Grounds for optimism;Resources

28th May 1999 at 01:00
Using a formal garden, or cultivating your own at school is easy. All you need is some inspiration from the experts, says Sue Hoy

Ever felt the Earth move? Chances are it will during School Grounds Week, which starts on June 7. Green fingers will be flexed in readiness for some earnest Ground Watch-style endeavours as schools celebrate that most precious of assets - the area between the school door and the perimeter fence. But large or small, green or grey, there is potential there for life. And where there's life, there's a teaching resource.

Teachers have always been enterprising in their ability to unearth new materials from the unlikeliest of sources. But even the most resourceful may be hesitant about using the ground beneath their feet. Perhaps you need special horticultural knowledge? Well, the good news is that you don't, because the experts have it - in spades.

The Royal Horticultural Society offers training and advice for teachers, aiming to cultivate their expertise in making the most of school grounds or who want to use a visit to formal gardens to enhance schoolwork.

Sue Johnson, senior education officer at the RHS gardens in Wisley, Surrey, explains: "Our work with schools has developed over the past two years in response to a real need. All national curriculum key stage subjects can be taught through horticulture, and using a garden can give a new twist to learning."

At Wisley, the RHS offers structured school visits themed to a particular topic. These are free and justifiably popular, so schools are advised to book well in advance. "Teachers need to think carefully about whether it's an end-of-term trip, or a visit they can link to their teaching," says Ms Johnson.

Wisley has also developed a series of in-service training days for teachers who want to make the most of their school grounds. Subjects covered include literacy, numeracy, art, biodiversity and mini-beasts, and all include advice on developing a school's own land.

Apart from Wisley, one other RHS centre is developing a service for schools, the satellite garden at Rosemoor, near Barnstaple in Devon.

Rosemoor, an internationally renowned eight-acre garden, was given to the RHS in 1988 by Lady Anne Berry. It came with 32 acres of pasture, which has since been cultivated into another spectacular garden. With wonderful views of the Devon countryside, it has several distinct areas - geometric and spiral gardens (ideal for maths sessions), a winter garden, "hot" borders, bog garden and lake, a rock gully and waterfall and much, much more.

The education officer here is Shirley Bennett, who believes a teacher's lot can be a lonely one, stuck in a classroom. She says: "Our in-service days are always inspirational because we bounce ideas off one another and teachers return to school with fresh enthusiasm."

Maggie Riley, head of art at Chumleigh Community College in Devon, couldn't agree more. Last year she took 100 Year 7 pupils there. "It's a marvellous setting for art work: there's such a wonderful variety of shapes, colours and patterns," she says. Her pupils eventually produced a range of work, including paintings, sketches, clay tiles and even batik wall hangings.

For further information on courses at Wisley contact: Deborah Parsons, RHS Garden Wisley, Woking, Surrey GU23 6QB. Tel: 01483 224234For courses at Rosemoor contact: Shirley Bennett, RHS Garden Rosemoor, Great Torrington, Devon EX38 8PH. Tel: 01805 624067Or visit the RHS website at:

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