RoseStreetNurseryWThe Secret Garden

Wokingham Town Council's Schools Gardening Competition 2012

In February 2007 I was interviewed for the post of Nursery Manager at the Rose Street Nursery.  During the interview I was shown into the nursery garden and I loved it from the moment I caught sight of it – the use of space and the design was stunning.  I had no idea this garden was here as it is surrounded by car parks and buildings.  I learnt there had been a garden on this site for over 4 years and this beautiful, captivating and tranquil 'secret oasis' had been created with the children in mind.  I eagerly accepted the job offer and since then I have watched the children and the adults enjoying their 'secret' garden as I have and the seasons have come and gone.  Every year I have continued to admire the beauty of the garden and I have gained such an insight into how the nursery children benefit from this lovely space where they can play, explore, investigate and above all have lots of fun.  When I by chance noticed a poster advertising the Wokingham Town Schools Gardening Competition I thought this would be a fun and exciting project to get involved in and be a way of sharing the 'secret' garden with others and importantly involve the Bradbury Centre Community alongside the nursery.  I approached Guy, Gerry and Barbara from the Centre as I wanted to find out what they thought of my idea – they were so accommodating and helpful coming on board with the project.  As a result of their support and encouragement I entered the Rose Street Nursery garden in the Competition.  The theme of the garden was to be red, white and blue in honour of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

IMG 0103WWe had lots of ideas for our 'secret garden' and used our space very creatively.  The children were all actively involved in the design and maintenance of the garden and with the selection of plants and their planting.  As keen and very capable gardeners, Gerry and Guy were extremely kind to us and helped the children with parts of the planting.  They not only donated their time and valuable experience but also plants and garden supplies.  The children were so eager to help them in the garden and I was so pleased the children were learning new skills and enjoying themselves immensely in the process.  The radishes, carrots, raspberries, beans, sweet peas, lettuce, tomato plant and herbs donated by Guy and Gerry are growing brilliantly – the rain helped a lot!!!  The children all worked so hard helping get the garden ready for the competition and they really enjoyed growing flowers and vegetables and tending to their 'secret' garden.  Every day there is something different to look at and there is so much for the children to do in the garden and enjoy which is the case every day of the nursery year.  The children are really loving finding out about the plants and flowers and seeing the birds, bees and butterflies visit them the garden as well as other minibeasts.  Fundraising money we raised by the nursery parents recently brought the children new magnifying glasses, windmills, watering cans, garden tools and plants to use and enjoy in the garden – all very popular!

These are just some of the comments made by the children about their 'secret' garden:
"The bees go into the bee house to make honey" said A "Nectar" said L
D said "Bees like collecting honey and getting into their hive"
"The bean stalk is getting taller – the giant is at the top" said C
When asked by Michelle what do the birds do in the garden A said "They go to the feeders to eat the seeds and go into their birdhouses to sleep"
"I like watering plants as they don't grow if you don't water them" said J
"I like helping you plant the seeds as they will grow and grow and be big flowers" said A
"I like the birds – they like bird food – I don't like bird food" said D
"I like the feel of the compost – it is squishy and squashy" said J

IMG 0094WThe Town Mayor Cllr Peter Lucey judged the garden with Gemma Cummings Trainee Arts & Culture Officer on Wednesday 11th July.  The children worked very hard to get the garden ready in time.  I was so nervous on the day of the Mayor's visit but everything went really well and the children had a great time showing off the garden and their efforts.  We were so excited when we found out that the Town Mayor had awarded Rose Street Nursery Highly Commended in the nursery/primary schools section of the competition.  Cllr Lucey was impressed by our garden, amazed at the planting in such a small space.  Furthermore, he said the children obviously get a great deal from the space and the planting.  The Mayor in particular wanted to express his admiration to all settings for all the work that has gone into our gardens in such a difficult year for gardening.  I have been strongly encouraged to enter again next year!  For all our efforts we have won £20 of gardening vouchers and a certificate.  These will be presented to us at a presentation evening in September at the Town Hall – so exciting!!

When I was studying for my degree I came across a really thought provoking quote written by Margaret McMillan an outdoor theorist and one which I fully support.  McMillan wrote that "the best classroom and the richest cupboard is roofed only by the sky.  Children want space at all ages.  But from the age of one to seven, space, that is ample space, is almost as much wanted as food and air.  To move, to run, to find things out by new movement, to feel one's life in every limb, that is the life of early childhood."

We may not have a huge garden but just having such a lovely space that we use rain or shine is so important to the children as they can 'play' and 'learn' so much and be children.  Being awarded Highly Commended means such a great deal to us as it is recognition for our ongoing creative use of space and our vision.  The urban courtyard 'secret' garden which is part of a multi user building is very important to us.  I have had a few thoughts about next year already and the children have given me lots of ideas.  I love the following quote: "Well-designed environments don't just happen, they evolve over time."  As always we will continue to evolve our nursery environment both in regards to the outdoors and the indoors!  I loved being involved in this project working with the children, my team and the Bradbury Centre Community.  Many thanks to all those that supported us in this project and for their ongoing support!

Michelle Hodgetts,
Nursery Manager, Rose Street Nursery