Take a leaf out of this gardening club's book

9th December 2011 at 00:00
What started as a budding idea at Applegrove Primary has led to blooming marvellous floral displays and tasty vegetable plots. Jean McLeish reports

Every window at this school has a window box. And they are all packed with colourful flowers. One year they counted more than 100 window boxes. They are remarked on by passers-by and appreciated by teachers and children looking out from Applegrove Primary at Forres in Moray.

Parents also value the school's glorious grounds with wonderful borders and vegetable plots, fruit trees and quiet garden spaces for work and play. Some even decide to send their children here because of the spectacular grounds and gardens.

"If they live outside our catchment area but want their children to come here, some parents have written on the placing request form that they want their children to come here because the playground looks welcoming, because it's bright and colourful - particularly when they find out that it's children who have worked on it as well," says headteacher Lesley Meehan.

The after-school gardening club is busy with tools and watering cans, when I visit - deadheading in the window boxes and planters and removing stray weeds. The club is for children in P6 and P7 - but throughout the school everyone gets a chance to work and play in these gardens, which are a valuable resource for learning, leisure and enterprise.

"It's fun and my friends are here and I like gardening," says one of the club members, Niamh Cunvin-Smith (P7).

At the school entrance, there are tubs and planters overflowing with the children's brilliant floral displays. The grounds are full of areas of interest like their willow tunnel, insect hotels and bat boxes. The club also has its own magnificent flower arrangers' garden - a place of peaceful sanctuary and a supply of cut flowers to brighten classrooms and corridors.

There are lovely spaces to wander around, across the grass between mature trees and younger apple trees, past floral borders with striking, pink dahlias and tubs with masses of lilac and white sweet peas brightening the school's outside walls.

Teacher Diane McGregor and her colleague Ann Gavin run this gardening club. The teachers also care for the gardens during the summer holidays, supported by parent volunteers like "Uncle Bert" Logie who visits three times a week in the growing season to keep the grass tidy.

Mr Logie's older children are now in their fifties - but he and his wife Charlotte continue to give their time year-round to this venture. Forres has a distinguished horticultural heritage and regularly wins national and international recognition for its floral displays - a legacy the school is maintaining.

"Forres has a good climate. The Moray coast is really special," says Mr Logie, a former school board member.

Mrs McGregor adds: "We've got parsnips, carrots, beetroot, cabbage, potatoes, onions, shallots, red cabbage - and we're trying sweet potatoes this year for the first time.

"There are also peas and beans, and we've got apples, pears - the strawberries were a bit iffy this year," she laughs.

Children find inspiration for their art, drama and writing here and also come outside to read and learn about topics such as pollination and photosynthesis.

Every year, the whole school enters their flowers and handcrafts in the town's annual Forres in Bloom competition. But it's not just their prize- winning blooms that attract praise.

Their raspberries are huge and perfect and so are their big, golden apples. It's no wonder this school has won a string of accolades, including the Royal Horticultural Society's Young People's Award from Britain in Bloom, the Junior Green Fingers Award (twice) and the BBC Beechgrove Potting Shed's Budding Gardeners Competition.

It's also an eco-school with bronze and silver awards and a recently updated third green flag. And this is the only primary school in Scotland to take part in Scotland's Gardens Scheme as an individual venue in its own right, welcoming visitors to enjoy the grounds in aid of charity for an afternoon in June.

Children taste vegetables they'd never go near at home

Each year, a pupil gardener of the year is chosen at Applegrove Primary and this year it's 11-year-old Tara Innes from P7.

"I've come because my friends are here too. I like all of it," says Tara, as the children take watering cans round the window boxes and planters in the late afternoon sunshine.

One of the boys, Jason Cameron, 11, says he gets inspired: "I take ideas from here and do them at home."

Their gardening club was started more than 20 years ago by former headteacher Sandra MacLennan, an enthusiastic gardener, now retired and busy chairing "Forres In Bloom". She had been concerned that some children couldn't tell the difference between a dandelion and a daisy.

Along with teacher Diane McGregor and support for learning auxiliary Dot Ritchie, Mrs MacLennan started the after-school gardening club in 1990.

Sadly, Ms Ritchie died a few years ago, but a willow arbour has been created in her memory in the school grounds, looking out into the apple trees, with "Dot's Den" carved into a wooden bench.

"Dot used to come out here with children and she would stay after school with children who had special needs, so that they could also join the gardening club," says headteacher Lesley Meehan.

After the harvest, it's time for the annual veggie party when the gardening club celebrates another successful growing season with a feast on its produce.

Canteen staff make steaming hot bowls of tattie soup, and, because they have grown them, children taste vegetables they'd never go near at home. For pudding there are usually Mrs McGregor's perfect, squidgy meringues, oozing fat dollops of cream with their bumper raspberries.

And even when the snow falls, the garden harvest continues - with children making cards from pressed flowers and pot pourri to sell at the Christmas fair to fund the next growing season.

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