IT’S always rewarding to see progress in a garden, more so when it has been transformed from a weed-ridden wilderness into an orderly food-producing entity. And this is exactly what has happened at Amble Links First School in little over six months.
The garden featured in an article last autumn because the team effort from parents, children, staff and friends deserved praise.The triangular site set within the school grounds was so overgrown that at first glance it seemed they were conducting an archaeological dig, a theory strengthened by the discovery of long-forgotten pathways.
Adults dug out deep-rooted weeds while children painted fences, collected debris and generally enjoyed themselves.
What made it a lovely social occasion was the arrival of coffee and cakes, courtesy of the school kitchen and caretaker.
As the then newly-appointed head teacher Paul Heeley put it: “It’s great to see a cross-section of the school community working together and enjoying themselves.”
How hard they had worked on this project became perfectly clear last week when the invitation to return for the first harvesting of crops arrived. I found beautifully laid-out gravel pathways, of generous width, edged throughout with wooden planks to mark a clear route between vegetable beds.
There is a solid garden shed, unobtrusively placed in one corner, and nearby a traditional compost area also constructed in timber.
Several containers and a mini greenhouse planted up with the Tumbling Tom tomato, give this garden the stamp of respectability.
But the proof of any pudding is in the eating, and the children of the Tuesday afternoon gardening club I’d been invited to, were more than happy to lead.
First up were the gooseberries, some rather tart it seemed but others just right. Then came the carrots, grown in a drum, a method used by the top vegetable exhibitors. Bearing in mind that only the healthy foliage was visible, there was an air of expectation as eager youngsters teased them gently out of the soil.
Their early potato variety Rocket came via an offer to schools from The Potato Society, and how well it performed. From two plants they collected a seed tray full of good-sized tubers. And there are more to come in the form of Maris Piper and Charlotte. Some have been planted in rows and others in containers so they’re not missing a trick in their planning.
Young plants of Brussels sprouts that were being eaten by wood pigeons have been rescued by covering them with protective fleece. They are now on the road to recovery.
It has become fashionable and very practical to cover the likes of carrot and parsnip crops in this way to avoid carrot fly damage. The fleece is put in place immediately after sowing and remains there until the crop is harvested.
Further evidence of planning followed with a tall framework of net supported by canes. It is allowing rapidly developing garden peas to anchor their tendrils to it as they grow.
The giant pumpkin Hundredweight looks healthy, complete with flowers that will turn into spectacular fruits for Hallowe’en celebrations in school. A row of Sunflowers Russian Giant is also looking good along a boundary fence. The plants are around 60 centimetres high at present but with plenty of water and regular food they could figure in the Gazette’s Giant Sunflower competition later in the year.
Having spent some time in their company, it is obvious that these youngsters are developing gardening skills and enjoying themselves into the bargain.
Headteacher Paul, who started the ball rolling, is grateful to everyone who has taken an interest in the project and contributed in a tangible way.
There have been some generous donations ranging from packets of seeds to the lock-up garden shed, but two that stand out relate to time and fund-raising.
hese are the efforts of Franki Britten the school caretaker and her fiancé Alfie.
Franki, who has a penchant for baking, has recently opened a school shop which trades once a week, on a Thursday, immediately after the school day.
So popular are her cakes with the children that the substantial profit has supported several purchases for the garden.
Meanwhile Alfie, whose practical skills and enthusiasm for growing plants has greatly encouraged the youngsters, is continually discussing with them what they want to grow next.
Gardening can be beneficial for humankind in so many ways but above all it must be fun.
In this respect it was special to be present when a group of them decided to harvest the carrot crop which had been grown in a tub of sandy soil.
Each one was name tagged, even Alfie’s, but there was no telling what would emerge from the earth or whose would be biggest.
One was greeted with great hilarity because it had forked roots and resembled a human form. Then the youngsters got down to comparing respective lengths. Such shared experiences linger long in the memory.
The long school holidays are just around the corner and any activities that engage children, stimulate young minds or offer successful outcomes help to relieve boredom.
This is one reason why we see so many family groups visiting places such as The Alnwick Garden.
And that is where the present enthusiasm for plants took off for Amble Links First School.
They became involved in the Roots & Shoots project, exhibited their healthy vegetables at the All Schools’ Show in The Pavilion, and developed the resolve to transform their own patch.
The rest is history!