Cowgate Under 5s Centre

This Pocket Garden was built by children at Cowgate Under 5s Centre, and was inspired by their frequent trips to the beach.  It is a coastal garden, full of wild coastal meadow flowers, spinach, and strawberries.  One corner is a sandy beach full of seashells.

Shells and oranges

Log piles for insect habitat

Wood and birch frame

Every Pocket Garden tells a story.  Here is the story of Cowgate Under 5s Pocket Garden in their own words:

"The frame for our garden is approximately 1 metre square and made out of recycled wood (from a colleague’s old garden decking), and birch trees from Wester Wood near Gifford, a sustainably managed woodland.  The bed is lined with moss and filled with peat free compost and sand. 

The garden itself has been created by the children.  We have used your competition as an opportunity to create experiences for the children in and around Wardie Bay and Granton Community Garden Hub.  Our hope has been to engender a love and respect for our local coastline and its communities as well as to plant and nurture a garden.  At the end of this document you will find some of our ‘lived stories’ which show you the richness of the children’s experiences and enable you to see the beautiful way in which their ideas and imaginations have sewn the seeds of our coastal garden.

The children have chosen to grow Sliochd crodh/Cowslips, Ch-ean coileach/ Campion, An liath-las/Mugwort, Bar-a-mhilsein/Birdfoot Trefoil, wild coastal meadow flowers, spinach, strawberries and Preas an dealain de/Buddleia. We hope you agree these would create a wonderful picnic for people and wildlife alike.  As you can see the children have also populated the garden with treasures found at the beach and have imagined some of their own sea myths in the form of dinosaur eggs and half-skin half-bone dogs!

Adding moss

Putting in small logs

Adding soil

We have recently created a partnership with two early years settings in Accra, Ghana.  As Accra is also a coastal city we are planning to share the knowledge and love we each have of  our coastal communities.  We hope that this will greatly strengthen our love of our own coast and that our blossoming relationship and knowledge of Ghana will become part of ‘Celebrating Nature on our local and global doorstep’.

Over the next few months we have much more nurturing planned: nurturing the plants, nurturing our relationships with our beautiful local coastline and rich communities, nurturing the children’s love for their environment both in our garden and in our wider community and of course nurturing their imagination (who knows what new sea myths may emerge!)."

Pocket Garden Diary

Some of the Early Years Practitioners at Cowgate kept a diary of letters to the children while they worked on their Pocket Garden.

Week 1

Together, with Jayne and I, we walked to the number 8 bus stop to visit the beach. As we walked and waited for the bus, we noticed snow flakes falling from the sky and landing on Arthur's hair and Archie's eyelashes! Soon we arrived at the Wardie Steps. As we carefully walked down these steps, Arthur, you said, "I can see a boat in the water", noticing the Firth of Forth in the distance. Then Holly, you said, "I can see two boats!", and Elisa, you added, "I can see two too!!", which made us laugh. Ayla, you also made us laugh when you said, "I see sea!"

After using the pedestrian crossing, we walked along a foot and cycle path at the waterfront. As we walked I told a story about how the path we were using was once train tracks, even more than 160 years ago! A steam train would run along the tracks, with carriages filled with coal to load onto ships in the nearby harbour. These ships would sail away, taking the coal to other lands. Ships would sail into this harbour from other lands, like Spain, carrying a special type of grass that was used for making paper to be printed on and turned into books. This grass would be loaded onto the steam train and delivered to Edinburgh, along the path that we were walking. Archie, you and Jayne talked about how you could hear the waves. Archie, you told us that you hoped to find sand, like the sand that you had once found in a seashell.

