In The Garden

Schoolkids gardening
Schoolkids gardening

Tips and advice on maintaining your green oasis: school playtime for grown-ups.

TV gardening guru Alan Titchmarsh is calling on all schools to ‘get their grown-ups growing’ as part of a nationwide event organised by the Royal Horticultural Society, to be held across October.

Get Your Grown-ups Growing forms part of the RHS’s Campaign for School Gardening, supported by Waitrose - a national initiative that encourages schools to create gardens, teach the skills of growing and in turn enable their pupils to learn outside the classroom.

Each October schools are invited to hold a Grown-ups Growing event so they can involve their local community to help develop the school garden. Grandparents, parents, carers and friends are invited to help.

Titchmarsh, leading supporter of the RHS campaign, explains: “It is no secret that school was never my favourite place and my interests lay outside the classroom, often in the allotment with my grandfather. But today it’s a very different world.

“The fact that schools have really cottoned on to the benefits of gardening with their pupils is fantastic news, especially for children who are looking for different ways to learn, like I was.

“If we can encourage parents and the wider community to get involved with their school garden, then who knows, we might end up with a green revolution both at home and at school.”

Activities suggested for event organisers include tool swaps, taste tests of produce grown in schools or alternatively locally-grown fruit and veg, a range of gardening classes and even a mini garden show.

Schools with gardens can encourage adults within the community to help develop new areas such as a wildlife garden or help construct raised beds. A Get Your Grown-ups Growing event can also see adults passing on their gardening experience to children by helping them sow seeds, plant trees and assist in weeding.

For schools without gardens it’s the ideal opportunity to involve adults in the community from the beginning to establish some form of gardening facility in the school.

For both types of schools the event can even be used to raise funds through plant sales and raffles.

Entering its third year, Get Your Grown-ups Growing has developed from a small pilot project based in Yorkshire to a national success involving 1,000 schools. Of the schools that held an event last year, 74% said it had increased their children’s interest in gardening, while more than half reported an increase in adult support and adult interest in gardening.

Jacky Chave, RHS strategic schools manager, says: “Having a school garden is a fantastic asset for teachers and pupils as it provides a multitude of learning opportunities, but we know it can take a lot of hard work to maintain.

“By involving parents and other local adults, through an event like Get Your Grown-ups Growing, we hope that school gardens will be looked after all year round and enthusiasm for gardening and growing will spread beyond the school gates and into children’s homes.”

The RHS hopes to see 2,000 schools register for this year’s Get Your Grown-ups Growing event, double last year’s figure. All registered schools will be entered into a free prize draw to win garden tools and materials.

To register, schools must sign up to the RHS Campaign for School Gardening via and click on the ‘Get Your Grown-ups Growing’ button on the home page.

Schools which register will receive a free support pack including seeds, event ideas, information templates, stickers and more.

Each school can choose any date in October to hold its event and organise activities to suit its requirements.

Best of the bunch - Penstemon

Penstemons are one of the most valuable late summer-flowering perennials and, in all but the coldest regions, are easy and reliable, flowering from summer to mid-autumn. Their elegant spires of foxglove-like flowers are available in a range of gorgeous warm reds, pinks, purples, blues and whites and they fit into all styles of mixed border among dwarf shrubs, complementing grey foliage plants and roses.

Penstemons have a reputation for being tender, but in fact winter losses are usually due to wet weather. They need full sun and well drained soil. If you live in an area with heavy rainfall, cover the crown of the plants with a cloche over winter. On poor soils, add extra nutrients by watering with a high-potash liquid feed in June and again at the beginning of August, but don’t feed beyond the end of August. Plants should be cut back in late March to 12cm (5in) from ground level to keep the plants bushy and prevent flopping. Good varieties include P. ‘Alice Hindley’, which grows to 90cm (3ft) and produces large, pale-mauve, white-throated blooms, P. ‘Osprey’, a pink and white variety which looks great in the cottage garden, and P. ‘Raven’, with its rich purple blooms and white throat.

Good enough to eat - Sweet potato

Sweet potatoes have become popular in the last decade for their rich, tasty orange flesh which adds colour and texture to many dishes. They are fantastic roasted with other vegetables, or mixed in warming stews when the weather turns cooler. Many mothers boil and puree them when they are weaning their babies because of their high amount of nutrients and sweet flavour.

As they are widely grown in tropical countries, they do need a sunny and sheltered spot in rich, sandy soil, dug over with compost and a general fertiliser. They are mainly grown from ‘slips’ in this country and need four months to mature, so you need to plant tubers in May to enable them to grow to maturity.

However, you’ll need to warm your soil first with cloches or black polythene, as the soil needs to be at least 12C (52F) for them to succeed. Plant them 6in (15cm) deep and 12in (30cm) apart with at least two leaf nodes under the soil. Keep them warm by growing them under cloches or through fleece and they’ll need to be well watered regularly. They can then be harvested the same way as potatoes in September.

Three ways to... Combine plants to help each other

1. Plant runner beans with sunflowers. The beans donate nitrate to the sunflowers and can use them to climb up.

2. Grow chives under roses to suppress fungal diseases, especially blackspot.

3. Grow rhubarb close to aquilegias, to deter red spider mite.

What to do this week

Create a new compost heap or invest in a compost bin to house all that autumn debris.

Scarify and aerate established lawns to reduce compaction and top dress with a mixture of sieved garden soil and sharp sand.

Continue to thin out aquatic plants, leaving them by the side of the pond for a few days to allow any wildlife to escape.

Relocate evergreen shrubs while the soil is still relatively warm.

Stop feeding shrubs and trees in containers, as new soft growth is likely to be damaged in winter.

Cut down and divide perennials including sedums, hostas and phlox.

Pot up prepared hyacinths and narcissi for flowers at Christmas.

Continue to plant narcissi but leave tulips until October.

Sow hardy annuals including cornflowers, poached-egg plants and poppies outside now for flowering next year.

Harvest the last marrows and courgettes and lift maincrop potatoes.

Dig over heavy clay soil before the autumn rain makes it less workable.

Last chance to plant autumn onion sets.

Sow parsley and chervil for use in late winter and early spring.

Pick apples and pears as they ripen.