Outdoor Explorers are a small band of eager and enthusiastic children at The Mount Junior School, York who meet once a week after school to quite simply, no matter what the weather, have fun outside!
Although The Mount is located in York city centre, the school is very fortunate to have a large site and during the last 6 years the Outdoor Explorers have enhanced and developed many areas of the school, including turning an old area of concrete into a vegetable and fruit garden complete with raised beds, a greenhouse and wildlife garden. Their hard work has been recognised with a Woodland Trust Green Tree Gold Award, an RSPB Wildlife Action Gold Award and, most recently, the Campaign for School Gardening’s Level 5 School Gardening Award.
This year the Outdoor Explorers Club, comprising 9 children aged 5-7, took on a new challenge – an old gravel walled garden at the front of the school. The children wanted to create a garden that made the youngest children, aged 2 and 3 years, smile as they passed by on their way into school every day.
The children chose children’s picture books as their inspiration and used the pictures and text to plan and design three themed gardens based on ‘The Train Ride’, ‘Night Pirates’ and ‘Dinosaur Roar’. Plant research focused on what the leaves looked like and what would grow well in a gravel garden. Vegetables and flowers were then planted alongside each other to create their ‘Once Upon A Time Gardens’…
Rhubarb exploded out of an upturned flower pot – an extinct volcano sprung into life with red verbena lava heading towards plastic dinosaurs, who took refuge in the deep undergrowth created by leeks, beetroot and thyme. An old wooden train set snaked its way through succulents and alpines, while mini gardens were created in window boxes using lollipop sticks, mini bird houses and marigolds.
In the pirate garden, courgette plants became large palm trees on desert islands, a pirate ship was moored off shore in a sea of spinach, while yellow marigolds tumbled out of an old treasure chest – I spy gold! A backdrop of lush island vegetation was created using broad and dwarf beans, while colourful felt-tip parrots settled on cane wigwams of runner beans. Dinosaur and pirate themed plant markers were dotted around the gardens.
Up-cycling was definitely an ongoing theme with unusual planters created from tyres and life buoys, a funny face totem pole made from tin cans collected from the school kitchens, old school chairs painted to create seating areas, and an old colander and keys turned into a wind chime.
In June the club, supported by the rest of Key Stage 1, held an Open Gardens event. Posters were made and displayed around the school and handmade invitations sent to the whole school community. The children made and decorated cakes and set up a café, to raise funds to buy a plant food maker, Autumn/Winter seeds and onion sets.
The rain held off (just!), and the children were very busy all afternoon showing their guests around their gardens, sharing their knowledge of the plants and serving refreshments.
Photos and videos captured the fun and excitement of the afternoon and these were made into a video for the group’s Level 5 School Gardening Award.
Jan Wilson, Class Teacher at the school said: "The children are understandably very proud of their gardens, their achievements and all the positive comments they received. They loved watching their ideas become a real garden and learning about the plants and vegetables, which they are now harvesting and selling on their organic vegetable stall.
"Perhaps the greatest achievement of the garden has been to inspire other children to garden, as parents have told us children of all ages are taking their toys outside and creating new gardens at home."
The Outdoor Explorers are now busy planning the ‘Once a Time Gardens’ for next term – we wonder which story books they will choose this time?