Search begins for Scotland’s young 2020 garden designers

On 21 January, Keep Scotland Beautiful launched a nationwide search for pupils from across Scotland to participate in the fifth annual Pocket Garden Competition (a partnership between the Garden for Life Forum and Keep Scotland Beautiful) to design a garden which could feature as part of a major display at Gardening Scotland this summer.

Schools from across Scotland are being encouraged to take part and develop designs for a garden which reflects one of the 2020 themes, which include: Wildlife Gardening, One Planet Picnic, Keep Scotland Beautiful’s 20th birthday or the Year of Coasts and Waters 2020.

The deadline for entries is 11 March 2020. Find out more here.

Pupils are invited to create exciting and unusual designs that use plants that attract wildlife, edible plants, and that reuse something which would otherwise have been thrown away.   

Eve Keepax, Keep Scotland Beautiful’s Food and Environment Officer, said: “Our annual Pocket Garden Competition is a practical and fun way for pupils to learn about food, the environment and biodiversity, as well as developing their creative design skills.

“Now in its fifth year, the competition has inspired schools from 30 of Scotland’s 32 local authority areas to take part. We have seen schools produce fantastic designs full of clever surprises with innovative ideas. I hope that many more young people will participate this year.”

By taking part, children are challenged to consider and learn about the environment in a fun, hands on and informal manner. Participants this year can celebrate the official Year of Coasts and Waters, sharing local stories about water, it’s folklore, history and power. They can also help celebrate Keep Scotland Beautiful’s 20th birthday and think about how they can keep Scotland beautiful for the next 20 years.

Anthony McCluskey, Chair of the Garden for Life Forum, added: “We are looking forward to seeing how schoolchildren meet the design challenge again this year, especially as our coasts and inland waters are such inspirational places.

“It’s more important than ever that we help wildlife in our gardens and grow our own food sustainably, and these designs can help in a small way to address the problems our planet is facing.”

Award winning pollinator patches

Pollinator patch at the park

Lauder in Bloom scooped our Garden for Life Biodiversity Award at Keep Scotland Beautiful’s Beautiful Scotland Awards in Dumfries on 12 September 2019 for their Pollinator Patches @ The Park – huge congratulations to everyone involved!

Four years ago the group adopted three un-loved spaces next to the play park and football field and gradually transformed them into ‘Pollinators Patches @ The Park’. These beds have been primarily filled with pollinator-friendly plants and have something beneficial in bloom over a long season, from snowdrops to buddleja. Stems of the herbaceous perennials are left over winter to provide valuable teasel seeds for goldfinches and shelter for small animals.

Lauder in Bloom presented with Garden for Life Biodiversity Award

Many locals were interested in the wildlife which was being attracted to these areas, in particular bees and butterflies, and would often stop to watch. The group acquired some signs from a local wildlife garden which was closing down. These highlight which types and colours of flowers are best for attracting different insects. The group has recently put up several other signs including: a Friends of the Earth ‘Bee Spotter Guide’, encouraging locals to take part in the Great British Bee Count which the group has run several times with the local Brownies; and worked with Butterfly Conservation Scotland to create a butterfly ID sign showing the 12 most likely found species in the area and where locals can record their sightings.

The local School Gardening Club helped the group to build a big bug hotel in the middle of one of the beds. The group also ran a workshop on basic pond-building, highlighting that even small inexpensive ponds can be beneficial to wildlife along with a log pile. Within these beds the group has created ‘Bee Towers’ for solitary bees, with varying sizes of holes to accommodate different species of bee. The towers have an accompanying sign so that locals know what they are for, how they are used and what to look out for if there are any resident bees.

Find out more about the Beautiful Scotland competition here and about Lauder in Bloom here.

Our Gardening Scotland success

Corsehill Primary winner

Last year was another success for our Garden for Life area at Gardening Scotland.

Our One Planet Picnic Pocket Gardens were the result of our ongoing partnership with Keep Scotland Beautiful.  For the third year running, young people aged 3-18 from across Scotland were asked to design a colourful and exciting pocket sized garden, with each design following a design brief based on sustainability as well as illustrating annual themes.

Design competition winners were then invited to build and grow their gardens to display in our Garden for Life area at Gardening Scotland, creating an inspiring centre piece.

The Garden for Life area encourages seasoned and new gardeners to adopt sustainable principles and the garden has been visited by the BBC Beechgrove Garden team, the Scottish Government Minister for the Environment, the Scottish Government Minister for Education and the Lord Provost of Edinburgh as well as thousands of gardeners. Last year, Cabinet Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham MSP spent an hour in the garden meeting some of the young designers and volunteers as well as being interviewed by some of Keep Scotland Beautiful’s Young Reporters.

