County Primary Schools’ Education Programme Takes Root

The Cornwall Gardens Trust has gained real recognition for its work in helping to develop school gardens within Cornwall.  So, what exactly do we do?  Within reason, anything a school asks us to, once we have carried out a reality check on the submitted plans and have established that the children will be playing a major role.  We work with limited funds but our experience so far shows us that although money doesn’t necessarily make things happen (although it helps) people do.  Those people include Cornwall Gardens Trust volunteers, staff, parents, and of course the pupils.  The following illustration shows how rewarding this can be.

Lanreath Primary near Looe is a small rural school with very few staff and resources.  It was gifted half an acre of derelict land adjacent to the school but was struggling to make use of it.  Sir Ferrers Vyvyan, then the Chairman of Cornwall Gardens Trust, was invited to visit the school in May 2004 to view and assess the site.  His immediate reaction was to mutter ‘Terrible, just terrible’.

The site was an overgrown, weed-infested field with a large sycamore in one corner and several derelict structures that swayed in the wind that whistled up the valley.  It is sited at the junction of two roads and the area had no safe entrance nor any fencing to protect the children from passing traffic.

The Head Teacher, Jill Watts, and the children had spent months devising a wish list.  This included two big planting beds, a performance space, a living willow structure, a quiet seating area and a wildlife/pond area and, last but by no means least, a safe entrance and secure site.

With the support of Creative Partnerships, the school and Cornwall Gardens Trust began work. First of all, a contractor was found to clear the site and fit the gates and fencing that would also act as a windbreak shaped to allow for the beautiful view down the valley.  When that work had been completed the site was secure, but then looked twice the size and quite daunting.  A few deep breaths later, we paced out our ideas for all the different areas that had been requested.  This wasn’t done in any scientific way we needed a plan on the ground to satisfy everyone and show the balance so we moved children around with flags, sticks and bits of string until general agreement was reached.  Unorthodox perhaps, but it worked.

By the summer of 2004, the school had grass play areas, a bark-floored performance circle, a seating area, and the base for the willow structure.  The children were thrilled to be able to start using their garden.  In the autumn, the children planted bulbs from the Field of Hope campaign along the sides of the paths.

The proposed planting plans were for two large beds, the first of which would have (in the children’s view) ‘jungle type’ architectural plants Rheum palmatum, Phyllostachys viridiglauscens, Eupatorium purpureum, Ligularia ‘The Rocket’.  The second bed was to be planted with plants for a hot, dry site with all year round colour, mainly yellow and silver Artemisia latifolia and A. ‘Lambrook Silver’, Cistus corbariensis, Cynara cardunculus, Euphorbia wulfenii, Fennel, Ligustrum aureum, Phlomis fructicosa, Spartium junceum etc.

The Head and members of staff worked with the children to research our suggested plants in books and (No. 1 favourite) the Internet, and the planting plans were duly approved.

Chosen designer, Ele Waters of Heartwood Creations, agreed to create a ’10 foot diameter living willow dome with grand entrance’ to the main part of the garden, and this was completed in February 2005.

Ele showed the children how to hammer, shape and tie the willow to create the shapes.  Every child joined in, creating much excitement when they were able to see the dome grow and reach completion in just one single day.

Remaining tasks included getting willing parents to dig the beds so that planting could begin, and one brave teacher who volunteered to tackle the wildlife and pond area, for which welcome advice was offered from Duchy College.

The change in the school’s field was incredible.  Children now walk across the playground and go through the gate down the daffodil-lined path into the willow structure.  As they leave the entrance structure with the planting beds on either side, the performance circle lies ahead of them, framed by the beautiful view down the valley.  They can sit under the big sycamore and read, work on the planting beds or inspect the rough scrub area that was designated as the wildlife area.

Of course, not all Cornwall Garden Trust education projects are on this scale.  We have also received applications for help with small courtyard gardens and container fruit and vegetable gardens, and have also worked in collaboration with the RHS at Leedstown Primary, and with St Newlyn East Primary and the National Trust at Trerice.

What all our schools have in common is a willingness to experiment with plants, colours, and flavours.  The children use their gardens all year round not only for gardening but also for work in areas including art, English, performance, natural history and other sciences.  Most importantly, the children are directly involved and have a real say in ‘their’ gardens.

The work has only really been possible with the help of all the children and teachers who worked together to produce some impressive garden plans and then went on to create the gardens.  Cornwall Gardens Trust is also extremely grateful to the continued support of the McCrone Trust and the Tanner Trust, and to our very enthusiastic volunteers in making this scheme possible.