Meldreth Primary School’s (not so) Secret Garden
Teaching children about the natural world should be seen as one of the most important events in their lives.
There was a Secret Garden in the grounds of Meldreth Primary School. An over-grown, impenetrable muddle of tangled branches, roots and leaves that no one had ventured into for years. It remained untouched and abandoned, hiding behind an ever-expanding hedge, like a fairy-tale castle swamped with impassable brambles so that it had almost been forgotten.
Now, a few months after the Secret Garden Project was launched, the area is still wild and natural, but it is certainly not forgotten!
The Secret Garden at Meldreth Primary School is hugely important for the school and its pupils. We are lucky enough already to have a wonderful open field where the children can let off steam, practice sports and play. However, this new Secret Garden area will be a place of calm and learning in a wild and natural environment. Nestled under the canopy of a huge Elm tree, the newly refurbished area will fulfil many roles: an outdoor classroom, a quiet area for peace and relaxation, a nature detectives’ base, a hub for Science, DT and Art, a mindfulness area, a shady place on a hot day, a magical story-telling escape and a little oasis of calm.
Recent studies have highlighted some benefits of outdoor learning for young children:
- Higher levels of conversational language
- Greater independence
- Improved health and sleeping patterns
- Greater physical competence and agility
- Improved time focus on activities and more concentration
- A greater understanding of nature and the environment
- Improved social skills, involvement and initiative
We feel incredibly lucky to have this space in our grounds and it will become an integral part of the children’s learning experience.
From conception, the project has involved many people, both contractors and as ever, amazing volunteers. Before we could even think about how it might eventually look, Shire Tree Services were called in to cut down the small self-seeded trees and shrubs that were preventing any sort of access into the area. Once the worst had been cleared and we could see what was out there, we quickly got to work on the old pond. The bare bones of it were still there, but wow, did it need a face-lift!
Years of fallen leaves, branches and who-knows-what were dredged out and spread along the back of the garden to create a raised bank and wild flower area. The old pond liner was removed, crumbling paving slabs and tree roots taken away and a new wildlife friendly, sloping entrance to the pond was created at one end, a deeper area in the middle for water lilies, shelves were put in around the pond edge for marginal plants and a very important new row of sturdy paving slabs around one side for pond dipping!
Our team of volunteers came in during the weekends and created the bark chip pathways, seating circles and bug hotels, which now give the area a clear purpose and plan.
Children from Year 2 have been planting spring bulbs and we will sowing wildflower seeds in the spring. Parts of the area have remained untouched to maintain wildlife habitats and we are keeping everything crossed that these bug hotels, hedgehog piles, lizard-lounges and water ways will attract a host of animals and insects.
Much like our pupils, we know that what knowledge and skill we can bestow on this garden, we will see come back ten-fold in the future and develop over the coming years. It will be hard work and will require care and attention, but with continued effort and enthusiasm, we will reap the benefits for years to come. A nice little metaphor for life really!
Many thanks to Meldreth Primary School PTA for making this project possible, to Shire Tree Services for ‘finding’ the garden again and to Imas Aquatic Services for creating a beautiful pond for us all to enjoy. And to the amazing parents who always come out and help make these things happen!
Everything is made out of Magic: leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden—in all the places
―Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
This article first appeared in the January 2021 issue of Meldreth Matters.