MSP support
Cabinet Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham MSP visits Garden for Life 2018

Read our full 2018 report here – jam packed with great images, the workshops we ran, the environmental organisations who exhibited in our Garden for Life area, and to find out about the winning schools.

We are well on our way with planning for this year’s show case garden, with schools this time round being challenged to design a ‘pizza slice’ shaped garden. 2019 themes celebrate Scotland’s landscape by linking plants and place with water and our changing climate.  They are:

  • Rain gardens for sustainable drainage;
  • Drought tolerant gardens;
  • Wetland or fresh water margin gardens; and
  • Coastal gardens.

Judging took place in February and winning designs had to be good for wildlife, have food for people and show how to adapt and survive our changing climate.  Check back soon to find out about our winning schools, and come visit us at Gardening Scotland from Friday 31 May – Sunday 2 June to see the designs brought to life.

Edible Green Walls

This blog post is from the winner of the 2016 Central Scotland Green Network (CSGN) Ideas Fund.  Urban greening research scientist and consultant Dr Lynette Robertson, talks about the successful delivery of the edible vertical garden she has created at Busby Primary School in East Renfrewshire with the help of landscape artist Marc Grañén:

vertical garden 1

Vertical gardens are a great way to liven-up school grounds in urban areas with limited green space and they help provide much-needed opportunities for pupils to connect with nature, which has been shown to be beneficial for student learning, and health and wellbeing. The importance of environmental education in schools is increasingly recognised, and this project aims to combine outdoor learning with messages on healthy eating.

Marc Grañén has gained international recognition for his work with schools in Barcelona and it’s been really exciting to work with him on a first installation in Scotland, in collaboration with Bristol-based landscape architect Alex Patience (Livegraft).

Pupils at Busby Primary school were involved in the planting of the vertical garden, using an assortment of edible plants such as strawberries and culinary herbs, as well as variety of wildflower species to help support rare local butterflies, selected with the help of Butterfly Conservation (BC) Scotland Project Officer Anthony McCluskey.  Located in the school grounds, the pupils will also be involved in looking after the garden as it continues to grow and flourish, which will include biodiversity monitoring with the help of BC Scotland.

vertical garden 2 (002)

The school has been incredibly supportive of the project, they see the vertical garden as a valuable resource, providing pupils with a vehicle to explore conservation, sustainability and biodiversity as themes within their education, helping them become active participants in their community.

The installation was made possible with funding provided by the Nineveh Charitable Trust, Ernest Cook Trust, Tesco Bags of Help, and Timberplay Scotland. Initial development of the project was funded through the Central Scotland Green Network (CSGN) Ideas Fund, which was created to inspire innovative environmental projects. The 2016 competition focused on artists and creative professionals in celebration of Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design.

Woodland walk wins 2018 Biodiversity award

Cove in Bloom in Aberdeen were the worthy winners of this year’s Garden for Life Beautiful Scotland Discretionary Award for Biodiversity.

The group were presented with their award at the annual Beautiful Scotland Award Ceremony, this year hosted by East Lothian Council in Haddington.

Work on a one-mile woodland walk, which lies next to land being purchased by the Cove Woodland Trust, started four years ago. Mike Duncan and members of the Cove in Bloom group opened up the route by clearing out undergrowth which had become unruly over time. Mike regularly spends 30 plus hours doing voluntary work on the woodland walk. Children from two local primary schools routinely spend time on the walk, doing project work including painting benches and building bird boxes. Mike has even created an area where the children learn to climb trees! All the materials used for benches, bird boxes and raised planting beds are either recycled or have been donated by local companies. The area is well used by the community and will eventually form part of the coastal path network.

Our congratulations to everyone involved.

Richmond Fellowship therapeutic gardens

Central Scotland Green Network Trust has been working with the Richmond Fellowship Scotland to transform the gardens at TRFS into useable, engaging places for the residents.

The East Kilbride site is home to residents in supported accommodation with a wide range of learning challenges and physical disabilities.  Over the last year they have worked together as a group comprising of residents, participants with additional support needs from the local community, Richmond Fellowship staff and CSGNT Horticultural Therapist to redesign the garden around accessibility and involvement for all residents. In particular, the participatory design supports a long-term resident with 95% vision impairment, who recently commented it has ‘made her world bigger again’. They also wanted to build on the biodiversity within the garden by developing specific garden features.

Stuart McKinnonMeeting for half a day each week, over the last year they have planted an orchard, installed a wild-life pond, developed two herbaceous borders, an edible berries bed, installed a summer-house and green-house, developed an allotment garden of wheel-chair accessible raised beds for each participant, seating areas for social and contemplative activities, installed bird-feeders, compost-bays and made a start to develop an infinity path around all of the garden features. Special congratulations to resident ‘Head Gardener’ Stuart McKinnon (see photograph) who, inspired by the project, has successfully gained a place to study an NC Horticulture starting in August 2018. They are growing more than plants in the garden!

