still disappointed it’s not munchkins).

Okay so now I had a better idea of what was actually going on. The teachers, like many, are being squeezed on all sides. Higher standards, more kids, lack of teaching support. Yes it happens everywhere. Probably a couple of years ago they had more time to devote to touchy-feely stuff like gardening. Now things are clearly different.

The problem was the way the garden functioned hadn’t moved with them. The teachers were still offered plots and when they said no they went to the community. A new plan was needed.

So we hatched it. We came up with this idea. How about ‘we’ (that means me) tend four of the plots for, let’s say, 2nd grade and then the kids get their gardening class but the teachers don’t have to actually do any gardening. Then when we ask them if they want a plot, they can say yes! without signing up for a year-long digging project.

This all sounded great until I became the hired hand. I thought, gosh do I have time to do this? Am I biting off more than I can chew? What will I teach the kids? Will they be interested? The worrier inside me envisaged failed crops, crying children, disappointed parents.

But… what I realised was that now I knew all of the information (garden mystery no more). And I had the tools to fix it that I couldn’t say no, I had to make time, and I had to find out what to teach the kids. Because I really do care that the school garden is used by the kids. And I can’t undo that.

So, last month I did garden lesson 1: What is in Soil? I stood there staring at four empty beds and thought, what can I teach them with nothing growing? The answer was there, soil. And they loved it. We dug out some soil and separated it out into plant debris, animal debris, alive things and stones. We looked at the insects we found through a loop lens. The children were fascinated with millipedes! We looked at some ‘bad’ soil and talked about what is missing? What’s missing is the plant debris, animal debris and alive stuff! This was a revelation to them.

This month lesson 2: All About Germination was a great success too. I asked the kids what does germination mean? No-one knew. So we looked at some germinating Peas. I asked what is the long white thing coming out of the Pea? Answers, ‘the stem’ – well no. ‘the sprout’ – sort of. ‘Its tail!’ – gosh I hope not. I don’t care if they didn’t get the answer right, I was just proud to see them getting so excited about a germinating seed!

Next month I have a worm composter to show them. If the previous two lessons are anything to go by they will flip when they see it.

The other thing they like is to be quizzed on what’s in the garden. On the way out of the garden I ask them, what is this plant and what is that plant. I give points if they guess it’s a Cucumber, but extra points if they can tell me what type. One girl actually knew what a Crystal Lemon Cucumber was. I think she’s an outlier. Got to be right?

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3 Comments on “The Mystery of the School Garden

  1. i think thats fantastic! (and i may steal your idea for the soil lesson for my children!)