The efforts of staff, volunteers and children at a Hampshire primary school’s impressive school garden have paid off as they opened their garden for the National Gardens Scheme this summer.
It’s the tropical border at the entrance to Wicor Primary School that gives us a clue. This is a school garden with a difference. So innovative are its gardening projects that it opened its grounds to National Gardens Scheme visitors this year. I went along to find out how this school, near Portchester in Hampshire, is helping its pupils to experience something very special.
Wicor Primary is blessed with larger than average grounds. Had the staff and parents been less proactive, that could have provided a perfect excuse for doing very little. Instead, they’ve pooled their talents and taken a brave step into the unknown. Their initial projects have been so successful that they are now attracting sponsors – something that could be replicated by schools all over the country, whatever the size of their grounds.
It all started four years ago when Head teacher, Mark Wildman decided to do something about a pond that was too large to be manageable. With advice from naturalist, Chris Packham, and help from lottery funding, a new, smaller pond was built to Ofsted standards. After discussions with the teaching staff, Louise Bryant (a parent and now a member of staff) re- designed the entire area.
Mark Wildman and the Outdoor Learning Coordinator, Alison Nash are both very interested in Charles Darwin – something they are keen to share with the children. Recently, thanks to help from Southern Electric, ‘The Thinking Path’ was installed around the edge of Wicor’s grounds. Based on Darwin’s Sand Path at his home, Downe House, the children are encouraged use it for ‘thinking’ – just as Darwin did.
An impressive allotment was the inspiration of staff member Shirley Pattison. Three years on, a gardening club is thriving and the children grow all the vegetables from seed. Plants are germinated and cared for in an ingeniously designed greenhouse and a poly-tunnel.
The greenhouse is quite a work of art. Made from plastic bottles collected by the children, its construction taught them as much about caring for the environment as it did cutting and measuring.
The poly-tunnel is the result of Wicor Primary’s success in the Segensworth environmental competition. The £1,000 prize funded a tunnel in which twenty children can work, whatever the weather.
A little over a year ago, the vibrant sub-tropical border near the entrance of the school was an overgrown area of bamboo and rosemary. So thick was the undergrowth that an old abandoned bicycle hid in its midst. Some of the older children visited a local subtropical garden and came back with plenty of ideas for the border’s design and planting. With a generous donation of plants from a local garden centre, the sub-tropical border was on its way.
Crucial to the development of Wicor’s grounds has been the input of the local community. Grandparents and retired people have come in to help with the heavier jobs and to pass on their skills – skills that were taught to them by their parents.
One special image from my visit will stay with me for a very long time. I watched a little girl spend her ‘play-time’ watering strawberry plants and gently stroking their leaves. She was completely absorbed in her task. By using their grounds as part of their curriculum, Wicor Primary School are teaching all their pupils to be comfortable with nature. What a priceless gift to give to a child!