At the grassy opening of Wardie Bay, Arthur, you led us in the direction of the harbour, where you'd seen the boat from the distance. "It's a seagull!", you said, noticing a seabird landing in the water. "Look at all the shells!", you said, Archie. There were so many- millions, we almost couldn't see the sand. We wondered what might live inside the shells- Elisa, you thought a crab would. When you did see sand, Archie, you mentioned that it was not the same colour of sand as the sand you'd seen your seashell. Ayla and Holly, you got down low to get a closer look at big clumps of seaweed that were washed up on the beach. After a bit of exploring, we found a grassy area that was a bit sheltered from the wind, near some bushes that didn't have any leaves on. It still looked and felt like winter on the beach, even though many of us have noticed the hyacinth and daffodil bulbs starting to grow green shoots in our garden at Cowgate. Here, we stopped for something to eat and some hot chocolate to warm us up.

Soon, it was time to leave. Archie and Elisa, I could hear that you were concerned about some litter that we could see as we made our way back though the grass. On our next visit we will make sure we have enough time to use our litter pickers to fill a bag of rubbish that we can dispose of responsibly. Removing litter from the beach not only helps it to stay beautiful but it means that birds and other animals that we share the space with are not harmed by it. Did you know that most (80%) of the litter in our seas and oceans comes from the land? It may be blown there by the wind or left by people at the shore. Sometimes sharks swallow sharp metal cans, and turtles will swallow plastic bags thinking they are jellyfish- this can kill them.

It was wonderful being out at the beach with you all on this wintery morning, watching and listening to you making observations as you explored. Being in nature has so many benefits, especially for our health and wellbeing. Research shows us that being in wild spaces can help us to feel relaxed, which is very important for learning and our mental health. I am sure that you have enjoyed being at Edinburgh's shoreline today, discovering more about its past, and thinking about what types of plants and animals might live there today. 'No one will protect what they do not first care about.' (David Attenborough). We hope that you will join us again for a trip to Wardie Bay to strengthen your connection to Edinburgh's shoreline, and nurture your desire to help it thrive.

Week 2

On a blustery day last week you all travelled by bus with me and Jayne to one of our local beaches on the Firth of Forth, Wardie Bay. As we approached, we could see some land across the water- Fife. Thea, you even noticed some snow on the Fife hills! The sun shon on us as we walked across some grass growing on the beach sand and the rocks of the breakwater. We passed by tall, scraggly bushes of herb, called Mugwort. Exploring closer to the water Ivy, you commented that we were walking on seaweed. Angus, you thought the seaweed had been washed up by the waves. Sharing our beach were three small friendly dogs, with their human, who ran about near the water's edge. Magnus, Sophia and Thea, you took a close inspection with Jayne at something that was amongst the seaweed. "A skeleton!", you exclaimed, Thea. There was indeed a small skull and some vertebrae, or backbone, on the sand. Ivy, Angus and Rory, you came over to have a closer look. "Maybe it's a dog skeleton?", you wondered, Ivy. "Yes, but what's it doing on the beach?", you added, Angus. By this time, Sophia and Thea, you were looking out across the water- perhaps you noticed the island, which is called Inchkieth?

Soon, Rory, you were making marks in the sand with a stick. "This is our picnic blanket and these are the plates.", you said pointing to the small circles you had drawn inside the large rectangular shape, and many of you thought it was the place and time to have a picnic.

It wasn't easy for you, Ivy and Rory, to lay the blanket- the wind was wildly blowing it into the air. Then icy sleet and snow fell onto our hands and faces as we tried to eat. It felt as though Beira, Queen of Winter (from Scottish mythology) was with us! Long ago, people believed that Beira brought storms in January and February, making it hard for plants to grow. She had the power to create great whirlpools, or corryvreckan, in seas and cause snow to fall and rivers to overflow! Thankfully, there was no corryvreckan or overflowing of the Firth of Forth on this particular day but Angus, Magnus and Sophia, you were definitely very cold! We quickly packed up our things and retreated to the nearby bus shelter and thankfully our bus turned up just after us. Just before we boarded the bus, Ivy, you said to Sophia and Magnus, "It's just a cold day." You were dressed for wintery weather.

Once in the warmth of the bus, Rory, you began telling us a story of a dog that lived on the beach we had just left, "It's head and front legs are covered with fur. It's back, tail and other legs are just skeleton. It can run on the beach but usually swims under the water.", you said and we were captivated by your words. It sounded a bit like a tale from Scottish mythology but it came from your brain, Rory, inspired by our experience today at Wardie Bay.

