Report on the 2013 South West Area Education Conference

On 16th April a group of county Gardens Trust education representatives met in the glorious surroundings of Trerice Manor, near Newquay, Cornwall.  Owned by the National Trust it is a wonderful example of a small manor house that nestles deep in its sheltered valley.  As is so often the case, the house has had various incarnations but the changes and repairs have mellowed over the years into its harmonious whole.

We met in part of the magnificent barn, in the John Elton Room.  John Elton was responsible for rescuing Trerice from its ruinous state in the 20th century.  After coffee and pastries, Jean Marcus of Cornwall Gardens Trust welcomed us and introduced John Lanyon, the National Trust’s Garden Manager in charge of Trerice, Trelissick, Glendurgan and Bosloe.  He explained that the house and gardens contained many layers and John and his team’s work was to tease out the best way for the garden to evolve.

Jean then introduced the morning’s speaker, Sarah Chesters, the Principal Education Officer at RHS Rosemoor.  Sarah explained her training and how she had come to work at Rosemoor.  Her role was to increase schools’ education, write leaflets and signs for the garden.  She managed with no classroom initially.  She found that using work sheets for the children prevented them from concentrating on what she had to say, so moved away from the work sheets and encouraged the children to look and touch the plants in the garden.

She developed various ways of involving the children, including:

Colours of the rainbow:  This was to allow pre-schools and secondary schools to get acquainted with nature.  Six groups have a bucket and the adult with each group collects from different plants a particular shade petals, leaves, stalks, flower centres.  The children then make shade cards in the classroom.

Sowing vegetable seeds:  This teaches all topics involving plants.  She also tells stories of interesting trees in the garden, and the children take home drawings and pots of seeds.  She pointed out that the seeds must be able to be harvested by the end of the summer term.  Having first checked that they had previously been given tetanus jabs, Sarah allows the children to feel three kinds of soil in their fingers:  dry soil, sifted soil and damp soil.  She helps them conduct experiments such as soil tests and they write up the results.

Weaving and dyeing plants:  Sarah uses all kinds of plants that can be used in dyeing and material such as bamboo and Coopers rushes which are soaked and then are supple enough for weaving simple objects.

Observation and writing short stories:  The children are asked to write a story or a poem, or to choose a plant and write about it.  She encourages them to think beyond the obvious.

Exhibitions:  Sarah creates an art exhibition at Rosemoor every two years.  Recently she was loaned 50 of Cecily Mary Barker’s paintings and used them as part of her work with schools.  One way of doing this was to send the children into the garden to identify flowers that appeared in the paintings and then paint their own.

In the playground in Lady Anne’s garden at Rosemoor is the Green Ship that has been created from many ideas in Quentin Blake’s book of that name.

Planting trees:  When ground was being cleared for the new Peter Buckley Learning Centre, the children helped plant many new trees.

In the woodland and under supervision, children are able to build a fire, boil a kettle and roast marshmallows.  The area is also used to introduce some children who live in towns to woodland.  There they can also make paper, simple sculptures and go pond-dipping.  Scavenger hunts are popular.

Sarah has more than doubled the number of children attending Rosemoor in the time that she has been there.

This was followed by a Group Discussion which was introduced by Claire Hewlett, Cornwall Gardens Trust Education Officer.

We started with general reasons of ‘why education is important to the Trust’ and came up with:-

  • Fulfill charitable aims;
  • Generate public interest;
  • Children are the future gardeners and Gardens Trusts members;
  • Teaching/encouraging interest in green issues, conservation, food production etc.

Then we went on to think about what we could do to improve education provision within our own County Trusts.

  •  Involve more schools;
  • Encourage our members to be more actively involved;
  • Fund equipment/staff time;
  • Get horticulture on the National Curriculum at all key stages;
  • Work in partnership with other organisations, particulalry national organisations such as RHS, Wildlife Trusts, National Trust, BTCV, Woodland Trust,  RSPB, Send a Cow, and county specific organisations such as County Council, District Council, local gardening clubs.

We then split into groups to discuss some issues in greater depth.

Publicity/spreading the word

Divide county into regions and develop relationships with schools/education providers within those regions by:

  • Leaflet drop/staff room notice boards;
  • Organise an ‘open garden’ day with lots of education displays;
  • Attend county shows, local shows or even school summer fairs.

Funding

  • Encourage members to leave legacies;
  • Distribute funds in partnership with other organisations;
  • Co-ordinate what’s available apart from the Trust become the ‘go to’ place for information e.g. devise a county specific website;
  • Undertake high profile fund raising e.g. sleeping rough, chopping wood (e.g. Young Farmers do a ‘poo run’ every year to raise funds).

Secondary Schools

  • Offer help with a garden club at a school;
  • Encourage schools to consider offering careers advice in horticulture;
  • Skills gap, therefore consider funding INSET training for staff.

As time was limited it was a short discussion, but the general consensus was that without more active support from our membership the amount of support we could offer local education providers was limited.  There were lots of enthusiastic people in the room, which was fantastic there just needs to be more of us!

Claire Hewlett and Sally Walker
May 2013