Andy Farquarson finds a serious purpose behind the beauty of an organic garden.
As countryside and farmland the world over becomes ever more exhausted, the principles of good agricultural practice are increasing in importance.
The Henry Doubleday Research Association is concentrating on getting us back to our organic roots. This educational charity is pioneering work at Ryton Organic Gardens near Coventry, where it researches organic horticulture and runs environmental awareness campaigns and more than 400 reforestation and sustainability projects in developing countries.
The 10 acres are divided into sections demonstrating different aspects of the charity's work. There are formal rose gardens, vegetable patches, including many rare and unusual species, fruit collections, herb lawns, gardens for those with a disability, a wild flower meadow, living willow walks and pergolas made from recycled plastic packaging. Displays demonstrate recycling, conserving water in the garden and natural weed control.
Nigel Chapman, deputy head of Harbury primary school, Warwickshire, regularly takes his pupils to the gardens. "They learn a lot and can put that learning into practice in our school's organic garden," he says.
Ryton is blessed with an abundance of wildlife. The drone of bees, the sparkle of ragonflies hovering around ponds and the spectacle of butterflies and birds can be enjoyed as you walk in the gardens and woodland fringes.
"Look at the colour and form of the flowers and plants," says Maggi Brown, Ryton's head of education. "It's ideal for sketching or painting. There's also the maths needed to calculate growth, measure plants and work out areas for planting densities."
You can pluck a curriculum link from just about any aspect of the garden. There is the medicinal use of herbs, the heritage of the seed library and the history of plants since Roman times and a plantation of various trees that can be used in different crafts.
Visiting schools can organise their own schedule or have a planned visit made in consultation with the guides. The research establishment is normally off limits to visitors but even this can be negotiated.
Ryton Organic Gardens, The Henry Doubleday Research Association, Ryton, Coventry CV8 3DG. Tel: 02476 303517; e-mail email@example.com; www.hdra.org.uk
Open daily 9am-5pm. Closed Christmas Eve to New Year's Day. School parties must pre-book. Admission: pound;1 a pupil, minimum 14. Teachers free. Guided or specialist visits extra.
Teacher's pack on recycling pound;10 including postage.
HDRA hosts school weeks during March and November.