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John Fisher Roman Catholic School
Photo-story of garden construction

'Awe and Wonder'
Forest Garden in Harrow

view of fence line before

starting the fence line

Here are a couple of 'before' pictures. Above and left. Its the bottom of the garden of this inner London primary school, its a heavy clay soil that was strewn with rubbish like old car tyres etc. and overgrown with brambles and nettles. There is a sub station and pylon adjacent to the site and a public footpath beyong the chain link fence. The ground had been cleared and rotivated in anticipation of the project.

The school has a very positive attitude towards nature and wildlife and wanted a garden to enhance its wildlife value and to create oportunities for the children to observe and interact with nature.

The fence at the back of this shot borders a footpath and the idea is to cover the fence with a range of fragrant and fruiting climbers, to screen the path and to add colour, texture and fragrance to the garden. We have used rambling plants like Golden Hop, Jasmine, Honeysuckle, some unusual fruiting climbers like Stauntonia Hexaphilia as well as more common ones like grape along the fence. With fruit trees and shrubs in the foreground it should make a lovely edge to the school grounds.

We are building a mulch layer with straw and composted 'Zoo Poo' to feed up the soil and give the plants we are planting a chance to out-compete the weeds. By the time the sraw and compost has worked its magic and has rotted down, the plants should be big enough and established enough to close over the ground and squeeze out any space that might be left for 'invaders'.

teh base of the willow den

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In this shot you can seen the base going down for what will be a living willow den/ bird hide

slabs for recycling

Old slabs and boxes. We see a garden as a natural extension to a home or workplace and an opportunity to integrate functions like recycling, waste management and water storage.

These slabs had been taken up, and naturally we took this as a cahllenge to find useful ways to re-use them and to incorporate them into the garden.

The cardboard makes a could ground covering mulch as well.

washer for recycling

Likewise with this old washing machine. Our aim here is to re-use the stainless steel drum from the machine as a part of our garden composeters. (The glass from the door makes an excellent salad bowl!)

composter

Here is the washing machine drum being used in the composter. By burying it in the soil beneath we are creating a much bigger edge between the compost and the ground, allowing much more air into the process, and giving the worms much more of an opportunty to feed on the waste in the drum. This should aid the automatic movement of the nutrients by the soil life itself and help speed up the process of decomposition.

kids

There was plenty of opportunity to incorporate the curiosty of the pupils into workshops and practicals whislt we were building the garden. We were really impressed by their interest and enthusiasm for the garden

compost bin

The composter is the heart of the garden,a nd feeds the soil microbes, that in turn condition the soil and keep it open and aerated and full of nutrient and minerals. Especially with the heavy London clays here, getting the organic content of the soil up will really help open up the heavy sense soil. We incorporated three of these into this garden, and are hoping the staff tea bags and fruit peels from the kids, as well as a paper and card waste will be used to keep the garden fed. When we go back to see how the garden is progressing we will certainly be checking t osee how well the compost bins are being used.

People do get nervous sometimes about composting, as it might go 'wrong' or get invaded by rats. The key is to start with easy stuff, and slowly get more adventurous, not to overload the heaps straght away befre they have really got going. We are advocates of the 'cool' composting method, which focuses on getting a high carbon content in the heap, to ensure plenty of air is trapped in there, and therefore more activity by soil organisams and insects, who in turn do most of the work in the heap.

slab cutting

Those slabs came in handy for a variety of tasks, sitting water butts on for one and here's Dave is cutting them down to make a special bed for the fig tree.

fig tree hole

Here in the sunniest and most sheltered corner of the garden we are going to plant a fig tree. They are notorious for spreading, so this one is going to be contained in a pit, defined by buried paving slabs. The also has broken pices of slab in the base, which is then lined with a layer of straw and then back filled with a mixture of soil and compost. This will stop the tree from spreading and give it a really good start, whilst incorporating the materials that will slowly break down in the soil and keep it open and more freely draining. Conditions that should suit the fig ideally.

clay mound

The begninings of an artifical mound, that will create a bit of vertical dimension to the space, and will be teh site for three mosaic fishes, made in an art workshop with some of the children.

Building the mound also gave us the opportunity to bury and get rid of some of the waste and assorted junk that was on the land originally.

clay mound later

Here is the mound taking a bit more shape, as well as the beds aroud it. when finsihed it is to be planted up with fragrant chamomile, and should look lovely. I look foreward to seeing it with the fishes they made in their art workshop in position.

 

garden shape

Here the garden is taking a little more shape. We are modelling on a natural wild forest, so the ground will be covered with a thick layer of mulch, a sheet of organic matter that will slowly break down over time. Like in a forest we dont want any bare soil, as that will encourage weeds like nettles and brambles to take over. Under the paths is a layer of special barrier material which will stosp weeds from rooting deeply and make it easy to keep clear

willow rods

The pile of harvested willow rods arrives. Steve Pickup of the willowbank supplies these specailly sorted and graded to make living willow structures with. Steve was on hand to build a hide/ den and entrance and exit archways for the garden. Willow is good int eh garden, as it is fast growing and has an instant visual impact, where as many of the plantings obviously take a lot longer to develop. The willow also provides great habitat for insects etc, which in turn will feed the birds

steve pickup in action

Getting some perspective on the subject, Steve and artist Jig working together on the willow design.

The mulch matting not only provides a good surface to measure out the exact geometinc design for the construction, but it will kill off the grass beneath it, which will allow the willow to root and grow sucessfully. When the strucutre is finished the matting will be covered over with a thick layer of wood chippings. Another bi-product- provided for free by the local council

living willow structure

The Willow den starts to take shape

tying willows

The rods are firstly tied into place with string, which is later replaced with stretchy rubber tubing. This will rot away after a few years, after the growing rods have pressure graftred together. Keeping it trimmed, mmaybe a couple of times a year shuld ensutre it keeps its shape and lasts for many years.

living willow arch

Here is a completed living willow archway, witha young helper spreading woodchip.

willow whale

The Living Willow den is finished, it should make a great hide for the kids to sit in and watch the birdlife in the garden, or even just a shady space chill out on a hot day.

This living structure will need to be pruned back a couple of times a year, spring and autumn to keep its shape and not grow out, but it could last 30 years or more.

whale

Steve has worked on this design since the last one we last built one in a school in Reading; where they decided it was like a big whale.

Consequently it now has a whale shaped tail section at the far end, it makes a stunning and fairly instant impact on the garden.

water harvesting

More recycling, this old juice concentrate carton has been re-used to catch the rainfall off the shed roof. Its always good to have rainwater handy in the garden to water the plants with.

This one overflows into a special 'mulch pit' we dug to encourage water to percolate and be stored in the ground itself.

Adjacent to the mulch pits we planted 2 bamboo groves, which will appreciate the extra moisture. The aspiration is to grow a plentiful supply of art materials for the children to use for many years to come. We planted a gloden bamboo and a black bamboo, it will create a striking and lovely element to the garden in a year or two.

living arch

Official opening day in the Garden in June the flowwing year

fish sculpture
Fish sculptures made by the children from all sorts of recycled materials
The living willow structure is coming to life. The idea was to create a bird hide, and a little hideaway space to enjoy the garden from.
The archway is designed by Steve Pickup of the The Willowbank.
john fisher garden
Enjoy the garden.
 
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