A School Garden – Community Project
In 2011 a fellow graduate of the Garden Design School and I were commissioned to redesign the front garden of a school near Reading. The brief was to design an informal and naturalistic style garden using native plants and natural materials where possible. It was important that the completed garden should reflect the school’s ethos, in which the rhythms and cycles of nature form the central element of the child’s school day and year. The school wanted us to rejuvenate the space and create areas for children and parents to socialise.
Other key requirements for the design were that it should have year round interest, be low maintenance and low-budget. The idea was that parents and local businesses could donate plants, materials and help to construct the garden.
My colleague Nicola Warnants and I were thrilled to be involved in such a project as we both loved the idea of the garden and the way it was going to come to life through the collective effort of the community.
Reflecting the rhythms of nature was central to the brief so we decided early on in the design process that the garden would feature circles. The elegant Grade II listed school building seemed to lend itself to a symmetrical garden layout such as you see in many formal garden designs, however in this instance we would combine this symmetry with informal planting to soften it. Pruned columns of beech would give structure to the plan and contrast beautifully with the naturalistic planting.
We designed two circular seating areas, each with a different look and feel. One is an open space where people can gather and chat and the other is a more private area where pupils and parents can sit quietly and enjoy the surrounding nature.
The school and the wider community really pulled together to create the garden in line with our design. A small budget was found to buy some of the plants that couldn’t be donated. The stumps used in the seating areas and stumpery were sourced for free from a local church, youth hostel and parent’s gardens. Recycled gravel and stone edging was used for the seating areas and paths. One of the parents made the rustic wooden benches. Lots of willing volunteers spent hours taking up turf, weeding, digging, planting and generally working hard.
The end result was a lovely garden that reflected the ethos of the school and will be a constant reminder of what can be achieved when we all pull together,
Jennifer Leach who managed the project to construct the garden said:
“It was a remarkable experience, and one I am very proud about. It has not only transformed the front of school exactly as we hoped it would, but has turned around how we perceive ourselves, and has opened the floodgates for community support”