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.


  1. This is such an interesting post, I really enjoyed reading about the philosophy behind Our Flower Patch. Good luck Cally and Sara.

  2. Good luck indeed CJ. They've worked so hard and are so enthusiastic about what they're doing, they deserve to succeed.

  3. Thank you CJ, and thank you Michelle for writing about us. It's a great way to help spread the news about what we are doing. Thanks again Sara


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