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It's good to grow

Gardens and their religious significance intrigue pupils, especially if you create some, as Ian Holmes discovers.

It's not easy to find hands-on projects that link with the RE curriculum - but building a faith garden fits the bill. Gardening and religion have always been closely linked, because finding space for quiet contemplation is central to many faiths. Gardens are a good place to gather your thoughts.

We wanted to build two faith gardens in the school grounds, an Islamic one and a Christian one. The children set about doing their research.

Plants are important in Christian gardens with different herbs and flowers having particular significance. In the Islamic tradition, gardens are intended to reflect the perfection of God and it's important to follow mathematical principles and use symmetry. Water is key. It symbolises closeness to paradise.

But the pupils didn't just learn about gardens. In doing their research they learned a great deal generally about the two faiths, their similarities, as well as their differences.

And we were able to consider the whole question of spirituality and introspection.

Working in groups, Year 5 pupils produced detailed designs for each garden - trying to make the most of space and keep within budget. The different plans were put on display around the school and children voted for the winning design.

The gardens have helped to tidy up some neglected corners of the school. The Islamic garden is a small courtyard sandwiched between two busy buildings, but it's perfect for quiet contemplation.

One advantage of a faith garden is that it puts RE on show and raises its profile around the school. Another nice bonus was winning first prize in a national competition run by the Religious Education and Environment Programme (REEP), a charity that encourages links between RE and the environment. The pound;1,500 prize money will go towards further improvements to our gardens.

Ian Holmes teaches at London Meed Primary in Burgess Hill, West Sussex. He was talking to Steven Hastings.

Teacher Tips

- Don't make the gardens too big - unless you have a limitless budget. In fact, Islamic gardens lend themselves quite easily to being made in miniature.

- Aim for a garden that looks good, but doesn't require too much maintenance.

- The REEP website is an excellent source of ideas and information for making your own faith garden. Its School Garden Awards is a bi-annual competition. Visit www.reep.org.

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