An ideal school yard;Environment

27th March 1998 at 00:00
Richard Key designs his ideal small-scale open space.

Schools often have courtyards that can be turned into attractive spaces. This 9m by 13m garden has an entrance through an arch with honeysuckle climbers. The front boundary trellis forms a framework for quick-growing, fragrant sweet peas. The inside of the trellis is a raised bed where pupils can grow annual plants - herbs, sunflowers and strawberries.

L-shaped, textured paving on two sides of the garden provides a non-slip surface. Brick inserts and edging to the lawn offer a change of texture and are ideal for relief rubbings. Tables and chairs permit outdoor reading in sun and shade. The border along the south-west wall is ideal for herbs, with the wall itself forming a warm backing for ripening espalier fruit trees.

Another L-shaped raised bed is softened with plants that thrive in the sun; silver-leafed plants such as Senecio, Phlomis and Stachys have the added benefit of soft furry leaves.

The sand-pit, hidden by plants, is wonderful for play; the timber lid keeps the sand clean. At the top of the garden, a "secret" wooded walk leads through small trees and back to the grass. This allows children to explore and walk among plants.

Small trees from the rowan and crab-apple family provide interest all year with blossom, fruit and autumn colours. Bird-feeders can be hung from the branches, and plants such as Buddleia, Viburnum and Ribes can encourage wildlife.

A small grass area is useful for outdoor storytime and is ideal for a climbing frame and slide on a safe-play surface. The water feature is safe: water bubbles up through pebbles or a drilled boulder from a hidden reservoir and is recirculated. A bench allows children to enjoy the feature and the bird life. A sundial encourages children to develop an understanding of time and the movement of the Sun.

It would cost from pound;7,580 to pound;8,500 for professionals to convert a courtyard this size, but this sum could be greatly reduced with the help of skilled volunteers and parents.

Richard Key is a designer of medal-winning gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show.

* Plant ideas

TREES AND SHRUBS: Choose trees that give year-round interest: rowan, crab apple, contorted hazel, snake bark maple, silver birch. Buddleia grows almost anywhere and is good for butterflies, colour and scent. Cornus (dogwood) has bright red stems in winter.

CLIMBERS: Use honeysuckle, ivy and sweet peas to illustrate the different methods plants use to cling to a support.

SENSORY PLANTS: Alchemilla mollis and Stachys have soft furry leaves. Lavender, thrift and yew give contrasting spiky textures.

Plants for butterflies Plant valerian, Achillea, Angelica and honesty in sunny, sheltered sites.

HERBS: These prefer sunny, well-drained, poor soil. Plant mint on its own, or it will take over the garden. Try a collection of gingermint, peppermint, spearmint and applemint for an aromatic range.

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