Thinking about mental (ill)health is a key priority for the IGA and deeply embedded into our ethos for world building through school gardens. As individuals and collaborative scholars we have considered the differing ways our connection and disseverment from “nature” has impacted upon mental health on a collective, societal, and personal scale. Our commitment to understanding the lived experiences of mental (ill)health has political intent: part of a continued fight for social justice. Yet, it is also simply part of who we are. Our worlds and selves enmeshed in our own relationships with mental health and the natural environments around us.
This week marks Mental Health Awareness Week (Mental Health Awareness Week 2021), an annual campaign to promote conversation and recognition of mental health. This year the theme is Nature and the Environment, with Mark Rowland, the Chief Director of the Mental Health Foundation, stating that “nature is our great untapped resource for a mentally healthy future”. The main aims for the week are to inspire people to connect with nature and to think about the benefits it can have for mental health. But also to encourage governments and decision makers at a range of levels to consider access to nature as a mental health and social justice issue, as much as an environmental one. Rowland advocates that “there could not be a more important time to understand the links between nature and mental health”, a message that powerfully chimes with our own ambitions.
As the IGA enters into its third year of existence this summer we feel more passionate than ever about developing our worldly work into mental (ill)health and gardens. Still deeply inspired by our visit to Arizona and the incredible work undertaken by the Community & School Garden Programme in Tucson, we continue to work in collaboration with young people and their school communities on issues of climate change and ecological justice. Over the past year we have expanded the reach of places and partners that with work with, sharing ideas and growing worlds in a variety of different spaces. We have been humbled and inspired by the resilience of the communities that work alongside us, many of whom have faced enormous hardship worsened by the recent pandemic. We are excited to share this work in the future on this site and to develop new relationships with schools and communities who share our passion for gardens.
One thing that we have certainly learned in our work so far is that the relationships between mental (ill)health and “nature” are not easy to understand and untangle. Yet they are central to our survival. In attempting to grow new worlds we have witnessed the lasting psychological effects of disconnection and alienation from the land and the earth. Yet we have also observed and felt the strength of the hopeful forces of re-connection and repair that garden work can do. Whilst there are no easy answers for challenging the current global mental health crisis we remain convinced of the role that school gardens can play in generating new, more hopeful and just futures. And so, we will continue to build them.
This week the IGA returned to work with Drumchapel High after a break due to another lockdown. Although plans to start working on the Food Growing site have been disrupted the group were keen to get back to work.
The first task was to mark out the position for the raised beds which involved moving a large amount of wood out of storage and onto the site. The students tried out different designs and decided to create five raised beds in a vertical row. Keen to make the site as accessible to everyone as possible, the group decided to position the raised beds near an already created pathway. Plans to build the raised beds are underway and over the next few weeks we hope to see our second site come to life.
The group also worked on a range of maintenance jobs on site one. The site had been left unattended throughout the 4 month lockdown and the group were keen to tidy up the garden. Birdfeeders were refilled, plants watered, bark raked, and benches found (some having been used as sledges over the winter months!). Plans to repaint the benches and to encourage people from the school community to use the site for wellbeing activities were made and the group are happy to work on maintaining the site over the next few weeks.
In preparation for our raised beds the group began pea planting, carefully considering seed packet instructions. Ally is currently looking after the peas indoors and fingers crossed they will start shooting shortly.
The disruption to education during lockdown has been incredibly challenging for everyone across the school community. During this time a number of original members from the group have left and other members have had to cope with a variety of changes to their routines. We are inspired and delighted by the willingness and determination of everyone at the school to continue with the garden project and we hope to keep reporting our progress here as we go along.
Sorry for the delay in posting this! Last month we finished our Green Tech series of online workshops. After six weeks of working together, the Green Technician program came to a close with a session considering the role school gardens can play in creating new solidarities with the earth. ▪For us, environmental activism is about creating “progressive ecologies” between the human and non-human.
