School Gardens – Tidy or Rampant?

For most school principals its a daunting task to allow a Permaculture Garden Designer into the school yard – let alone let them redesign the school backyard along with the crazy ideas of Primary School kids calling the shots and taking an active role in the design process!
Schools need to function efficiently after all without all that clutter. School fields should be easy to mow and maintenance should be minimal. That’s the theory.

School Gardens the way we imagine them

So if you remember what traditional school grounds look like when you were a kid, its a good chance that a Permaculture Food Forest jungle would not be one of them.

In school gardens these days there is usually a token effort made to allow some experimentation, an effort to be a little bit green and progressive. You will find some where tucked away in a corner between the concrete and the turf, a small square garden bed, sometimes in a tank with a bizarre collection of weeds. A testament to an experiment that sadly wasn’t maintained and now looks like a long lost mess. See photo above.

Leonie Shanahan

Leonie Shanahan

And its into this kind of garden is where Leonie Shanahan steps in with her wierd ideas of permaculture patterns and Natural rampancy that has some principals reaching for their leaf blower – shaking their heads in disbelief, concerned whether they made the right decision!

Leonie is a Permaculture School Gardens instructor. She teaches the kids how to redesign a school garden. In fact they take ownership for the design and whats planted in their garden. She encourages them to experiment with strange garden shapes that mean something to them.

You would think the notion of allowing kids to create a little jungle in the schoolyard along with worm towers, archways of beans, mixed in with an odd looking scarecrow, a compost pile, a water feature for little birds and thousands of sunflowers that bob away cheerfully smiling next to a normal looking sports field of lawn and neat straight concrete edges – would be a little strange and something of an anachronism. Something that shouldn’t be there in the first place.

Leonie's Permaculture School Gardens become a jungle of rampancy

In Leonie’s world, you don’t just build a garden and then walk away – like the tank garden experiment. Every week is a changing tapestry. Children are encouraged to play within the boundaries of the garden beds during lunchtime and pick peas and beans as they ripen.
They gently learn the change of the seasons, and the way the soil is transformed over time. Leonie only appears on a Friday and has a set task for the kids to do each time.

If it means chop n drop where plants grown for green manure are cut with finger snapping hedge trimmers – then that’s what the kids do.
They labour in the field. Adding worm castings, laying out newspaper, building up the no dig garden beds and then they harvest in the autumn. And they celebrate the end of the season.

What Leonie is doing is the same thing people did when they were connected to the land a few centuries back. When they were involved with the seasons. Parents are encouraged to come along and help prepare a meal from the produce grown in the school garden and there is music and dance and celebration.
The end of the season.
And oddly enough the garden takes a more central role in the lives of the children as a new season approaches and the cycle continues.