Today was our first opportunity to get some ideas together for creating our own pallet-sized garden inspired by our local shoreline and coastline, as part of our Eco Schools interests. Magnus, you said that we need sand. You really seemed to enjoy making marks in it with a stick earlier. Jayne asked us what could grow in the sand and Ivy, you thought grass and Angus, you suggested potatoes.

From today, we already have stories and ideas as the seeds for your creativity. Did you know that people have been living beside the Firth of Forth for nearly 10 000 years? During the last 200 years people have changed our coastline and used it in a way that has been unsafe for plants and animals to thrive. There has been too much fishing in the Forth estuary and it has even been used as a dump for our rubbish! (http://edinburghshoreline.org.uk/about/). In the past, people have been disrespectful to the environment of Edinburgh's coast. Today we were getting to know a local beach that needs our love. When you visit places like this, creating your own stories, mythology and folklore, it forms a connection to it. With this connection there can be a desire to protect and nurture your shoreline, and to teach other people what you know, so that it gets the love that it deserves.

Thank you all for this wintery beach adventure! It would be wonderful if you could join us for more explorations of Edinburgh's north coast. We could learn more about what types of plants are native to the area- that could be attractive for insects and birds. We would all love to hear the stories you tell and know more of the new mythologies you create inspired by our beautiful coastline.

Week 3

Last week we had a very enjoyable trip to Granton Community Hub garden. The garden is near Wardie Bay, on the Edinburgh coast, and local people enjoy spending time together  there  growing vegetables, herbs and flowers. We were especially interested to see what kind of plants would grow near the coast so that we could bring back ideas for the coastal garden we plan to grow at Cowgate.

It took us some time to get ready for the trip as it was a cold day and there were lots of clothes to put on!  Corran and Bertie you were so kind and supportive to your friend Alex, helping him find his gloves and playing so gently with him whilst everyone else was getting ready. 

We walked to the North Bridge to catch the number 8 bus.  Everyone was very excited and happy, we had lots of jokes and laughter and singing. We only had to wait a few minutes before the bus came and we all went straight to the back to sit on the big seat.  While we were sitting on the bus Emma took out a picture which her neighbour had given her showing Wardie bay more than 100 years ago. The picture showed a very busy harbour and pier below a cloudy sky. The harbour was full with with large and small sailing ships, rowing boats and plumes of steam. ‘A speed boat!’ you exclaimed Bertie. The picture prompted so many ideas and thoughts:  Ivy said that the clouds were made of steam and that the boats were collecting fish.  ‘The boats are storming the sea’ said Nico, ‘Elsa and Anna’s mummy and daddy got blown over by a storm on the boat.’ Corran thought that the sea was like ‘a big, big pool and the ‘clouds make it really stormy.’  ‘Yes,’said Bertie ‘it’s really stormy......I saw  lots of dolphins at Portobello’ ‘That’s where I live’ exclaimed Corran!  Luca you were particularly interested in the steam train that was running along side the harbour.

The picture also reminded Ivy and Nico of the flooding that was happening in parts of Britain at the moment. ‘My dad showed me on his phone when the sea covered the whole city,’ said Ivy. ‘I saw the floods covering a whole city’, added Nico, ‘Don’t open your door, and the flood comes in the cracks.  ‘I can’t swim,’ said Ivy ...’but I can hold my breath for a long time.’

When we got off the bus we had about a 10 minute walk to the Community Hub garden. As we stood facing the garden Emma told us about the old factory building next door which many years ago built electric cars, sadly now the building is empty and not well cared for. It was good to learn something about the history of the community we were visiting.  As soon as we entered the garden we were met by Katerina, Louise and Adrian who made us feel so welcome.  They showed us around the garden and talked to us about the plants that they were growing. Alex you were so excited and happy to be in such a beautiful open space. You ran all around the garden, exploring independently and especially liked playing on the bridge over the small stream. You and Corran and Bertie spent so much time gathering sticks to throw over the bridge into the stream. ‘An excellent stick for my trick,’ said Bertie.