During the discussion the Green Techs shared their reflections on environmental activism, considering the ways in which the programme has enhanced or developed their sense of school gardens as political spaces.
Throughout the programme we have been inspired by the generosity of the students to share their ideas and to take part in the activities. Their commitment to learning about the worldly nature of school gardens and their energy for using them to develop more hopeful futures has been a joy to be part of – we can’t wait to work with the group more over the summer!
Over the weeks our Green Technicians have been busy developing skills in eco-education, socio-emotional learning with school gardens, and have learned about the secrets of soil. Including an IGA favourite – the nematode!
We have been joined by incredible experts in their fields who have generously shared their philosophies and practices of working with young people and school gardens. Dr Ria Dunkley, from the School of Education at the University of Glasgow, shared her expertise on eco-education and drew attention to the importance of “ecopedagogy” and the creation of “geo-stories”. Moses Thompson, Associate Director of the University of Arizona’s Community and School Garden Programme, reflected on his experience of working with school gardens as a school counsellor. Prompting the Green Techs to consider their own practices of working with young people in the garden we were all inspired to think widely about the therapeutic qualities of gardens, especially in relation to issues of structural racism, poverty, and the recent pandemic.
During Ian’s session on soil, the Green Techs began their own growing. Windowsills are currently awash with a variety of plants from tomatoes to peas, and we are all looking forward to seeing how they turn out. Give peas a chance! 🙂
Week 2 of the Green Technician programme focused on discussing ecological anxiety. We considered its key tenets, including melancholia and grief for our more-than-human home. In exploring the relations between ecological anxiety and young people, we debated the key role of ecological education in combatting existential angst and feelings of disassociation from the earth.
The Green Techs discussed their own experiences of ecological anxiety expressing feelings of passivity at the seemingly unstoppable global nature of the climate crisis. The importance of thinking and acting locally was shared by the group as a core challenge to the emerging sense of hopelessness.
These discussions were expanded upon and put into practice in the workshop session through the imagining and designing of mindfulness gardens for university spaces. We were joined in the session by Agnes Berner and Amy Stevenson from the Glasgow University Environment Sustainability Team, to share their experiences of working with university gardens.
The Green Techs made an amazing set of plans, thinking carefully about what students appreciate about garden spaces and how this can be developed into the design. The next steps will be to try and put these plans into action and we hope to work with universities to develop some mindfulness gardens very soon!
This week saw the launch of our Green Technician Programme for 2021! This year we are happy to have 16 students joining us from the Universities of Glasgow, Leeds, and Aberdeen. These green techs will undertake training and debate in eco-education, ecological justice, and outdoor learning.
The six-week programme began with an introduction to the International Green Academy, highlighting our connections to the University of Arizona and various school communities. We also wanted to get across our vision for what constitutes research – as collaborative, participatory, and practical.
As a collective, we discussed how and why gardens are political spaces and the group highlighted the importance of promoting ecological justice, working outdoors, protecting biodiversity, experimenting with food growing, connecting to the land, and building a sense of community and belonging.
A real strength of the group is its interdisciplinary nature with students spanning subjects such as geography, politics, and microbiology. We are excited to continue working together over the next five weeks where we will train in topics such as eco-education, ecological anxiety, and climate justice!
When we began working in September with a small group of students from Drumchapel High we had no idea of what was possible. Plans to start the garden in March 2020 were postponed due to Covid-19 restrictions. And as we began to put tentative arrangements in place for an Autumn start, we were once again forced to adjust to living through the constraints of a pandemic.
However, we battled on. And what has taken place has surpassed all our expectations, and has shown us the power and resilience of collective action to build new worlds in uncertain times. Over the past ten weeks, the group had done an enormous amount of digging (really!), building and painting of their own benches, and laid seven huge bags of bark. Barrels have been pushed into place and rolled down hills (accidentally). Friendships with plants and worms have been struck, and wars with weeds have been fought and lost. All culminating in the creation of a school garden – built in every way by the students themselves.
