Ideas blossom in the garden

13th July 2001 at 01:00
When the National Trust for Scotland wanted help writing a schools pack, primary teacher Emily Davidson applied. She talks to Denyse Presley about her work placement

Industry placements for teachers may seem like a well kept secret, but Emily Davidson, a class teacher at Stoneyhill Primary in Musselburgh, East Lothian, first learned about working with the National Trust for Scotland through an information booklet published by the Institute of Enterprise Awareness for Teachers and Schools that was in the staffroom.

Being an outdoors person, she consulted her headteacher, filled out the application form and was successfully chosen by the NTS, which was looking for a teacher to help devise material for schools. Shortly before the end of term she went to Inveresk Lodge Garden, in the pretty village of Inveresk, near Musselburgh, on a five-day placement to help produce an NTS education pack aimed at Primary 2-6 teachers on the terraced garden of the 17th-century lodge.

There can be few more beautiful places to spend some time out of school. The lawns are bordered with old roses, deep mauve lavender and colourful herbaceous beds. Against one wall of the large Edwardian conservatory day lilies, palms and other exotics grow among singing budgerigars and canaries. Head gardener Clare Reaney explains that the aviaries - which once housed ostriches and peacocks - are a legacy of the Brunton family who owned the lodge, the oldest house in the village, until Helen Brunton bequeathed the hillside estate to the National Trust of Scotland in 1959.

Walking through the rose-covered walled garden, Ms Davidson talks about how she is structuring the education pack, saying: "I've planned my time by deciding to do a different area of the garden each day." The grounds naturally divide into tended garden, meadow and woodland areas.

"The children will begin by sketching in the garden for 10 minutes. Because I'm trying to encourage people to visit all the year round, I haven't focused on particular flowers but Clare will be on hand to advise about special flowers and the children will have a sketch right in front of them which will inspire discussion."

The rare tropaeolum collection of Central and South American trailers and climbers in the conservatory is featured in the pack because it provides work on plant families.

Ms Davidson has devised a lesson on the structure of flowering plants and, depending on the time of year, a teacher can focus on pollination, seeding or hibernation.

In the herb garden, there is the chance to explore almost all the senses. The education pack has a tasting worksheet, though the amount of herb picking might have to be restricted, but it gives children an opportunity to experience flavours such as oregano, which they might know through pizzas.

Venturing into the mature woodland, on one side of a glade is a non-native sycamore which has a very deep shade canopy. This contrasts with the light shade canopy of a native ash, where wildlife and other plants can thrive because of its fewer leaves. Here daffodils and bluebells grow profusely in spring.

Ms Davidson talks about the layering of vegetation in the woodland, describing the herb layer under the ash tree where cow parsley grows strongly, taller than that is the shrub layer and finally the tree layer.

The area attracts all sorts of birds, including woodpeckers, goldcrests and long-tailed tits, and bats. In summer, roe deer wander along the river bank from Dalkeith Country Park.

Further on in the woodland Ms Davidson points out a felled tree. Here children can guess its age by counting the growth rings. This contrasts with work along the tree walk where the age of living trees is gauged by measuring the girth.

The woodland forms a circular route which slopes down to the buttercup field, which is a completely different wildlife habitat. Here Jacob sheep graze with ponies in what is a water meadow which floods now and again when the river level rises.

The field edge is a hunting ground for owls, bats and other creatures- a pile of feathers is testament to a sparrow hawk. A heron also pops by.

There are two ponds in the garden which are spring fed. The cleanliness of the water is evident from the white flowering watercress. In the smaller and shallower of the two ponds, children can go dipping for tadpoles, frogs and toads, newts and other beasties. The grass around the pond is deliberately kept long to encourage wildlife and the nearby hawthorn hedge is home to birds and other creatures.

For one education activity based on the pond, children take water samples and analyse the wildlife they find with a pondlife key, which asks question such as does it have wings?

"It means the children can investigate on their own, and questions about the environment and science will arise from what they do," says Ms Davidson.

The end of the woodland walk brings visitors back to the main garden and what Ms Reaney calls the wiggly willow because of its unusual ripply leaves.

An idea Ms Davidson is developing is an educational game based on a fun pictorial map of the garden devised by the NTS. On it, are figures from Inveresk Lodge Garden's history, including Helen Brunton, and features such as the white border and the rose border. "It's mini-orienteering, which will involve looking at clues on the map and trying to work out where a certain feature is in the garden, say a specific tree or historical feature, to build mapping skills," says Ms Davidson.

As head gardener, Ms Reaney is pleased with the collaboration. "It's been great having Emily here to plan the schools pack because, as a gardener and plantsman, I tend to come out with lots of Latin names, which people don't always hook on to.

"Traditionally gardens have been seen as places for children not to run around and shout, but here there are grassy areas where they can let off steam and nooks and crannies they can explore.

"In the spring border there is a seat which is meant to look like an emerging bud, chainsaw carved from a piece of solid elm. You can sit inside it as if you're sitting inside the middle of the flower," she says.

On Ms Davidson's final day in the garden before putting the materials together for the pack, she is equally happy with the partnership. "It's been really enjoyable to meet people not directly involved in education to share our different ideas. I've learned a lot talking with Clare. And although I'm making up worksheets every day in class, it's been really satisfying to create a body of work I can call my own which other schools will use."

Other recent teacher placements with the National Trust for Scotland have been in Malleny Garden and Gladstone's Land in south regional education officer Vanessa Hopewell, tel 01721 722502


The Institute of Enterprise Awareness for Teachers and Schools is to change its name next year and a new programme, more closely linked to continuing professional development, will be announced by the Scottish Executive, although planned courses will run through the summer.

The new programme is entitled Excellence in Education through Business Links. At the moment, placements are for five (not necessarily consecutive) days but under the new scheme more flexibility will mean placements will be for upwards of two days. Some placements have a curriculum focus, such as the NTS work, others have a guidance focus, perhaps to help pupils looking for work, or management focus, comparing management structures in education and business.

Inverness and Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey education business partnership will act as the managing agent on behalf of EBP Scotland for the new programme. A national co-ordinator has not yet been appointed so the initial contact is Iain MacKintosh (tel 01463 225449).

An alternative port of call to find out about industry placements is your education authority adviser for industry links.

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