Getting to Grips with the Grounds at Grantown

22 September 2010 · 4 comments

in Developing School Grounds & Outdoor Spaces

My interest in developing school grounds began before I even began my teacher training. Back in 1990, I was volunteering as a ranger in the Pentland Hills, just outside Edinburgh. One of the rangers was married to a depute head teacher of Wardie Primary School in Edinburgh. He talked with great enthusiasm about how he was helping the school establish a tree nursery and improve their grounds.

This is the gardening area at Grantown Primary School.


A couple of years later High School Yards, an Edinburgh nursery developed the “Wee Green School” pack outlining their approach to developing their nursery outdoor space through a gardening project. The booklet is still available and just as relevant today. It became particularly well-known for its one-metre cornfield which was harvested and used to bake bread. If you have a small garden or outdoor space that you want to develop, then the pack is a great starting point

So when I began my first teaching post, at Grantown Primary School in the Scottish Highlands, I was keen to get going with similar ideas. I consulted local rangers and naturalists. I applied for a school grounds grant and managed to seek additional funding through a competition. With £650, my pockets were jingling and my anticipation levels were high.

This is the area which had the original hedges. It’s now a sensory garden with an area for watching birds.
It was a learning curve. The janitor, Bob, was incredibly helpful and worked with the local secondary school to get the children making window boxes. We planted a hedge of native trees – each pupil planted a tree. We looked at making a Highland garden.

The grounds have always had wilder playspaces. The worn grass shows how popular this area is.
However, the children were not consulted and neither was anyone else. So when mistakes were made, such as using plastic bottles to protect some of the trees that then blew away, the feel good factor wasn’t high. There was no maintenance plan to look after anything. Nothing was integrated into the curriculum or class projects. Thankfully Bob was a kind man who loved gardening and kept things going. Every year the window boxes were full of beautiful flowers.

This is a small shelter with a Highland mural! One of the many developments in Mhairi’s time
Two years after I left the school, a new head teacher, Mhairi Robertson was appointed. By coincidence, she had been the other deputy head teacher at Wardie Primary School several years earlier and knew the benefits of developing school grounds. With her enthusiasm and drive, the grounds continued to be developed, and in 2007 a Highland Garden was finally opened!

The Highland Garden. It was opened with a Garden Party and whole school outdoor performances on the playing field.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Abbie September 23, 2010 at 12:26

Looks like a great place to play and learn!

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Sherry and Donna September 25, 2010 at 10:50

I love the idea of a 1 meter cornfield Juliet … We could do that, then we could read our “Little Red Hen” story again, harvest the corn and make corn bread! http://www.playbasedlearning.com.au/2010/09/the-little-red-hen-finger-puppets/
Thanks for sharing.
Donna 🙂 🙂
BTW – I agree with Abbie it does look like a great place to play and learn! 🙂

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Loreen June 28, 2016 at 14:21

Love how children gain so much growing and tending to things as well as being in nature, so bring all that to the school and curriculum time is a very special combination. However did you cope with all that money jingling though? Was there enough left for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow? 🙂

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Juliet Robertson June 29, 2016 at 06:26

Loreen – it was well spent 🙂 Interestingly the grant was also for training to enable me to do this. I learned a lot from John Duffy about grounds development. I was able to buy books and visit a couple of places to find out more about permaculture. Recently I attended a course about permaculture in schools so this was lovely and a good way of reminding myself what I need to be considering but bringing the free play element into the approach.

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