Adrian showed us a raised bed which had been built to grow things in but was  empty at the moment.  Corran, Bertie, Nico and Ivy you all climbed in and pretended to be flowers growing. Luca you enjoyed watching your friends and you laughed at the fun they were having but you were very sure that you did not want to climb in with them.  I really admire how you trust your own judgement and feelings Luca and express your feelings  so clearly, gently and firmly.

At the back of the garden, under a sheet of tarpaulin was the trunk of a large tree that was being carved into an Iron Age long boat.  People at the garden are using tools like the tools that people would have used over 2000 years ago to make the boat, which would have been similar to ones that people would have sailed in at that time.  When it is finished, people will sail in it from Wardie Bay or Granton Harbour, across the Firth of Forth to Fife.  We could tell that it is taking a long time to make because the ground was covered with wood chips.  We wondered what type of tree the boat was made from.  Ivy, you said, "It's probably a pine tree that they are using because of the colour."

We saw some very interesting plants including Mugwort, St. John’s Wort, Calendula, Cowslips and Red Clover. Katerina explained that most of them are native to Scotland and  they all grow well by the coast. There were also lots of vegetables and fruits, Luca you were particularly interested in these and spent quite some time looking at the spinach and the strawberries. We chose some  plants to take back to our coastal garden...cowslip and some coastal meadow seeds and we hope to return next week for some more!

We sat for hot chocolate and a biscuit and I asked what kind of vegetables you thought would grow well by the sea. Corran said that any seeds will grow well as long as you look after them and give them water. Then you said ‘pepper’, Bertie said ‘cucumber’, Ivy ‘tomatoes’ and Nico ‘strawberries’. Ivy told us that when she had been at Abigail’s party she had been given some seeds that ‘will bring the butterflies’.  I pointed out lots of Buddleia in the community garden that was also wonderful for attracting butterflies. We even noticed some Buddleia growing out of the walls and wondered if we might also grow some in our coastal garden.

As we were clearing our snack away Luca found two sticks and happily held them up in a cross shape. ‘Look,’ you said,  ‘an X, just like on my  bus!’

After thanking Katerina, Louise and Adrian we headed back to the the bus stop. As we walked  Ivy spotted, very high up in the sky, a flock  of geese flying in formation and making a ‘V’ shape.  ‘Like  my number’ you exclaimed recognising the letter V from your name.  You explained to us that the geese were travelling from the east and heading  south where it  was warmer.  We also spotted an aeroplane coming into land at Edinburgh airport and Nico said that just recently,  when she was with her grandad,an aeroplane had been right above her head!

It was so lovely to spend such comfortable time in each other’s company learning from each other’s knowledge and ideas, sharing information and having so much fun together. Thank you ! And how lucky that we were able to visit the Granton Community Hub garden and be made to feel so welcome and part of their very special community. I hope that there will be many more visits here and that we can bring back lots of ideas, knowledge and plants to enrich our own lovely garden at Cowgate.


During Lockdown

Obviously, lockdown created many challenges for our coastal garden!  The children were unable to nurture their plants and ideas in person. But we all discovered and were inspired by nature’s force and independence. Here are some photos of our coastal garden during lockdown. These beautiful pictures show how the onions and potatoes and grasses flourished in our absence, waiting for us to return and marvel.

And whilst our garden was flourishing at Cowgate, our children were finding many opportunities to nurture their love of the coast. Inspired by a virtual gathering from Wardie Bay.  In just half an hour, during the gathering so much rubbish was collected with a litter picker…..there were wipes, plastics, fishing wire and even the sole of a shoe!

Inspired by our virtual gathering, one of our children visited the bay with her dad that same afternoon! And another of our children visited their local North Berwick coastline…..of course with a delicious ice cream!

On World Earth Day in April 2020, we had a virtual gathering where the children chatted about what World Earth Day means. We learned and sang a new song called ‘Please take care of the water’.

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