How do you fit a cityscape on a metre-square pallet?

3rd July 2009 at 01:00
It just takes a few imaginative pupils and some skilful planting

The pallet Garden Challenge at this year's national gardening and flower show, Gardening Scotland, had a huge response, especially from schools.

The competition was originally for gardening clubs but opened up to schools three years ago, with an overwhelming response. "We thought we might have two or three schools taking part but, in fact, since the very first year the number has run into dozens," says its organiser, Jim Dickson.

Much of the appeal lies in schools being able to develop their own theme, and although the gardens are small (1m2), the high standards of gardening and creativity are testament to some imaginative planning. The pallets are free and, allowing for some basic rules, the children are able to let their imaginations take over.

Last year, St Crispin's special school in Edinburgh carried off a gold medal for its plot (below) and the children are determined to have another shot at glory this year. "We have two gardening clubs, one for primary and the other for senior pupils. Both are hugely popular," says Heather Paul, who previously worked at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and now works with the school's gardening club two days a week. "The children get a great deal out of gardening and we all enjoy eating salads and potatoes they have grown."

This year's garden is based on the nursery rhyme "I had a little nut tree", and includes a contorted hazel tree and a medieval knot garden.

There are ambitious plans too at Colinton Primary, where participation in the challenge three years ago sowed the seeds of bigger gardening ambitions. The Edinburgh school went on to develop a courtyard garden, but now the focus is on a pallet garden with a fairytale theme which has everyone engrossed.

The school also plans to turn an area the size of a football pitch into a green and productive space, in a scheme it has named "Room to Grow". It has been selected by BBC Scotland's Beechgrove Garden to be one of its community projects. These encourage people to identify and undertake environmental improvement by creating a garden which everyone can access.

At Newlands Primary in West Linton, the design for this year's pallet garden has been created by Georgina Currie, P7, on the theme of Scotland's Homecoming celebrations. Some of the runner-up designs were imaginative, including one with a herb garden kilt. The Homecoming is also the theme for Echline Primary in South Queensferry, where P1-2s are collaborating on a garden that will involve work from the curriculum and hopefully mirror their eco project, which is catching ladybirds.

Nether Currie Primary in Edinburgh also hopes to follow up a gold-medal entry last year. "We have chosen a city-centre theme with balconies and roof-top terraces," says teacher Amanda Hunter. "Since plants are crucial to our survival on Earth, our aim is to demonstrate that gardening is possible, no matter how limited your outdoor space. Some 53 pupils from P2-7 have volunteered to give up their lunchtimes on a rota basis to help create it."

Meanwhile, at Burgh Primary in Musselburgh, the pupils have chosen to base theirs on one of their favourite books, Oliver's Vegetables, and teacher Alison Elgin says the P1 pupils, who are making the garden, are very excited about growing their own food.

"We take them along at regular intervals to a local allotment which they love, and recently they've been planting seed potatoes in big tubs," she says. "The children love planting things so much that next term we are going to replace the sand in the sand trays with soil, so that they have room to grow even more."

While the intention might be to nurture a new generation of gardeners, the success of the challenge also reveals the benefits to the children involved, whether developing creativity in a new area, learning to grow their own food or enjoying getting their hands dirty while working on different areas in the curriculum.

To enter next year's challenge:


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