Seen at The Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Friday, 31 October 2014

VP's VIPs: Our Flower Patch Part Deux

Previously on VP's VIPs we learned how Cally Smart and Sara Wilman met then came up with the idea of Our Flower Patch. Today, they're going to tell us more about their business and how they are inspiring a new generation of  growers...

Describe how you work together. Do you have fixed roles?

At first we worked together on everything, although Sara knows more about growing flowers for sale than Cally does and Cally had more hands-on gardening experience with school aged children.

Over time we have taken on more specific roles. We meet together formally once a month to plan what is going to happen and discuss ideas and keep in touch via phone, text and social media, sometimes every day in the meantime.

In general Sara is the website geek and photographer and Cally is the writer, though we bounce ideas off each other across our roles. We both make the most of social media, tweeting and retweeting things our audience will find interesting via @ourflowerpatch.

We engage with parents, grandparents and teachers via Facebook and our Pinterest boards are full of workable ideas for children to get stuck into.

Screen grab from the Our Flower Patch website

Tell me a little bit more about Our Flower Patch. How does it operate? What is its philosophy? 

We want to get teachers, parents and children learning and having fun outside. Many schools have school gardens but their potential isn’t always fully exploited.

We wanted to have an all-year-round educational progamme which is easy to follow even for non gardeners, fun to do and inexpensive to start, in fact run the way we advise, it can be self-financing, even profit making. It can stand alone or work alongside edible growing, increasing the biodiversity and crop yield of your veg plot and fruit garden and providing funds to buy seeds and fruit bushes
from the sale of flowers.

The programme is eminently flexible and can be run with children of all ages either in class, as Planning, Preparation and Assessment cover, or as an after school club. It can be managed by teachers, teaching assistants or volunteer parents and grandparents. Some schools might consider using it as a programme to support ‘nurture groups’ or children who need opportunities to learn more flexibly outside the classroom.

As well as learning to grow flowers as a crop, the activities are closely linked to National Curriculum subject areas, allowing teachers to use it to tick these boxes, rather than taking time away from valuable classroom time.

Running Our Flower Patch as a mini business within the school teaches all those soft skills that employers say school leavers lack – planning, team working, budgeting, negotiation, problem solving, keeping customers happy, marketing... and as the children are seeing the project through from start to finish it is real to them. They are fully involved in all aspects and are true owners of the project, able to develop it in the way that works for them.

Who is Our Flower Patch aimed at? Do you have a cluster of members anywhere?

We have a cluster of school members in Wiltshire, inevitably, although we have had enquiries from as far away as Northumberland. The common factor is that we have some sort of connection with all our current member schools and interested parties.

The next phase is to engage with people who don’t know us or know people who have worked with us. We are aiming at primary schools who want to use the school grounds to teach the National
Curriculum – all subjects, not just gardening.

Our activities cover the whole range of subjects – numeracy, literacy, design and technology, geography, science..... In the future we’ll be developing a programme for nursery schools and secondary schools and possibly for children to do at home.

Any feedback or anecdotes you'd like to share?

It’s early days but one of our newest schools sent a couple of Teaching Assistants to have a look at Our Flower Patch in operation at another school. At the end of the morning one of the ladies said “ I’m so excited about this. I don’t ever want to go back into the classroom. I feel I could do it all outside in the garden.” We were happy with that.

Earlier in the year, during an interview with the local BBC radio station one of the children involved in Our Flower Patch said “this is the best time I’ve had in school – ever.” We think that’s a pretty good endorsement.

Some youngsters who maybe struggle a little with the sometimes abstract classroom maths have been witnessed using maths to solve practical problems during sessions, they don’t see it as how many fives in 25 but how many rows of 5 seeds can I sow if I have 25 seeds. It is more visual for them.

Screen grabs from Our Flower Patch's social media - blog, Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest

Autumn term has just started, what's new on Our Flower Patch? What activities do you have to cover the non-growing season? How do school holidays affect what can be grown?

Many school gardeners come back to a flurry of activity at the start of term, harvesting anything left alive after the summer holidays and tidying up. Then, when the weather turns bad, nothing much happens until the Spring.

The Our Flower Patch programme runs all year round. Our members have already been growing and sowing for next season and there are plenty of activities to do in and around your flower patch, even when not much is growing.

These will appeal particularly to eco schools who want to develop their school grounds from rainwater harvesting and building a successful compost heap to recycling materials and looking after the biodiversity of your patch.

We provide weekly activities for our members throughout the year. The holiday week activities can be carried out at home or in school if there is a holiday club. Everything is flexible.

We’ve started a blog this term alongside the website to share information, ideas and snippets with everyone. We want to help anyone to start on their flower growing adventure and share good ideas for getting children outside learning, rather than stuck indoors. Even being outside for 15 minutes every day is good for you and the school grounds are a rich and often untapped learning resource.

How's recruitment going?

Teachers are amongst the most difficult audience to convince about a new programme. They seem to have had so many new initiatives land on their desks in the last few years. We don’t want Our Flower Patch to feel like something else they have to do.

Therefore we are taking our time to build a community of school growers who feel supported, engaged and have access to new resources on a regular basis. Our Flower Patch is not just a one off package. We’re writing new stuff all the time and want to continue to act as a hub for useful and up to date information to share with young growers.

Thanks for another great set of answers Cally and Sara! In their third and final part of VPs VIPs, they'll be talking about their favourite flowers for cut flower growing, which will appear on Friday, 14th November.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Book Review: Two From Francis Lincoln

I have two books for your delectation today, both are courtesy of review copies obtained from Francis Lincoln.

