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Designing a pocket garden

A blog post by Marianne Brooks

Marianne Brooks
Monquhitter Primary School

Posted 12/05/2021

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At the beginning of the year, we once again launched our Pocket Garden design competition for schools. In this blog post Marianne Brooks, a teacher at Monquhitter Primary School, talks about the process she went through with her class - from working on the design, to being one of our winning entries and growing the garden for the digital showcase in June.

It is February. The snowdrops are coming up. Our classes are taking virtual walks through snowdrops in our virtual classrooms and photos of them growing in our own gardens and the local park.

Design challenges to recreate snowdrops in paper curls are offered to the virtual class and invites for colourful creations of spring blossoms.

We share bird sightings; buzzards, crows, starlings, a robin, an owl on an evening walk, as we prepare for our virtual participation in the Big Bird Watch. We are a school of outdoor lovers and learners, even whilst staying at home.

We have been studying enterprise during lockdown virtual schooling, and the children have shared some lovely history and some lovely stories about our local village of Cuminestown; the Cumine clan and its foundation on an estate.

The school name ‘Monquhitter’ comes from the original farm and means ‘place for ensnaring the deer’. 

A metal plaque with MS and a leaping deer is emblazoned on our uniform and our village contribution to the flower barrel outside the local village hall.  

The clan badge for the Cumine clan is Salix Cinerea or pussy willow. We have two arches in our school grounds!

Local poems are shared of the farmers in the fields, telling stories and watching the golden sunlight come down on a day’s work. Many of our children work on farms; livestock and crops. There is much to celebrate in our modern local enterprise and there is cultural pride in the past.

It is March. We are back in school; national news is full of stories about children falling behind because of online learning and a lack of schools being open. Fears that children’s numeracy and literacy skills are failing.

The Pocket Garden Design Challenge pamphlet is once again sitting on my desk as prime mover of the Eco-Committee in our school. I look at the pamphlet and wonder, can we, dare we, should we be sparing this valuable time back together to design a pocket garden. Then I remember the joy of the children’s work on their village history, their walks, their window observations onto wildlife.

This is not a sacrifice, it is an exploration of the very thing they love; their home learning, their village, the outdoors, and sharing this with each other, to explore our own lockdown learning and bring it to life.

Sustainability, outdoor learning, design technology, critical thinking, social studies are all part of our curriculum and we are drawing these together in our attempt at a design for a Pocket Garden. I also want a connection to the outside world for them again.

I take the challenge to our classroom morning circle discussion; we are a democratic classroom and only a majority vote (and school head, Mrs. Gardiner’s green light) will mean that we move forward with this challenge.  It passes with 100% vote. I do not discount my excitement in the proposal may have had some influence.

On huge sheets of paper spread across the floor, children start blue sky thinking of their dream garden, we look at videos and pictures of gardens on the ‘Keep Scotland Beautiful’ website. We discuss our own village, farms, gardens and the school grounds.

What do we want to say about our love for the earth? It is simple; they love the birds, butterflies, hedgehogs, rainbows, tractors and want all these things to come to our garden.

We invite the whole school to share their designs and ideas. We look at the Pocket Garden links to attracting birds and bees. The children want a birdhouse, a bird bath, a bird feeder (they want a basketball court for the bugs’ hotel too but I indicate the area we have, actually they don’t care, they still want it, there may be a miniature court in the final design!).

They want a buddleia, holly, sweet peas, lupins, Sweet Williams, ‘pretty little flowers’ (we settle for a late May blossom), cabbages for the butterflies and to show we are a farming community too, they want a tractor with ‘muck’ for the garden – we go look at the compost heap and decide if we will have enough for our garden. We go on a herb walk around our school and they can remember smells that they have smelt before – mint smells like ‘mum’s yoga tea’, sage smells like ‘chicken on Sunday’, lavender smells like the pillow ‘mum gives me to sleep’.

We are learning, making connections from the world around us. We are excited. Regardless of whether their design wins or not, the children decide they want to grow this garden.

The seeds are sown.

It is April. Our design has won a place for the online digital showcase of the 2021 One Planet Picnic Pocket Garden! Our design is to be brought to reality by May 27th when our pupils and community will be able to see our garden in all its realized glory.

Our cabbages are already sprouting, and our P1 collaborators’ sweet peas have already shot up!

It is time to start working on the other elements of our garden beginning with learning how to weave willow! When we researched bird feeders, baths and a birdhouse, we found that woven ones are organic, sustainable and given that willow is the village clan badge and we have willow on our school grounds, well, our five and six year-olds (and those turning seven!) had yet more skills beyond design and seed sowing to learn.

Many of our children are future YouTubers (ask them, they are!), and, well, one already has his own site as a young farmer, so it is an easy leap for them to suggest that is our go to for learning to weave! P1 and P2 classes both begin with a simple wreath for Easter, enjoying the experience of this flexible material and enjoying the feel of it in their hands.

With the help of a wooden ‘jig’ we then begin to make our own bird feeders, and every child learns the simplicity of a simple weave. They have also begun to ‘design’ bird boxes out of junk models.

Children have already identified parents, grandparents, wooden pallets and muck to help us out. Our children are driven by a desire for excellence, for an ethical and sustainable future, a love of wildlife and new growth, by a love of their homes.

Their reading, writing, numeracy, maths and social skills are all blooming. These academic skills are not separate to the challenge. Their progress in these skills is part of a confidence and growing self-esteem from their success.

We are excited for May.

We can't wait to see Monquhitter Primary School's Pocket Garden, along with all the other winning gardens, in our digital showcase in June. You will be able to view them all at www.keepscotlandbeautiful.org/pocketgarden and also vote for your favourite.

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