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Children and Gardening

We’re really feeling the Spring surge of growth here at Black Shed. Both Helen and I are so lucky to be able to pursue our passion for British flowers and to be so fully immersed in all the seasonal changes of the flower farming year. It’s a wonderful life and we are particularly delighted to be able to share it with our 9 year old daughter Tabitha, who, even at this young age, has a knowledge of plant families, botany and nomenclature that I was not to acquire for at least another decade. Being able to observe growth and nature at such close quarters is such a privilege but one that is denied to so many children in this modern world. This is a terrible tragedy, as our lives entirely depend on the top few inches of soil. We neglect this at our peril.

The nurturing of this essential and precious resource is probably the most important thing that any child could learn. Yet where does this feature on the school curriculum? Grammar is all very well but without the understanding of nature and the ability to understand the link between the soil and our reliance on it, we’re pretty much doomed. You can’t eat past participles.

children gardening
Scouts helping out. They were amazing!

The lack of practical subjects in schools really worries me. As many of you will know, with my children’s author and illustrator hat on, I’ve spent the last twenty five years travelling the world visiting schools, working with children of all manner of ages and abilities. Whilst there is some excellent work going on, the belief that academic subjects are the be all and end all of education is profoundly short sighted. Not only does it alienate a huge raft of children for whom academia is simply inappropriate but it squeezes out subjects which are proven to have very positive, indeed life changing effects on children, such as art, design, music, cookery and my pet love, gardening. This particularly for those with special needs, for whom school can be a very challenging environment. Last year we welcomed the SEN children from Sherborne County Primary and they were a complete joy. Freed from the noise and constraints of the classroom, they simply shone in our field. Watching the joy on their faces as they helped with our tasks was priceless.

We welcome anyone who wants to help out, or just enjoy a few hours immersed in the nature and wildlife of the farm. We’ve come on the radar of the tutors at Kingston Maurward and are delighted to welcome trainee florists and horticulturists who are seeking practical hands on experience. If you want to be a florist, what better way to learn the ways of your plant material than to get involved in it’s production? There are some truly fantastic opportunities and jobs in horticulture and floristry but unless our children are exposed to this life affirming and ecologically enhancing world, how will they know what they’re missing?

So what’s been going on at the farm? We’ve certainly had some very challenging weather in March. Trying to keep our small polytunnel and low ‘caterpillar’ tunnels on the ground has been a challenge in itself, the storms have been really difficult. We rely on these to protect our seedlings and to bring on our Ranunculus and Anemones. Back at home our grow room is churning out a hugely diverse selection of seedlings, every available horizontal surface is covered with them. Here’s to some more clement weather as Spring gathers pace. Our new acre’s beds are pretty much in place and ready to get leap into production. At times it difficult to believe that in just a few weeks time our somewhat soggy plot will be bursting with colour!

©Paul Stickland. First published in The Sherborne Times, April 2019


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