Looking forward, over the coming months they will build a hibernacular by the pond to help support a future frog, newts and amphibian friends, perhaps build a hedge-hog house and maybe even a slow-worm house. They also want to develop a secluded wild-garden area, with bug hotel, wild flower planting and perhaps a boggy area too.

For ideas on how to create your own biodiversity garden, check out the Garden for Life resource section here.

Pocket garden winners announced!

Imagine a garden at Gardening Scotland, our national gardening show, designed, built and grown using principles of sustainability, full of plants you can eat as well as being good for wildlife. Imagine that it also celebrates the diversity of life across Scotland and is full of detail and humour. Now imagine that it is designed, built and grown by Scottish school pupils….

We are delighted to announce that for the 2018 One Planet Picnic Pocket Garden competition, 22 schools from across will go on to display their gardens at Gardening Scotland – you can discover their winning designs here.

Beeware! Bee-friendly garden plants can contain bee-harming chemicals

A blog post by Katy Malone, Conservation Officer (Scotland), Bumblebee Conservation Trust

It’s early spring here in the Highlands. Despite the continuing flurries of snow, snowdrops have pushed their way out of the iron-hard soil and are waiting for those early rays of sunlight to allow them to open up into their classic nodding shape. I was thrilled to hear my first song thrush of the year this morning – he must know that spring is waiting around the corner and was warming up his fine voice. I love to walk around the garden this time of year to see the first leaves breaking, the first flowers, and of course the first bumblebees!

snowdrops in Highland wood

Snowdrops in a Highland wood, February 2018

Yesterday I also did my first talk of the year, to the Inverness area U3A group (University of the Third Age) and I wanted to share some of the latest research about garden plants and the use of pesticides. They were interested – and quite rightly horrified – at finding out that many plant nurseries use pesticides to grow some of our favourite garden plants, and so I thought I would share our joint thoughts here as I reckon this issue deserves much wider attention.

As a keen gardener and allotmenteer, I love flowers and watching the bees and hoverflies visiting the blooms. Of course, I try to plant as many bee-friendly flowers as I possibly can, and I often wander around the garden centres looking for those blooms that bees are visiting before choosing what to buy. Then comes a prolonged amount of head scratching back home, while I try to decide where my new purchases will fit… and usually deciding that yet more of the dwindling lawn has to be sacrificed to make room…

I was therefore absolutely shocked and dismayed when I learned last year of a new piece of research that found bee-harming chemicals are often found in garden centre plants – the very plants that were actually marketed as being bee-friendly. Have I been inadvertently causing harm to the bees in my garden? I was appalled at the idea. This was widely reported in the media at the time, but now that many of us are scouring the seed catalogues and gearing up to our spring planting time, I think it’s worth revisiting the research and its conclusions.

The research was done by Professor Dave Goulson and colleagues – a name that might be familiar as Dave founded the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in 2006 and is the author of the acclaimed books “Sting in the Tale” and “A Buzz in the Meadow”. The research team purchased 29 different plants from a range of nationally widespread outlets such as B&Q, Aldi and Homebase. They tested all the plants and found that out of all the 29 plants, only 2 had no traces of pesticides or chemicals. A massive 70% of the plants actually contained neonicotinoids, those systemic pesticides that have been widely shown to cause damage to bees. The pesticides were found on the leaves, in the pollen and the nectar as well. Prof. Goulson wrote about his finding in his blog (which you can find here)

Neonics and garden plants graphical abstract

Graphical abstract : Lentola et al (2017) Ornamental plants on sale to the public are a significant source of pesticide residues with implications for the health of pollinating insects.

So my take-home message to you, fellow gardeners and bee enthusiasts, is this: next time  you buy seeds or plants, ask the seller about their policy on neonicotinoids. If they can’t provide guarantees that their stock is pesticide-free, walk away and take your custom elsewhere. If nothing else, they will get the message that this is something that really matters to consumers. Instead, buy organic, grow from your own collected seed, or organise a plant swap with like-minded gardeners – and together let’s ensure that we can enjoy watching bees in the garden worry-free.

Garden competition for schools

Dunoon Grammar

For the third year running, in 2018 the Garden for Life Forum is delighted to work with Keep Scotland Beautiful to offer a ‘One Planet Picnic pocket garden‘ competition. Young people aged 3-18 from across Scotland are being asked to design a colourful and exciting pallet sized garden. This year’s theme is the UN Sustainable Development Goals and we are looking for schools to design a garden highlighting one, or more of the #GlobalGoals using plants that can be eaten, that attract biodiversity and which reuse something which would otherwise have been thrown away.

The 2018 competition brochure is available to download from this page as well as the full report from the 2017 event which includes photos of the winning gardens being created and a list of workshops. Visit the One Planet Picnic Pocket Garden web page to find out more and to read their stories.