How to get the Coombes look

Ever noticed what happens when you leave the children's paddling pool on the lawn too long? That yellow circle where your grass has been deprived of light is a nagging reminder. At the Coombes this simple observation is used as a lesson in light - combining science and art. The science bit comes in explaining that grass is green because of the pigment chlorophyll. This harnesses the energy from the sun, together with water from the soil and carbon dioxide from the air, to make sugar. Plants are constantly renewing their chlorophyll supplies, but stop doing this when light is excluded, so the green colour fades. Art comes into the equation when light exclusion is used imaginatively to create spectacular patterns, using simple materials. Here is a step-by-step guide to creating your own sun-powered ephemeral area.

* You can demonstrate the effect of light exclusion simply by laying an old door on the grass, but if you have the imagination, you can create something intrinsically interesting. Work with the children to make a design or pattern that consists of simple outlines with white space in between. This could be linked to other work the children are doing, such as the sunflower shapes created at the Coombes. Alternatives are enlarged leaf shapes - Sue Humphries recommends oak leaves arranged in a spray, one for each class - or mazes, which then open up a whole new play opportunity. Large, repeating shapes are most effective - try 1m oak leaves, or a 10m sunflower.

* Transfer the design on to opaque material such as black polythene, old carpet or anything that will block the light. Parents can help transfer the children's designs and cut out the shapes - use a craft knife for carpet, cutting from the back.

* Choose a grassed area that receives full and equal sunlight right across the space. The grass needs to have been mown regularly to give a clear design, although it may grow quite a bit while the effect is developing. Spread out the design and anchor the pieces with tent pegs, skewers, stones or bricks.

lCheck for colour changes every week and decide when would be the best time to remove the cover. Three weeks is a good deadline to aim for. The colour sequence starts with green and moves to yellowy-green, to yellow, to white, to bare earth. Even if the grass is completely killed, it will quickly regrow. This brings another opportunity for learning. As Sue Humphries says: "The joy comes after the event - watching how quickly nature is able to recover."

Rosemary Ward is a writer for 'Gardening Which?'

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