Our secret garden

School yard

Having had some small success with growing trees in my back garden, I decided to expand the tree-planting adventure into my work. I have the pleasure of working as a Teacher’s Assistant in my local primary school. What a perfect opportunity to get the next generation involved in saving the planet and planting trees! I am lucky in that at my school I am given a fair amount of support and autonomy to set up small projects which might benefit the children, and if I can get the timing right I can take small groups of children out of class to do extra-curricular activities. Here was an activity that would take almost no financial input and would tick many boxes in terms of both learning and nurturing.

Unfortunately, we have no green space whatsoever. Although located right next to a beautiful park, within the school grounds there are only two concrete-bound trees and some AstroTurf – and a strange little area known as the secret garden. The secret garden is tarmac with a couple of raised beds and some pots. At some point in the past, someone planted it thoughtfully with fragrant herbs and honeysuckle, but it gets very little direct sunlight and without care, the place quickly becomes a dank weedy hole. However, this was to be my space for growing trees with the children.

Knowing that I had had success in my own concrete back yard, I was ready to give it a go. I ordered a bag of compost and started to gather cardboard toilet rolls – these were to be our pots, by folding one end in they would hold a just adequate amount of soil to propagate a seed. Acorns and conkers, as these were readily available, and a few sycamore helicopters from the tree on the main playground.

I took groups of six or seven children at a time down to the secret garden for 20-minute slots in the afternoon. It was just enough time for me to tell them everything I know about seeds and for them to fill two toilet rolls each with earth and plant an acorn or a conker or a sycamore seed. The children wanted to write their names on them, but I didn’t let them. I wanted it to be a group activity, and also, I knew not all the seeds would sprout so didn’t want the children planting seeds of disappointment.

They were without exception excited at the idea of planting trees; fascinated by the fact they wouldn’t reach maturity until they themselves were adults, keen to guess the types of seeds and to show their knowledge of roots and sprouts. We wrote a sign declaring our tree planting project, asking others to respect it, and we left them there for Nature to take her course.

Due to lockdown, I have been unable to go into school to see if any of the trees have sprouted, and I am impatient to get to the next phase; of planting them into bigger pots with the children. But even if not a single seed were to have sprouted, it would still have been a valuable project – to have got some children out of the classroom and into the garden.

4 thoughts on “Our secret garden”

    1. Hi. Thanks for your comment.
      Unfortunately the project has not been a great success…so far! We waited and waited for signs of germination and I was about to give up on them when, towards the end of May the first tiny sprout appeared. It was immediately eaten by something. A second appeared, which was frazzled by the exceptionally hot sun during half term. There has not been a third. However we are not deterred! We are now planning a whole-school tree planting project for September. This time though we will not be using toilet rolls as they dry out too quickly. We will keep the blog updated with the new project. There are about 400 children in the school so hopefully we will get at least a few saplings this time!

      1. Thanks so much for the update!
        It’s wonderful that you have not been deterred by the initial obstacles.
        I think patience and perseverance are qualities that trees themselves can teach us!
        Good luck with the September project!

    2. UPDATE!
      Some of our acorns have germinated! To our utter delight we finally have some baby trees in our secret garden. The one which got eaten has re-sprouted and the one that got frazzled over the half term holiday also made an almighty effort and put up a second stem which is now about 12cm high with eight beautiful green leaves. Several others are just breaking through the soil – in July! (I expected them much earlier) We have potted some of them on from the toilet rolls and will do the same with the rest of them before the end of term. As the above comment says, the trees have taught us the importance of patience and perseverance!

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