Eco-education and the Secrets of Soil

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! 🙂

Ecological Anxiety and Mindfulness Gardens

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!    

Green Technician Programme 2021 Begins

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!

Reflections on finishing Stage 1 at Drumchapel High (also, before and after photos!)

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:

The Archway is complete – Drumchapel Week 9

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. 

Seeds, Birds and Pumpkins – Week 8 at Drumchapel High

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.

Week 7 at Drumchapel: Plants and bamboo trees arrive!

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.

Problem Solving and Painting – Week 6 at Drumchapel High

This week the group faced a number of problem-solving challenges! Several jobs, from painting benches to digging out a pathway, needed to be undertaken and the group split themselves up to take on the different tasks.

Last week the group decided on the entrance spot for the garden and so this week began the challenge of devising an archway to mark this. This was a difficult undertaking especially in the wind! Students considered the materials they had and ones they might need, sending members of the group off to source wood from the surrounding site. A basic structure was cleverly devised using willow, string and found sticks, and the group will continue to work on this over the forthcoming weeks. 

Another group took on the task of painting the first of the benches that were made last week. The purple colour was a popular choice with the group who have decided that they want to paint the benches as brightly coloured as possible. The group worked well together to carefully cover all aspects of the bench and will consider another coat when the paint fully dries.

A further group took on the labour-intensive task of digging out the pathway between the first garden site and the food growing site that will be developed from January next year. The students decided on the length and breadth of the path they wanted to create and showed some excellent digging skills – drawing on their previous experience on the site.

Finally, a group used their maths skills to work out the amount of edging required for the site. This wasn’t as easy as it first seemed, but a plan was eventually put in place and an amount was calculated. The group will work on the edging over the next few weeks.

As we take a short break for the October holidays it is incredible to reflect on the site’s progress so far. The group’s confidence in their abilities to work in the garden is growing alongside the development of the site itself. As autumn takes hold we continue to work at laying the foundations of the garden and it is very exciting to think about what more can be achieved before the end of the year.

Week 5 at the Drum – Bench Building

This week the group put their bench building skills to the test and set to work on constructing the benches. Following on from Ian’s tutorial in week 2, the group quickly organised the wood into piles and began to plan out their benches. Due to the wet weather we worked in Mr Healy’s workshop, giving us great access to lots of tools and the radio.

The group showed fantastic initiative and teamwork, carefully working together to measure and drill the wood. Using the drill was more difficult than we first thought but after a few mistakes everyone found their rhythm and all five benches were finished in the session – a terrific achievement!

Afterwards the group carried the benches out to the garden and tried out a variety of seating styles for the site. The group discussed what the garden could be used for – socialising, teaching, taking time out, etc., and these all became important elements in the design. Eventually the group voted on their favourite design and decided upon the entrance spot for the garden. Over the next week we plan to paint the benches and begin to construct the bamboo archway for the entrance before moving on to setting up the first planting activity before the end of the year.

A Bark Extravaganza – Week 4 at Drumchapel High

This week marked an important moment for the garden site as the digging stopped and new preparations began. As we arrived at the garden site in the September sunshine, we were confronted by seven huge bags of bark to be transferred onto the site. We suddenly realised that this was going to be a labour-intensive session!

The first task was to lay membrane on the site before spreading the bark. Students showed some great teamwork as they tried to solve the puzzle of placing the lining over their constructed garden shape. Large boulders found nearby were used to weigh the lining down and students took turns to cut the material to fit the site perfectly.

We then set to work on spreading the bark across the site. Students (and Mr Healey) worked with their hands, feet, spades, forks, and a wheelbarrow to distribute the bark. A great amount of initiative was used by the group and a lot of hard work was undertaken. Teamwork was essential and a system of tipping the bags was devised which required a whole group effort!

A great sense of accomplishment was felt by the group at the end of the session and the site is looking transformed. Next week we are turning attention back to building the benches and thinking through the layout of the garden.