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THE OUTDOOR COMMON ROOM

By Warners Nurseries

The Victorian Schools Garden Program (VSGP) Grants are designed to encourage schools to plan and plant new gardens or rejuvenate existing gardens by providing funding towards school's garden projects. As part of the VSGP, Warners created the concept of the "Outdoor Common Room". Ian Firth from Warners takes us for a wander through their first collaborative community project - Berwick Lodge Primary School's Outdoor Common Room.

In a world where children are spending increasing time on screens, there is more reason than ever to get them out into the garden. Gardening provides children the chance to get their hands dirty, develop a love of the outdoors and cultivate a true appreciation of nature, seasons and eco systems. Gardens give young people the chance to see the little things, hear the sounds and breathe in the invigorating scents of nature. Moreover, gardens need nurturing, and this means an opportunity for children to collaborate and actively care for their environment as they learn to take responsibility for their surroundings.

The Victorian Schools Garden Program (VSGP) recognises the importance and value of gardens and outdoor spaces in progressive modern education. Established in 1977, the Victorian Schools Garden Awards (VSGA) have a long history of bringing the joy of gardens and gardening to school aged children. Held annually, the program recognises and rewards the achievements of students and school communities in their school gardens.

A review of the VGSA in 2014 led to the introduction of Grants (the VSGP) designed to encourage schools to plan and plant new gardens or rejuvenate existing gardens by providing funding towards school’s garden projects. As part of the VSGP, Warners created the concept of the “Outdoor Common Room”. The idea of the Warners Grant was to provide incentive to develop a shared outdoor space for the health and wellbeing of school communities. Warners are proud to donate plants (and advice) to help create the Outdoor Common Room to encourage learning through collaboration and to help develop friendships and a sense of belonging, whilst simply creating a beautiful outdoor space for children to chat, play and “hang out” with their mates.

Warners Nurseries worked with Berwick Lodge Primary School to create the first Outdoor Common Room. Together the School and Nursery designed the garden incorporating students’ ideas and suggestions; weaving them into the final design. These ideas included areas for a giant marble run, Jenga, dominoes, blackboards, tee pees and mindfulness spaces and seats. Unfortunately, the swimming pool didn't make the cut. The final designs utilised recycled materials and finished structures were painted and decorated by students. Plant selection was based on durability, hardiness and a variety of trees and shrubs offering varied sensory components including smell, colour, and texture. In the process a very plain area of the school grounds was transformed into a wonderful area for sitting, reading, playing and learning. The VSGP helps promote and engage children in gardening and landscaping. The students learn how to prepare for planting and watering. At the Berwick School Project, ninety grade five students each had the opportunity to dig a hole and place a plant within the new Outdoor Common Room garden space. Students and the school community worked together to nurture and instil the skills and passion to inspire a life-long love of gardening.

One clear message that came across during our planting at Berwick and presenting at the school program was the importance of the wider school community being involved. What a great opportunity for parents, carers and friends to lend a hand, share some skills, and nurture the next generation of gardeners. It also helps to inspire to create beautiful spaces at home for kids to experience the delight of a well-crafted and thought out garden. Involvement in these programs go a long way towards bringing to life the VSGP motto of “Every student a gardener, every garden a classroom” and getting children away from the blue glare of screens and into the green of the garden, be it at school or in their own backyard.

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