Seed of knowledge

28th April 2006 at 01:00
Andrew Mourant describes a gardening project that links schools in three continents

What does a scrap tyre masquerading as a garden feature at an inner city primary in Bristol have in common with a tiny rooftop garden in Bombay? Both are projects in Gardens for Life, a science programme linking 8,000 children in Britain, Kenya and India through learning about food production.

They're discovering how lives are inter-connected through food. There are the basics of horticulture - how does a seed become a vegetable? Could we grow the food they eat in the tropics in England and vice versa?

Gardens for Life was conceived following discussions between the Eden Project and the Department for International Development (DFID). It's now in its third year as a pilot and is being evaluated by the University of Exeter. The Global Dimension Trust, a UK charity supporting education for sustainable development, provided contacts with schools in India and Kenya.

Eden manages the project.

It has cost about pound;450,000 to set up. Partners include donors such as DFID and the Syngenta Foundation. Educational material for key stages 23 has been developed by the Association for Science Education, the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, the Royal Horticultural Society, and Eden.

Through designing and managing gardens, children learn biology and maths while reading and writing are reinforced. Groups of six schools were formed across the three countries. The first exchanges of materials based on what they had done in their gardens took place last July. More are planned.

Gardens have been established in 74 schools: some on more than a hectare of land; others making do with small hanging pots. In Bombay, they are squeezed into rooftop terraces and borders around the school walls.

Communities pitch in to help: in Pune, India, local authorities donated land; while in England retired gardeners offer expertise. The children have common experiences to share across the world.

Then there are the stories: in one Kenyan school, the garden harvest provides a vegetable supplement to each child's lunch. At Hannah More primary in Bristol, an urban playground is spread with old tyres and bath tubs used as gardens. Indoors, where space is tight, a makeshift pulley lifts seed trays up to a high classroom window so plants can benefit from the light. Enthusiasm is widespread, especially among children who already had the taste for gardening. "I used to help tidy my gran's garden," says eight-year-old Peyton Dyer. "This project has been really good: we've been planting carrots and pumpkins."

Moubarak Mahamoud, aged nine, from Somalia, understands better than most the imperative of home produced food. "I used to have a garden of my own and grew corn in it," he says. Letters and drawings from partner schools, Dr Kalmadi Shamarao High School in Pune and Nyandarua in Kenya, bring vivid insights. A Kenyan child sharing his delight about learning how seeds germinate recalls cultivating squash black beauty. "I had never seen it anywhere, but discovered that although the juice can be bitter, it can heal diabetes." From India there are anecdotes about growing plants most pupils at Hannah More have never heard of such as chavali and mutki.

Lisa Middle, the school's Gardens for Life co-ordinator, hopes her pupils might travel to visit a partner school. Meanwhile getting the project off the ground in Bristol has been an exercise in improvisation and exploiting community goodwill. "A local group, gardeners from Easton, taught us how to plant potatoes," she says. "We've propagated plants in recycled plastic bottles cut in half and composted the children's lunches.

"We managed to get topsoil from another school. We've gone begging for cuttings and seeds, we had help for a nurseryman who has lots of good ideas."

lTo set up partnerships go to or email: tpotterton@edenproject.comGlobal Dimension Trust

Science Across the World

Royal Horticultural Society

Association for Science Education

Kew Gardens

Organic gardening

General gardening

Historic gardens

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