The Garden Anthology book cover
The Garden Anthology is Ursula Buchan's pick of the garden writing published by the RHS for more than a century.

I don't envy her the task as so much has been published by the RHS in The Garden (in all its forms) and other journals. Over 80 authors are featured, which in turn means a whole host of gardening topics are covered.

The pieces are bundled into 13 broad chapters which range from Seasons & the Weather through to Inside the RHS. In between there are plenty of plants, people, science and a number of different gardening styles.

In the International Dimension it's good to see George Forrest rubbing shoulders with Toby Musgrave, who both describe plant hunting and the flora of the Yunnan, but almost a century apart.

This is a wonderful celebration of garden writing, which lets the words loose on the page unfettered by images. Each chapter is colour coded so the reader doesn't get lost and to make up for the lack of photographs there is a liberal sprinkling of wonderfully jolly images courtesy of Jenny Bowers.

My only disappointment with the book is that The International Dimension chapter is more about the 'Englishman abroad'. These articles are great in themselves, but I feel the opportunity to include a different perspective on British gardening courtesy of writers from outside the UK has been lost (if such articles exist). However, that's a minor quibble.

This is a perfectly dippable book which has enriched my bedtime reading over the past few weeks.

By complete contrast Kitchen Garden Experts is a celebration of the collaboration between 20 chefs and their head gardeners at some of the UK's top restaurants.

I've had the good fortune to visit two of the establishments featured - The Pig last year and Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons last month. Both have been memorable occasions.

Each restaurant featured forms a chapter in the book which explains how the collaboration between chef and gardener works and explores their gardening and culinary secrets.

Different vegetables or fruits are featured per restaurant with extensive notes on growing for success and culminating with a signature dish to try at home.

There are plentiful good quality pictures to illustrate all aspects of the establishments, their produce and the dishes featured.

Whilst I can't fault the writing, the photography and the places featured, I've struggled with how to place this book in my gardening library. It's a hybrid volume, which is more about inspiration than practicality. Foodies will enjoy recreating the recipes from chefs who are at the top of their game and I now have a list of 18 restaurants which I just have to visit.
NB If you like the look of The Garden Anthology, Dave Marsden has a prize draw for a copy over at his blog, The Anxious Gardener.

Hurry, the closing date is on Friday (October 31st 2014) and applies to UK readers only (or those with access to a UK address).

Alternatively, I have a couple of offers available, one for each book as follows:

  • To order The Garden Anthology at the discounted price of £13.50 including p&p* (RRP: £16.99) telephone 01903 828503 or email and quote the offer code APG233.
  • To order Kitchen Garden Experts at the discounted price of £16.00 including p&p* (RRP: £20.00), telephone or email as above and quote the offer code APG130.  

*UK ONLY - Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Unusual Front Gardens #18: Grapes

I found these jaunty blue railings draped with edible grapes when we ventured to the bottom of the hill in Bishop's Castle last month. I wonder if I could manage something similar in our front garden.

Update - thanks for all your interest in this idea in the comments, though of course there's also been plenty of speculation on how long the grapes would last in most locations.

If you like the idea but not the thought of attendant scrumping, then a possible alternative if you have the space is the wonderful Vitis coignetiae, which has dramatic, large leaves and small bunches of inedible grapes. I first saw this vine scaling a tree at Westonbirt and Karen was so taken with it adorning the fence of one of the demonstration gardens at Derwen garden centre last month, she took one home with her.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Salad Days: An Autumnal Experiment

Seed trays with various salad leaves

This year I'm trying an experiment with my late sown lettuces. I usually grow them in pots and some old sinks in my cold frames. Everything is fine initially, but the height of the front of frame is too low for the pots placed there and things get a little mushy.

This year I'm trying seed trays instead. These will give the leaves more headroom, but I'm not sure there's sufficient growing media to sustain them for the whole of the winter. However, that can be remedied easily if my fears prove well founded.

I made a relatively late sowing in early September of 2 rows of lettuce seed per tray - 'Merveille des Quatre Saisons', 'Lollo Rossa', 'Little Gem' and 'Salad Bowl', made easy with the use of seed tapes. That's why my rows are so even.

I've kept the trays on the sunniest part of the patio to maximise the light and warmth the trays receive, but as you can see I'm unlikely to be cropping much from them until early spring. They've also suffered the onslaught of the annual Birch seed 'snowstorm' and gained the odd autumn leaf.

I'll put them in the cold frame once the frosts start with a vengeance and I also have some fleece on standby just in case.

'Indigo Rose' update

My 'Indigo Rose' tomatoes are still cropping and I can report their flavour has improved slightly this late in the season. I've now bought the rest inside to keep us going for a couple more weeks.

Last week saw the first BUG talk of the season, given by Alice Doyle from Log House Plants in Oregon. She took us on a fascinating, whistle stop tour through the vegetable varieties she considers worth growing, which includes the IndigoTM varieties of tomatoes.

It turns out Alice is a member of the collaborative breeding programme which is developing further new varieties under the IndigoTM banner. There are around 20 in the pipeline, of various hues, shapes and sizes. Alice mentioned another variety in her talk - IndigoTM 'Delicious'. It sounds like at least one better tasting variety is on its way.

A set of posters on the Log House Plants website (link opens as a PDF) gives us a foretaste of what is to come and introduces some of the breeders involved. This includes Tom Wagner, who I met in Oxford a few years ago.

Looking back on my blogged notes from that day, I should have guessed he'd be involved as he talked about developing anthocyanin rich varieties of both potatoes and tomatoes. I asked Alice about his potato work and she confirmed it continues.

It's a small world!
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