Tales from the Greenhouse

The wonderful thing about gardens is that they do not recognise pandemics: they tick away at their own pace and for many of the students that has proved a reassuring certainty in a world now unfamiliar in so many ways.  With this thought in mind we ‘carried on regardless’ in the best British tradition.  I missed the vibrant dynamic of working with groups of students, but on the plus side, for those attending the day provision, there was plenty of time to get to know each person much better, and that must be a good thing no matter how dire the circumstances that bring it about.

We were very fortunate that the lovely people at B&Q had gifted me some seeds before the lockdown and from these we raised dozens of amazing lobelias, amberboas, marigolds and tagetes.  The slugs have had a fair old chomp but if you don’t look too close it still looks amazing.  Once we had filled our planters we shared the surplus with staff, many of whom had pitched in and done sterling work in keeping everything going when I was off. 

Last year we grew a rather exotic looking dwarf sunflower in a burnt orange shade.  This year some of its self-seeded offspring appeared.  They had the same fabulous colour but had lost their dwarf aspect.  Currently they are soaring high above us all in an untidy cluster but beautiful nonetheless. Some of the students are fascinated by the procession of fat bumble bees busily probing for nectar.  The alliums we have growing in the old wheelbarrow have proved equally popular with these delightful visitors and are at a better height for closer scrutiny.

Our second year strawberry beds did well and many students helped with picking.  The dry start to the summer meant the strawberries were delicious and I was surprised that while students were happy to pick, nobody wanted to eat them.  After much deliberation I wondered if they did not recognise them as food when they came from an unfamiliar source.  Putting them in bowls made all the difference!

Next half term will be a very busy one as we will be building the first of our two new raised beds.  These are only raised up by a couple of feet so students can step into them and learn the noble art of digging with a spade! But before we get to that point there is the little matter of filling it with the 6 tons of topsoil due any day now. This is very exciting as it will help students understand how to use their strength appropriately and to engage so many gross motor skills that help in everyday life, as well as improving general mobility and fitness.  I am certainly hoping it will help me get rid of my lockdown tummy too!

And as if things weren’t going to busy enough, we will be potting on the runners from the strawberry plants.  This is an important part of our push to self-sufficiency.  As plants really only remain productive for about 3 years, next year our original plants will be composted but we will have our replacements ready to take their place.

Of course autumn means lots of bulb planting and this is something everyone can be involved in through handling the compost to exploring the different textures of the bulbs – smooth for tulips and papery for daffodils.  My students are very productive when involved in this type of planting and most can work pretty independently after a few goes.  We have also split and saved many of our primulas and these will be potted up for our autumn plant sale.  These are brilliant little plants as they cope with a bit of neglect, come in a variety of bright colours (always a talking point for choices) and withstand a fair bit of mishandling if it all gets too exciting.

But it’s not just about skills and education, one of the great things about being in the garden is that it gives us an activity to talk about.  For some children this will be a physical conversation: handling and feeling plants, soil, water, or smelling and tasting things. For others, they learn how to express unfamiliar experiences through their AAT devices.  However it comes about, it’s great to get involved, get messy and have these experiences alongside your child, modelling and interacting.  It would be hard to overestimate how beneficial these sorts of shared sensory experiences are at creating and developing bonds that are of the moment, but are also part of shared long-term memories too.  

As I read through this I am conscious that it sounds as though everything we do outdoors goes swimmingly – I can assure it does not!  And in the interest of fairness I feel I should own up to some of the disasters too.  Some of you may have had a bundle of veg lovingly grown and picked by your child, what you didn’t receive was one of the x-rated carrots which came up with alarming regularity – the perils of too rich soil and slightly stony ground!  The terrible apprehension as each carrot emerged from the ground is not something I want to revisit. 

My bucket of sensory soil that I spoke of in my spring article, on hand for students who get a bit too keen on the stuff, served me well - until the day it didn’t. Suffice to say that the beetroot seedlings came off second best that day!   

And so it goes, but that’s Seashell: never a dull moment and I wouldn’t have it any other way.