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School Gardens

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When planning such a project, interest and enthusiasm are vital to its success. It should be seen as an ongoing program which is closely linked with many other aspects of the school's curricula. The coordinating teacher(s) need to be prepared to dedicate a considerable amount of time to the project for several years overseeing the area and educating and instructing students, other teachers and adults in the associated programs. Once the project is established it can become self-perpetuating. The following are some ideas which may help you to begin your project.

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Always research your project well and present your ideas confidently. Too many people will not see your project continuing when you leave the school. They will feel initially that the expenditure will be wasted and will not recognise the intrinsic and aesthetic value of such an area.
Gain the support of the principal. It is essential
Engender others, beginning with the students, with your own interest and enthusiasm. Allay their fears and doubts by setting up a steering committee of students to organise and inplement the project. The combination of your enthusiasm and the students' involvement in the initial stages is vital. Often a better response is given by adults when children are the presenters.
Begin a peer tutoring system to involve as many students in the school as possible.
Form an adult support group to assist with the garden construction initially, to assist with fund raising and to tutor in the ongoing educational programs.
Approach parent groups for initial funding and plan future activities to raise further funds so that your project is not solely dependant on such groups. Explain your ideas to the parent group when making your initial approach so that they too can see a positive future for the project.
Use the student committee to plan school and fund raising activities and to write letters asking for assistance from local community groups.
Plan maintenance of the garden carefully and assign tasks to appropriate students and supervising adults. Do not forget to include the holiday periods, especially Christmas. Include watering, weeding, mulching and fertilising.

 

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Approach the school's parent groups.
Approach local service groups such as SGAP, Lions, Rotary and Apex.
Activities - "Thons", fertiliser drive, plant sales, children’s stall at the fete, guessing competition, mufti day, working bee and barbecue, coin trail, swap day, buy a plant, competitions involving the best cared for sections of the garden, the best indoor plant, the best plant raised by seed or cutting by students for the project or the Year 6 annual presentation to the school. The ideas are endless.
Approach local nurseries and wholesale nurseries. They often have a range of odd stock that they are willing to donate. Wholesale nurseries often have seconds of plants which they may donate.
Approach local councils. They will often donate plants and mulch.
Approach local businesses to sponsor aspects of the project.
National Parks and Wildlife Service, Forestry Commission, Botanic Gardens and Field Studies Centres all can contribute to your project. Many distribute plants directly to schools or participate in programs through major chain stores.
Local Garden Clubs and interest groups can help, particularly in practical ways. Many of the older members enjoy communicating their knowledge and skills to the students.

 

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Choose a sunny position with a northerly aspect.
If necessary, rip the ground in the chosen area and leave fallow for at least a month.
Add gypsum if the soil is a heavy clay. Cover the whole area to a depth of I cm with old newspapers if young weeds become a problem. The newspaper will eventually break down.
Purchase a heavy soil mix with 1/3 river sand to build the mounds.
Build mounds at least 40cm high around the edges and higher in the middle
Lay agricultural pipe if there are any likely drainage problems. The pipe should be laid diagonally across the flow.
Surround the area with logs or sleepers to retain the soil and height. If the border is lined with plastic remember to leave weep holes for drainage.
Install lines for a micro watering system, if required. 2 cm rural pipe is sufficient to lay underground to tap into rather than buying a heavier pipe. Metal clamps may be required on the main lines at joints if water pressure is high.
Apply a heavy mulch over the top of the whole area up to 10 cm deep if natural materials are used.
Suggested mulches:
  • Grass clippings
  • Leaf mulch
  • Wood chip - Eucalyptus only
  • Coarse river sand
  • Granite chips
  • Gravel.
Pine-bark in any form is not suggested as often it releases too much nitrogen and phosphorus into the soil which some native plants cannot take.
Natural mulches, if not already composted, should be left for about a month at least until the vigorous activity has ceased.
Mulch helps to control weeds, keep moisture in the soil and keep the root system cool. When planting out, mulch should be kept clear of the base of the plants to help prevent the spread of disease and collar-rot.
If the area is to be fertilised be careful, it should be done at this stage. Soil suppliers will mix fertilisers and trace elements into the soil mix for you if you require them, otherwise you may do it yourself. Blood and Bone without urea, some forms of Dynamic Lifter and slow release pellets (6-9 months) with low phosphorus should be used. Many Proteaceae plants (which includes Grevilleas and Banksias) are particularly sensitive to phosphorus. Natural mulches often can be quite sufficient as a fertiliser, Horse and cow manure should be well composted before applying to the soil

 

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Plants can be chosen and arranged in many different ways to suit many different purposes.
You should choose one which best suits your needs.

Suggested ideas are:

Plant families
Texture of bark, foliage or flowers
Plant shape, height and width
Leaf patterns and/or colour
Flower colour
Climatic or vegetation type e.g. rainforest, heath, swamp or bog, desert or dry or wet forest
Formal or informal
Smell or taste
Aboriginal use of plan

 

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If you are starting from scratch, plant all plants of varying height at the same time. All plants will compete for the nutrients at the same time and do not hinder each other’s development to the same extent when some are older.
If planting in an established area, remember there will always be competition from established plants for light and water. Quite often underground roots have to be cleared to allow sufficient water to reach the new plants. The old roots often act like a sponge and the new plants suffer accordingly.
Always plant in a three height structure so that plants support each other as they do in nature.
Wattles and Pea Flowers are always fast growing plants.
To protect plants from the wind when they are young , often a plastic bottle or milk carton with the top cut off will do the job. For more advanced plants tying with a stocking between two stakes will be the first step. In severe conditions screening of plants behind four stakes surrounded by plastic or hessian will give total protection. Sheltering from prevailing winds on one side will often be sufficient.
In extremely dry conditions the creation of a built up sump around the plant wilt help to retain water.
The micro watering system can now be completed. Drippers can be installed beside each plant.

 

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Windbreaks should be erected at right angles to the prevailing winds. They can be elliptical in shape.
Windbreaks should be Three tiered in structure with the tallest plants approximately 10 metres from the garden area, the medium range plants 2 metres further away and the lowest a further 2 metres.

 

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These areas can be made quite simply.

Mark the area out on the ground
The depth of the pond need be no more than 2Ocm
Excavate the area to a depth of 30 cm or deeper.
Back fill with river sand to a depth of 1Ocm and mound around the perimeter to a height of I0cm
Cover the whole area with a rubber pond liner (available from nurseries) or industrial quality plastic (black preferably).
Fill the pond from a nearby hose and leave standing for at least 3 weeks.

 

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Cox, Denis, Ian McMaster and John Obuch, Victorian Schools Nursery,Grounds for Learning: a practical guide to schoolground use and development, Dellasta, 1990.

Leiper, Glen, Mutooroo: Plant use by Australian Aboriginal people, [school garden], Eagleby South State School, Eagleby, 1984.

Metropolitan North and Field of Mars Field Studies Centre, Greening Your School, NSW Department of School Education.

You can also contact your nearest District Group (See District Groups page for a list), they may be able to assist.

...Ray Page, 1996