From veld to fun!

By Penny Craig

At St Patrick’s Pre-Preparatory school in Kokstad, the children paddle in the stream, discover frogs under rocks, taste, smell and feel plants in the five senses garden and engage in fantasy play with ‘dinosaur’ bones in the desert, sheltering in the fort when needing protection from the burning desert sun.

They also love to run along the paths amongst the blossoming indigenous shrubs, and playing ‘Billy Goats Gruff ’ is another favourite pastime on the quaint bridge. Many a social meeting is held by the little girls, sitting on the handmade wooden benches under the shade of the indigenous trees, and when one needs some ‘time out’, the Hobbit House is the place to go!

St Patrick’s Pre-Prep a new Eco-School

St Patrick’s Pre-Prep registered as an Eco-School at the end of 2009, when we decided to extend our playground by 300 square metres to develop an eco-garden for the children to play in and learn more about the wonders of nature. A fundraiser was held
to raise some money for the project, and the fence was moved to enlarge the garden. The teachers started 2010 with the rather daunting prospect of converting a piece of veld into an ecogarden comprising a forest, meandering stream, meadow, bog garden, desert area and five senses garden.

Parental support from the word go

We formed a small committee to oversee the project and, right from the start, the parents lent their support with cash donations; sponsorship of a gardener one day a week; donations of a water tank, plants, stone, rock, cement, a jungle gym and an old truck bonnet, which was spray painted and converted into a fort. A kind grandfather built the charming little bridge and two wooden benches, which the children just love! Eighteen indigenous trees formed the forest area. Ten Leucosidea sericeas were planted along one edge, as they grow very fast and will soon provide shade and lots of nooks and crannies to explore beneath their craggy branches. Twenty-five Buddleja salviifolias formed another edge to give much-needed protection from wind and winter frosts.

The pathways were laid next, and the channel for the water feature dug, and moms volunteered to plant up the five senses garden before the first winter chill. The children loved watching while the garden began to take shape, and played in it during every stage of its development.

Creating a bespoke water feature, wooden deck and five senses garden

Once the cold weather struck with a vengeance, we had to stop planting and concentrated instead on removing the grass in the desert section, and building the water feature, a job taken on by Penny Craig and her husband during the long July holidays of
2010 – much more fun than watching soccer! Four bakkie loads of rocks were brought in and 100 kg of cement was used to create the meandering stream that runs through the trees and into the bog garden. The pump was sunk into a 120 litre plastic container, and a wooden deck built overall to keep the children out of the deep water. The donated water tank keeps the water feature topped up from rain off the roof.

The bog garden surrounds the deck and is planted with waterloving plants. A stone pathway slopes gently up out of the bog garden onto a dry river bed, dotted with river pebbles and various plants. There is a large meadow area filled with flowering shrubs,
bulbs and groundcovers in a myriad of different colours. The five senses garden is adjacent to this, with plants appealing to the sense of taste, touch, smell and sight. This is the only area in the garden that is not fully indigenous, as some exotic herbs had to be included in this area, with their interesting tastes and smells!

The fifth sense is satisfied by the sound of running water nearby, and pathways intersperse the whole area, enabling the children to explore every inch of the garden. Two huge logs were dragged in by the school tractor to add to the ambience of the garden. This involved removing part of the fence, but was worth the trouble, as the children love to sit on them to practise their balancing skills! The desert section is demarcated by a low
stone wall – the dressed stone was rescued from a demolished
building and donated by a parent.

A labyrinth, fort, desert and Hobbit House

A labyrinth has been built, interspersed with flowering bulbinella, and has a grinding stone in the centre – and the little girls, in particular, enjoy circling through the flowers and back again, balancing on the cobblestones. Pavers were made using a fibreglass mould and cement, as well as mosaic numbers to lead the way to the extremely popular fort – where the boys love to hang out, either sheltering in the fort itself or sitting on its roof.
A donated jungle gym was cemented into the desert section and a dead tree planted in the centre. The perimeter of the desert was planted with flowering succulents, which are a blaze of summer colour. Old horns and bones are dotted around, finding favour especially with the boys when on a dinosaur hunt!

Green flag received with pride

An old cement pipe was sourced from a forgotten corner of the local tennis courts to build the Hobbit House. Being a staff of women, we had no idea of just how heavy it was, but we managed to rope in some assistance to load it into a bakkie, and drove extremely slowly back to school with our heavy cargo! It took seven long months to get the grass to grow thickly enough to cover the pipe and the children were delighted to be able to play in it at the beginning of the new school year.
The garden was finally completed in October 2010, in time to submit the portfolio of projects to the Eco-Schools committee in Howick. We also planted vegetable gardens, developed a wormery to make compost, introduced recycling and did various
arts and crafts with seeds and recycled materials. We were naturally extremely proud to receive our Green Flag from the Eco-Schools committee for our efforts. Eco- Schools operate in over 47 countries worldwide. It is an international programme of the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) and is managed locally by the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa (WESSA) in partnership with the Worldwide Fund for Nature South Africa (WWF-SA).

Spin-offs many and varied

However, what is of far more value to us as a school has been the wonderful spin-offs initiated by this eco-garden. It is most gratifying to see how the parents became involved and shared our enthusiasm, by donating the vast majority of the plants and
materials required. We managed to fund the whole project on R6 000, and half of that was cash donations. What has been most rewarding of all has been the children’s enjoyment of the garden – paddling in the stream in the summer heat, having a dolly’s tea party alongside the meadow and playing ‘Pooh Sticks’ under the bridge; as well as their excitement and enthusiasm as we discover caterpillars and wonder what butterflies will hatch from their cocoons.

This year, we will be using the garden as a teaching resource as we learn about God’s creatures and discover the wonders of nature in our very own Garden of Eden!

Penny Craig is Headmistress of the Pre-Preparatory Phase at St Patrick’s College, Kokstad.


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Category: Winter 2011

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