This is an incredible achievement and we are so proud of the students, staff, and the school that have given time, energy, and enthusiasm to the project. Thanks to everyone. In January we plan to start our second site – our food growing space – and to continue to work together to develop the garden as a space for outdoor learning, improving mental wellbeing, and tackling climate injustice.
Here are “before” and “after” shots. So inspirational:
As autumn turns to winter in Glasgow this week the garden continues to take shape through the hard work of the students at Drumchapel. This week the group continued to work on a range of tasks, building on previous knowledge gained through working on the site.
This week the entrance archway, which has proved incredibly challenging to construct was finished and secured in place. After last week’s session making bird feeders the students have become aware of new bird activity on the site and so we decided to place a new bird feeder on the arch to welcome both humans and animals into the garden.
The final four benches were painted in bright colours and placed in the garden amongst the barrels. The large barrel was also secured into the ground through a great deal of hard work by the group, who had to dig a large hole and carefully manoeuvre the barrel in place which wasn’t as easy as we first thought!
The site is exceptionally windy and in order to help secure our bamboo centre piece the group decided to repot the bamboo deeper into the barrel. The group carefully removed the plant noting the importance of paying attention to its root system.
At the end of the session we took a moment to reflect on the amazing progress that has been made over the past 9 weeks and made plans for our final few weeks of the year. We are excited to be so close to finishing our first eco-garden site at Drumchapel.
Once again the group have made amazing progress in continuing to plant and dig the site. Following on from last week’s session, the group have planted a further barrel and completed the path to the new site.
This week we focused on how to care for the plants and to see the garden as more than a space for humans. The group discussed the importance of attracting birds and other wildlife to the garden, both to support the life of the plants but also to help the space become a place to support mental wellbeing. Drawing inspiration from Halloween, the group made bird feeders out of pumpkins in Mr Healey’s workshop.
As the group carved and scooped out the pumpkins we discussed the importance of seeds and growing our own food. The group separated and saved the pumpkin seeds for growing in the garden next year. Students noted the importance of making food accessible to people that cannot easily afford it, and it was suggested that the group gives away the pumpkins that it grows in the future to those most in need.
The pumpkins were then transported into the garden, filled with bird feed, and placed strategically to where they may be most likely to attract wildlife.
The group plan to keep watch over the next week to see if they can spot any wildlife in the garden and will report back on anything they uncover.
For our 7th week, we were very excited to finally get some plants in the garden! We were keen to follow the blueprint we had for the site – using a mixture of grasses and perennials so the site would stay alive throughout the winter. We also think its important to add height and texture to the garden. And somehow we managed to fit two giant bamboo trees in a car!
We began by asking the students how exactly they wanted to layout the whisky barrels (from Glasgow Wood Recycling) that would serve as raised beds. The students selected a circular layout with a bamboo tree in the middle. The barrels were not easy to manoeuvre and required team work to get them in place.
After a brief tutorial on how to mix the compost and topsoil, the students then went about arranging the plants in the whisky barrels. Despite the rain everyone helped to transport the plants and compost out of the car and onto the site.
The bamboo tree is hopefully going to serve as a centrepiece. So long as it doesn’t get blown away! The site is very exposed and windy.
The group were introduced to plant root systems and saw first-hand the survival systems of the plants they were caring for. We talked about the importance of “teasing” the roots. Although this generated lots of laughs!
It was then up to the group to prepare their barrel and to select their plants. The group followed the tutorial instructions, getting their hands stuck in to mix the different soil layers in preparation for planting. A range of different plants were selected and carefully arranged into place before being planted. We then brought the benches out to arrange them. The garden is really starting to look special!
The site looked transformed after the session with many of the group noting that it now looked like a garden. With a number of barrels still to be planted the site is coming alive and we hope to fill these over the next few weeks.