Since February, nearly 14,000 schoolchildren have visited the Clore Learning Centre at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Garden Wisley in Surrey, where pupils are taught different aspects from both the primary and secondary curricula. Gardening brings fun and learning together, making lessons more engaging and inspiring. I teach secondary-level geography, using the garden as a learning resource.
A key component of most GCSE and A-level specifications is ecosystems. While classifying information is a fundamental geographical skill, a garden can be a rich resource to open a pupil's eyes to the Earth's varied ecosystems, as well as a welcome opportunity to spend time in the great outdoors.
A homework task, followed by class discussion, could be based around work as "garden detectives". Ask pupils to identify five plants in their garden or local park. They can take photographs and find out where the plants are from using online resources. The detective work comes in classifying them by the shape, colour and size of leaves as well as their height. Patterns become apparent when plants from different biomes can be seen to have similar characteristic adaptations. An interactive whiteboard or old school wall map could chart where the plants in the pupils' gardens come from.
For example, compare the small, silvery, hairy leaves of alpine plants such as sempervivums with their astounding ability to adapt to wind, snow, poor and rocky soils, and intense UV exposure. While broadleaf trees such as our native oak and beech are deciduous to cope with our short growing season, Mediterranean plants including lavender and rosemary have small, waxy, glossy leaves to reduce the amount of transpiration. The garden really is the world in miniature.
Your student detectives could be challenged to think of the reasons why there are so few garden plants from rainforest and desert regions. Do they have any house plants from these regions? What are these adaptations? Many homes have an orchid or a cactus.
The appetites of the budding detectives should now be whetted for a more in-depth analysis of global biomes. Although a trip to the rainforest is beyond most departmental budgets, a secondary-school workshop in the tropical rainforest zone of the glasshouse at RHS Garden Wisley is the next best thing, where children can be immersed in its atmosphere.
School visits to RHS Garden Wisley are free but need to be booked in advance. Through the RHS Campaign for School Gardening, which turns five years old this week, we also support 15,800 schools (more than half of all UK schools) to use a garden as part of the curriculum as much as possible.
Schools can register for free and access a wealth of online resources, such as lesson plans, by going to www.rhs.org.ukschoolgardening
Jane Griffiths is part of the learning and families team at RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey
Start your own school garden and help pupils to learn more about ecosystems with a handy guide from Cool it Schools.
Test pupils' knowledge of ecology and ecosystems with funforester's quick questions. bit.lyecoquestions.