Will school gardens be effective this autumn

By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe active gardeners and gardening authors living in Spain for twenty five years.

Important learning experiences

Many expatriates living in Spain rank gardening as their number one hobby and say that their love of gardening especially growing things that they could eat developed before the age of ten as a result of watching and helping grandparents and parents and experiencing team work in the school garden.

Luckily an increasing number of expatriate schools in Spain – but sadly few Spanish ones – now have Gardening Clubs and in some cases provide work experience in the school garden for all pupils as an integrated part of the educational curriculum. School gardens of all shapes sizes and styles can support the learning of and about science, nature, environmental and ecological issues, nutrition of plants animals and humans, mathematics, art, creativity, problem solving, project work and team work. But to date there is no organised support such as that from Slow Food International in many countries and the Think Organic charity previously known as the HDRA in the UK.

But Spain has one important thing on its side – the weather and most importantly two springs Spring and Autumn. The weather from September through to Christmas except for the times of autumn rains is wonderful for persons of all ages to enjoy gardening.

Success factors

Looking at the school gardening activities we know about there are seven important success factors.

  1. The support of the Head Teacher.
  2. The garden designed as a learning experience not just a way of keeping pupils out of mischief during one lunch break a week.
  3. The allocation of an area of good deep soil, constructed raised beds or large containers and good composts as growing mediums.
  4. The selection of easy to grow seasonal plantlets and seeds with the inclusion of flowering plants, vegetables and soft fruits to give pupils a choice and or breadth of experiences.
  5. A focus on growing things naturally and ecologically without the use of potentially hazardous chemicals.
  6. The support of teachers from a range of disciplines. The links with science are obvious but we visited a school recently where there had been a competition for the best decorated plant pots and healthily growing flowering plants. Taking this a stage further the art class and gardening activities could produce creative Mother’s Day gifts as well as using pupil grown fruit and flowers as the focus of paintings.
  7. The interest of the School Canteen chef to adapt the menus to incorporate produce from the vegetable garden and place flowers from the flower garden on the tables. If there is to much produce for the canteen the holding of an end of school market for parents or the delivery of surpluses to a local old peoples at the end of the week.
  8. A greenhouse or large room with a panoramic window and growing shelf so that gardening activities can continue in bad weather and pupils can learn about the germination of seeds and the growing of new plants from cuttings.
  9. Team competitions such as growing the tastiest tomato, tallest sunflowers or a busy lizzy Impatiens flowering plant with the most flowers.

Our gardening books can help

Each of our books includes a chapter on children’s gardens with some practical guidelines of what could be done at home or at school.

The relevant chapters are as follows:

  • ‘Your Garden in Spain’ – Chapter 3.8 – ‘A children’s corner’.
  • ‘Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spain’ – Chapter 1.4 – ‘Encouraging children to grow and eat vegetables ’.
  • ‘Growing Healthy Fruit in Spain’ – Chapter 1.4 – ‘Encouraging children to grow and eat fruit’.

Looking ahead

Whether pupils eventually stay in Spain, go back to their parents home countries or set up else where in the world we hope that Spain’s school gardens have encouraged them to be lifetime gardeners.

© Clodagh and Dick Handscombe