I like to begin the week with a burst of energy and running a session of ‘extreme’ gardening at my children’s primary school on Monday afternoon is as good a way as any. Trying to cram in something fun, meaningful and safe in 25 minutes, often in the most appalling weather with a dozen or so highly keen but often ill dressed apprentice gardeners gets the adrenalin pumping almost as much as tightrope walking between tower blocks or ironing halfway up a mountain.
I have to admit to having a bit of a love-hate relationship with the school gardening club, particularly after meeting some other teachers at ‘Seedy Sunday’ recently. For they have a whole two hours on Wednesday afternoons in which to garden and (get this!) actual teachers at the school actually work in the garden, in actual lessons and they have loads of actual volunteer helpers!!!
I know that we are far better off than many school gardening clubs for, as you see, we started with large school grounds and proper raised beds. I often meet or hear from people who are attempting to run gardening clubs with little or no support or funding and are getting just that bit brassed off. I salute them all. Gardening with keen children is the best job in the world but if you are faced with difficult circumstances it’s easy to lose your mojo. Below is my recipe to get it restarted.
- Do what you can do well and not what you’d like to do. Sounds simple enough but the perception seems to be that the only way to go is with an all singing, all dancing club, where you have funding, resources, lots of helpers and above all enough time. Reality check! If you are the only person running the club in 20 minutes a week at lunchtime this model is not for you. Dip into books, the media and get help from the likes of Garden Organic and RHS Campaign for School Gardening but don’t feel you have to do it all. If you can’t sing and dance just growl to begin with. (With thanks to Malcolm Smith, Lead Garden Eucation Officer with the Food for Life Parnership for the metaphor).
- Offer to garden with individuals whom the school feels would benefit from the attention. This is a great way to get back to enjoying gardening with kids and when the school see the benefits you might find them more prepared to be actively supportive on bigger projects.
- Offer to use your gardening expertise with individual class projects eg planting a small Roman herb garden with classes studying the Romans, growing beans in various conditions as part of a science lesson, taking a small group outside to do measuring in Maths by planting veg at the correct intervals. You won’t have to worry about funding as the school will provide the wherewithal and you’ll have the teacher and teaching assistant to help. What’s more the class and teacher will want to take care of their work in the long term.
- Suggest a one-off project eg Autumn bulb planting with donations of bulbs from parents and refreshments for those taking part. It’s a great way for a bit of parent/school bonding and publicity for the school. You might well find that one or two parents enjoy the experience so much they offer to help more regularly. The Woodland Trust supply hedging plant packs free to schools and if your school has enough space this could work as a one-off too.
- Treat the school gardening club as an exension of (or alternative to) your own allotment. You supply the seeds and plants etc and in return for gardening with children ,you get to keep or sell the produce in a wheelbarrow market to parents. There may be other parents without gardens who would be prepared to help in return for some fresh veg.
- Suggest a garden themed class competition eg design and plant a hanging basket or sunflower growing competition with a prize donated by the school or local business. Get the local paper involved.
- Make some links with the local community. There may be a local allotment association, veg box scheme or plant nursery who could offer some expertise or freebies on an ad hoc basis to take the heat off you for a while. It’s good publicity for them too.
After all gardening in school as a volunteer may be a bit ‘extreme’ but it shouldn’t hurt you.