Sowing seeds of hope in our community

A blog post by Marianne Brooks

Marianne Brooks
Anna Ritchie School of Special Education

Posted 11/04/2020

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We are delighted to share the inspiring story of an Eco-School community which has found a way to pull together during this Coronavirus lockdown to continue plans to build and grow their Pocket Garden.  Teacher Marianne Brooks tells us about Aboyne Primary School’s journey so far.


A school community comes together during a time of hope.

Aboyne Primary Students have been earning their Eco-Schools Green Flag Award since 2008. The current Parent Council sponsored their new flagpole, and their flag waves proudly over the nursery. Aboyne Primary has a long tradition and a strong foundation of supporting sustainable living and planting seeds of hope for learning, life and work. Never has that been more wanted than now.

Pupils from Aboyne Primary’s P3/4 All Stars had been working all school year on their John Muir Trust Discovery Award. This award is given to pupils who explore, discover, conserve and create in a local, natural area over 4 days or equivalent. With support from volunteer parents, Shaeron Smith, Ewen Vorenkamp, Leona Banks, Christy Beverley, Monika Erdodi and Claire Russell, pupils had already been studying and working a lot outdoors looking at the natural flora and fauna around their school. They had created and illustrated journals of what they loved and learned for this award. They had looked at poisonous plants, edible plants, what trees grow in our area, and what kinds of birds visit. Whilst the school garden was hibernating, pupils still had the opportunity to investigate and observe the natural world.

As part of their preparation for the awakening of the school garden, pupils invited class parent, Dr. Ewan Vorenkamp,  to make paper pot planters and plant seeds. This collection was being incubated, watered and nurtured in class.

Then the One Planet Picnic Pocket Garden competition came through the post and landed in the pigeonhole of the school’s Eco-committee chair teacher, Miss Marianne Brooks.

Building on their Eco-warrior attitude, this year, pupils of her Primary 3/4 All Stars decided to take part in the annual Pocket Garden Competition run by ‘Keep Scotland Beautiful’, the Eco-schools flag award people.  Young people aged 3-18 from schools across Scotland were asked to design a colourful and exciting pocket-sized garden. Each design had to follow the design brief based on sustainability as well as illustrating the themes. 


The 2020 Year of Coasts and Waters was one of the competition themes this year together with Keep Scotland Beautiful’s 20th birthday, One Planet Picnic and Wildlife Gardening. Winners were invited to build and grow their gardens to display in the Garden for Life at Gardening Scotland 2020, creating an inspiring centrepiece. Miss Brooks tasked her class to come up with ideas for the Pocket Garden. Using local National Nature Reserve Muir O’Dinnet’s Burn O’Vat as an inspiration for the water theme, her class began designing a pocket garden in their John Muir Award journals.

Collating their ideas, they came up with their final entry and made it through, with 21 other finalists from 100 entries across 21 local authority areas in Scotland, to show and compete in ‘Garden for Life, Gardening Scotland 2020’ to be held at the end of May.

Within days of this exciting news, the Coronavirus hit Scotland and the show was cancelled.

Disappointed but inspired, Eve Keepax, Education and Learning Officer for Keep Scotland Beautiful, wrote, “We hope that you will continue with your plans to build and grow your excellent designs. Please do let us know whether or not you will be able to go ahead with, perhaps a family or staff, building and growing your winning design and, sharing progress digitally with pupils. We are keen to help you share your great ideas and celebrate your success.”

So, they did.

The school janitor, Ian, took the up-cycled wood from a parent garage and begun to build the frame for the pocket garden.  School art teacher, Mrs. Andrea Smith, brought us in used bird fat ball tubs for our strawberries just before we closed down, then left a pot of white acrylic paint to self-isolate on her garden wall to be picked up at a later date.

Small business folk who found themselves with little or no work were ready and willing to lend us a hand from their isolation. One grandmother approached her local sewing shop, ‘The Wool and Needlecraft Centre’ in Oban to help with the lettering on the bunting. They said they wanted to stay open to help give their local community crafts to do whilst self-isolating. The bunting was then isolated and waxed by our Vorenkamp family during mum Dr. Jenny Vorenkamp’s absence working on the NHS frontline.

Margaret Patience from our own local Pretty Rubbish Mosaic Art in Aboyne had been left bereft when she realised the pieces she had created with 48 P7 pupils at Culter Primary may not be presented to them before they graduated to Academy. She was delighted to be part of an organic new hope in the shape of our garden community.

Mother, Lisa Ewen, has been persuaded to buy a poly tunnel. She says, “It’s so good to give Jack an idea and see him run with it. He’s in full charge it’ll be interesting to see what he does.”

Garden for Life has done what it meant to, inspire a generation of gardeners.

Meanwhile, in this time of crisis, the pupils of Aboyne Primary continue to paint the stones for our ‘Vat’, plant seeds in their homes and gardens.

Families bound by home learning amaze me how they have found ways to keep those gardens growing! Is it time to start composting in your little green bucket? Egg boxes working as starter pots? Grow those apple seeds instead of throwing them away; you’d be amazed what you can grow!

Keep Scotland Beautiful is starting a family friendly version ‘Pop-up Pocket Garden’ in response to the lockdown too.

Your garden can be a symbol of hope for tomorrow for us all.

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