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Winning garden may be the loser

Nursery's horticultural triumph at risk of closure

Mary, mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow? With weeping willows, cheese-coated pine cones to feed the birds, and a lot of tender loving care.

At least, that's how the rhyme goes at an award-winning nursery school in Ely, near Cardiff, where head Joanna Lee beams with pride about the school garden, which this week won top honours for good practice in school gardening in the Royal Horticultural Society's Campaign for School Gardening.

The winning plaque has now been displayed alongside the nursery's burgeoning collection of eco and forest school awards.

But Caerau Nursery's garden, grown to compliment play-led learning in the foundation phase, is now threatened with closure and may soon be left to grow wild if plans to merge it with a local primary school go ahead.

Names are being gathered for a petition, which signatories hope will convince city officials to have a change of heart.

The school garden - which has a fish pond, bonfire circle, vegetable patch and compost bins - is used every day, regardless of the weather.

"We are lucky to have the space we do for the garden, but there is so much you can do - even with a tarmac square," said Ms Lee.

"When teachers or officials visit, they are surprised when we show how much you can achieve in such a small space."

Gardening is increasingly being used at nursery and early primary age to boost learning. Children at the nursery learn to plant seeds, grow trees, and sometimes eat the results of their green-fingered work.

But they can also learn basic maths and English. Counting produce such as potatoes, for example, helps to improve addition and subtraction skills.

Children have also taken over responsibility for recycling, composting and energy conservation.

Nursery teacher Sian Nugent said the outdoor area is used in every part of the foundation phase curriculum, from learning about nature to writing and counting.

"These children may never have seen a tree planted before," she said.

"One day we realised they didn't know that grass grew, so we compared the grass before and after the lawnmower man had been."

But despite the nursery's location - in a deprived area of Cardiff - the garden has never been vandalised.

Ms Lee attributes this to the respect the nursery has gained from members of the local community, many of whom attended the school as children.

"It has been going for many years," said Ms Lee. "They have seen the garden grow and feel as if they own it."

Lessons of the land


Reluctant writers can trace wide letters in the mud using sticks. This is particularly useful for boys struggling with pen and paper.

Plant train

A "train" to trigger young imaginations can be made of a string of wooden troughs with plants inside. It is relatively inexpensive and could be used, even on a tarmac-covered yard.

How tall are you?

Ask children to find a stick or plant as tall as they are. Measure the stick and compare the length with other objects.


With careful safety precautions, there is no need to be afraid of the water. Children will learn to examine creatures carefully and respect the environment.

Join a campaign

There are dozens of national campaigns to take part in, such as Plant a Billion Trees. Or help ecologists count wild animals and birds as part of a "nature watch".

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