Last summer I did something very foolhardy and yet courageous – I let loose thirty rampaging schoolchildren into my cherished garden for a nature ramble… Let me explain.
Since moving from my one bedroom flat in urban Bristol to an ex-council house in the rural Chew Valley, my partner and I had been obsessing over one project: converting our new, but run-down garden into a top-notch nature haven. During the best part of a year we’d dug two huge herbaceous borders, excavated a pond, created a meadow, built both a bug hotel and compost bins, planted a mini orchard and managed our miniscule woodland. And with the total size of the garden no larger than playing surface of the Wimbledon’s Centre Court, this had been no mean achievement.
Keen for the wider community to see what we had accomplished, I contacted the local primary school to see if they would be interested in sending a class round for an outdoors lesson about back garden wildlife from yours truly. And to my joy and (slight) terror they replied that they’d only be delighted.
Before the big day I’d put a lot of thought into how best to keep them entertained, as we all know that young kids are much better at doing ‘stuff’ rather than sitting quietly listening to someone droning on. So on their arrival, and after the briefest of tours around the various habitats we’d created, I split the group into three task forces to both help me tick off a few chores and keep them busy. Group one would be planting a crab apple tree and some tulips, group two would be planting native bluebell bulbs and group three helping fill and sort out all the bird feeders.
Buzzing around like a blue-bottle fly between the groups to make sure they understood their brief, in no time I was knocked sideways by a number of revelations. Firstly young children adore being outside, and from the constant chatter and screams of laughter it was obvious that they were having far more fun than would otherwise have been the case with a normal class lesson. Secondly, kids’ affinity for nature in these precious early years is second to none, as each bird, bug and frog was spotted with an enthusiasm I scarcely thought possible. Thirdly, at this tender age children are like little sponges; and to see them suck up every all my wildlife utterance like miniature nature disciples was incredibly exciting. And finally they were so incredibly respectful of both my garden and what I was trying to achieve, I should never have worried about the herbaceous borders being trampled or my meadow being trashed.
After two of the most intense, but rewarding hours, not only had I knocked off a huge number of jobs from my ‘garden to do’ list, but the kids had got dirty, learnt about what it takes to make a garden wildlife friendly and had a fabulous afternoon to boot. As I lay down on the sofa exhausted after their departure back to school, my mind kept mulling over the same question – what to do with them next time?!