Passionate about getting the most
from your outside spaces

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in     by Joyce Bullock 04-11-2016
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Royal Horticultural Society, Green PlanIt project.

In the summer I was approached by Tracey Medlyn, the local RHS coordinator and asked if I would be interested in becoming an Idustry Mentor on a fortcoming RHS/schools project, Green PlanIt.  The project runs for 3months and involves mentors being paired with a local school and assisting them with a design for a School or Community Garden.  The school teams produce a 3d illustration of their garden and present it to judges at an event at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens in December.
Now, at early November we are two thirds through.
The RHS provided initial training and advice for all 20 mentors.  We met on a delightfully sunny day in August at the new library in Birmingham, it was great to enjoy some workshops on the roof gardens there.

The other mentors were all from the various aspects of the horticultural industry, illustrating the diverse range of career opportunities in our sphere.  There was a fellow garden designer, a lady who works for a Norwegian street furniture company (really cool things!), Darren, the big cheese from Birmingham City council who is in charge of their many gold winning RHS gardens at Chelsea Flower Show and other shows, Mac the tree man, various staff members from a large Bromsgrove garden centre and so on.  A real mix.

We were allocated our schools at a launch event at the Botanical Gardens in Birmingham where there was a noisy sea of Y9 school children and I met my team from Rawlett Academy, Tamworth.  They are a lively bunch, great fun to be around and they were full of ideas for a garden and very eager to get outside during the lunch break to let off steam.  The lads came up with a team name and Rawlett Legends was born! After a tour of the hot houses we agreed to meet up on site.  I visited the 6 boys and teacher Paul Jenkins at the school the following week.  I must add here that the school was a joy to visit!  Everyone was SO polite and helpful, not the rowdiness I recall from my school days.  We looked at the allocated space for their project, known at the quad' the space is essentially a courtyard surrounded by low buildings on all four sides, it has a high footfall in between lessons and during breaks and is quite harsh with hard surfaces and very few plants in the beds.

Owen, a real character, asked what I was planning to design.  I told him it was down to them, not me.  I am alaways hampered by thoughts of budget, access - can we get a digger in?, constraints of the brief etc, whereas the lads have fantastic imagination, planning the use of cranes and equipment for street running, green walls, interactive screens etc.  Of course, the idea is not for me, but for them to expolre ideas and options and when it comes to presenting their model, each member of the team will have some input.

Part of the role of Industry Mentor is for the team to visit your work space.  I dont have an office as such, working from home or out on site.  So we arranged a trip to one of my recent projects, a large garden that has been developed in phases with the most recent being a natural pond area, with locally quarried rock stepping stones, a corten steel top pool, cantilevered deck area and summer house along with lots of glorious plants, still giving great colour in autumn.  We also looked at other parts of the garden that had been done so that the boys had an idea of the range of materials and the differing size of projects, all completed by local landscaping tradesmen. From there we toured a local wholesale nursery.  I buy hundreds of plants from there each year and know my way around the nursery, so we didnt have to take time up of any member of staff but could look at plants - trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials that might be of use in the school garden.  We were no trouble but did collar any passing person to ask "What was their job? What did they like most and least about their jobs?" Both the finance director and logistics director of the nursery gave honest, frank answers.  Thank you Liz and Rob Gee.

It seems the best thing about landscaping is the weather and working outside, close to nature.  It also happens to be the worst!  I concur.
Whilst the team showed a modicum of interest in the plants they really LOVED the dogs at the nursery, throwing balls and laughing at their antics.

Local RHS coordinator Tracey Medlyn will also meet up with each school team to check on progress.  I will pop out to the school again and perhaps make suggestions for their design and model.   Paul and I keep in touch each week via email and progress is good, although the boys are all in different classes and school groups, so must meet early before lessons start or get together during lunch break.

We are all looking forward to the closing event in December where all the schools prsent their 3D models of their designs.

It has been great fun being involved with this inspirational group of young people, Bailey, Harry, Owen, other Owen and Cameron, they have been super to be around and I think I have learnt more from from them than they have from me.

I'll keep you posted over the end of project results.  Go #RawlettLegends.

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