RHS Campaign For School Gardens, Chatsworth Flower Show

Mayflower Primary School’s sensory garden, It All Makes Sense, was one of my favourite corners of the Chatsworth Flower Show 2019. If there’s a child in your life, you might like to take some inspiration from these recycled tin cans, painted with cheerful motifs. Pop a herb or a flower in one and you have a tiny garden to enjoy, with potential lessons in art, the environment, nature, nurturing and cookery along the way.

While my secondary school had a small greenhouse, I only have the vaguest memories of going inside it. We never did anything as exciting as making a garden for one of the RHS flower shows. I love it when I see some of the kids who have been involved at the shows, proud of what they’ve achieved and excited to explain to visitors what they were thinking about in this or that part of the garden.

I’m one of the lucky ones. Although my schooldays preceded the RHS Campaign For School Gardens by decades, my childhood was filled with small lessons like these as part of family life. Caterpillars in jars that turned into butterflies. Rose petal scented water. A succulent that grew in a pattern. Owl pellets to pull apart, looking for bones. Flowers to plant. Potatoes to dig (well before their time as we were too excited to wait). Pebbles to pick out of streams. A bat cave to explore.

For a few years I had a sycamore tree I grew from seed and was gutted when Dad said it was getting too big for us to keep and needed to be planted somewhere.

I see that now as a grown up, but didn’t see it at all as a child. I was invested in that little tree. Some of nature’s lessons are far reaching, such as the need to let go and the desirability of not sulking about it.

The schools section of the Chatsworth Flower Show served as a great advert for the RHS’s campaign and although I’ve picked this particular one to write about, every school garden was thoughtful, creative and just as worthy of its week in the spotlight.

Local primary schools and conservation/wildlife clubs for children up to age 11 were encouraged to take part. Designs featured plants with sensory properties, at least some of which had to be grown by the children, together with ‘tasteful props’. If visiting home gardens in the UK and USA has taught me anything, it is that ‘tasteful’ comes in a whole range of visual colours and flavours. At the RHS shows, for example, gnomes generally fall under a blanket ban from gardens created by grown ups. Kids might get more leeway, but a wise teacher would phone to check before pushing too many boundaries.

Bottle with fish design
Plastic bottle repurposed as a fish decoration

Plastic insects and fish clearly pass muster, but after all, who could claim these ones were anything other than tasteful?

The schools were challenged to show their creativity by using objects they wouldn’t usually think to use in a garden, especially upcycled ones, and to talk about how they could help the environment by giving something a new life instead of sending it to landfill.

Row of hanging shakers made from recycled plastic
Shakers made from colourful plastic bottles, straws and caps

Each school had found imaginative ways to appeal to all five senses. Hearing, for example, was represented by dangling shakers made from bottles, straws and caps and filled with small stones or beans. An abundance of blue bottle caps had been repurposed as mulch, representing a river.

School garden water feature with conservation messages
Simple, mechanical water feature

My sweetheart loved the simplicity of the water feature. Visitors were encouraged to scoop up the water from the trough below and pour it into the barrel, then spend a few relaxing moments watching the water stream in slim jets from holes in its sides. Messages on the container reminded children and adults alike about the value of water and our need to treat it respectfully.

Words on pebbles: unwind, scent, nature, solitude, sublime etc
Classes were encouraged to discuss the benefits of gardening

Someone – make that many someones – had lavished time and care on these gardens, but my goodness, was it worth it! I’m a living example of how lives are made richer by simple lessons like these.

33 Replies to “RHS Campaign For School Gardens, Chatsworth Flower Show”

  1. There’s some interesting ideas there. I had to laugh at the “Therapy” stone where the painter realised they were running out of space.

  2. It’s wonderful that this is happening. It’s not so long since that gardens, smallholdings, that kind of thing, were swept away from schools, particularly high schools. In any case they were available only to less able children. Top set kids got Additional Maths, but definitely not the joy of helping plants flourish.

    1. I was thinking much the same thing, and how it’s more important than ever that children have opportunities to connect with the natural world, and learn how to nurture it and themselves.
      Thanks for sharing this lovely story and images.

    2. I remember coming under concerted pressure not to study Drama but to do Physics instead. We did get to choose a vocational activity subject one year and I picked metalwork. Goodness knows what the other options must have been.

      1. Metalwork? What a young thing you are! As a girl in a girls’ school, I had no such option. It would have had to have been Cookery or Needlwork.

  3. I agree, it’s wonderful. I love to see children connecting to Nature more than anything. I just wish they’d relax about the gnomes! Isn’t this about the imagination of children too? Why put boundaries on it? Kids LOVE magical beings and it would be fun to see some made out of recycled materials—fairies and pixies too!

    1. I was not being 100% serious about the gnomes. It could well be that they are welcome in the children’s gardens. But you know it’s a slippery slope with the gnomes. My sweetheart sneaked one in my back garden and before I knew it, there were three of them (goes to the window to check)…make that four!

  4. My favorite is the Tweet can! But above all I love imagining the children working and then showing off their accomplishments — what fun! You were indeed fortunate to have such education in your childhood. It’s hard to accept that learning to let go makes one fortunate, but it’s true nonetheless. Thanks for this very uplifting visit to childhood!

    1. I like the sun with sunglasses one too. The idea of the sun wearing sunglasses is a bit mind boggling, but minds usually benefit from being boggled.

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