Back to School.

The Rotary Club in Exeter have promised a school in the city that they will redesign and plant their little garden, with wildlife in mind. The undergardener is a member of the Rotary Club in Exeter and I was roped in to give them some ideas on design and to tell them which plants would be suitable. When I first saw it, my heart sank somewhat as there had been a garden on the site but it was completely over run with weeds and seedling trees.

Sunny side

The left hand side is the sunny side and has the sun all day long.


At the top end is an arbour which has more light now that some of the trees have been cut back. I think maybe we can plant an early honeysuckle on the left and a Trachelospermum jasminoides on the right which will give wonderful perfume for most of the summer as well as attracting butterflies, moths and bees.


To the left of the arbour is a greenhouse, made entirely of lemonade bottles! I’m not sure how useful this will be, will have to wait and see.

Flower border

To the right as we go into the garden is a flower bed that has been started by some of the parents. I was given the job of weeding this!

Shady side

Looking back from the arbour at the top, looking towards the flower bed by the wall that the parents have done. On the left is where we have been stacking all the rubbish, tree prunings, weeds etc. Exeter Council have very kindly agreed to remove all the rubbish, free of charge, once the site is cleared. Under where the rubbish is at the moment is where there will be a shady border. I can provide a lot of the plants by splitting mine in the woodland, but bulbs will need to be planted soon.


Now we come to “The Pond” which has a rather large cover as you can see, to keep the children safe. It took quite a bit of dismantling by the undergardener, only half could be taken away. You can see that it is totally choked with plants, not looking forward to this!

The pond

Here we have cleared half of the vegetation, this included lots of rushes, iris pseudacorus and in the middle, Equisetum or Mares Tail. We knew we wouldn’t be able to disentangle the mares tail from everything else so the decision was taken to take everything out and I would split what I have in our pond here and take those in next time.

Clearing the pond

It took all three of us to pull the plants out of the pond, these were then left at the side for any little creatures to make their way back into the water.


As only half the frame could be moved, it was decided that the smallest person would have to crawl in to clear the water of any roots left behind. President Richard was the smallest person there, so he had the unenviable job of getting into the mud at the bottom of the pond!


We found 3 frogs in the pond so slid some of the greenery back into the pond so that they could hide if they wanted to, although they easily scrambled up the concrete side and away into the planting at the back . I must remember to take my fishing net when I go next time to try and remove all the pond weed. A couple of days after we were there, the heavens opened and parts of Exeter were flooded, I’m sure the pond will be almost full again.

Sunny side

Back to the sunny side,at the front, forming a bank, is a mass of marjoram. This was covered in different bees and loads of Gatekeeper butterflies. As this is obviously a good plant for wildlife we will try to keep as much as possible, maybe clipping it into a little hedge.


One of the many Gatekeeper butterflies on the Marjoram flowers.

Holly Blue

All of a sudden we were joined by a Holly Blue butterfly, not a very good photo, but the best I could do at the time. There is plenty of holly and ivy so they should be very happy there.

Next shift

The next shift arrived in the afternoon to carry on where we left off, we then came home for our lunch and a rest!  I have been informed now that the site is clear of weeds. This means on with the thinking cap and coming up with a list of plants or seeds for each area.

I won’t be the only one splitting plants, lots of Rotarians have promised to split what they have at home. At least 1,000 Crocus tommasinianus are going to be planted in a different area, to link in with Rotary’s ” End Polio Now “campaign. A purple crocus is the logo for this campaign and thank goodness, I’ve been told that the children will be planting the bulbs!

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31 Responses to Back to School.

  1. Kudos to the Rotary Club of Exeter for taking on this worthwhile project. About 20 years ago, I helped reestablish a school garden and I can honestly say it was one of the happiest and most fulfilling volunteer efforts I’ve been involved in. I hope you have great fun with your design and that the imagination of many new little gardeners is awakened through your work.

    • Pauline says:

      Having seen the sit Marian, I think it is more just coming up with appropriate plants, the pond and arbour are permanent fixtures so I will have to work around them. With one side shady and the other side sunny, it more or less designs itself! We are hoping to get the parents involved so that they can see to most of the upkeep, with Rotary just keeping a watchful eye on the gardens progress.

  2. pbmgarden says:

    What a huge project Pauline. With that cleanup out of the way the fun part is ahead.

    • Pauline says:

      I agree Susie, getting the books out and deciding which plants to use is the best bit! We’ve been told the children will help with the planting, that should be fun!

  3. Caro says:

    Well done for all your hard work, Pauline – how did you come to be involved? I’ve recently done the same for the gardens at the side and back of our ‘social club’. It was supposed to be a tenant effort but, on the day, we had two tenants (me included), a paid gardener and his son and a father/daughter who came as part of a ‘team building’ exercise. The project leader also got stuck in and another woman came along to eat all the food provided and talk! (There’s always one who doesn’t pull their weight!). My job now is the same as yours – to come up with a plants list. I’ll look forward to see what you suggest! (And, thankfully, no pond in the garden here!)

    • Pauline says:

      I got involved Caro, purely and simply because my husband is an Exeter Rotary Club member. Quite a few of the members have been to the garden here when we used to open for the NGS and hold Snowdrop days in February. I felt as though I was the one not pulling my weight where physical work was concerned, but was assured that it was my brain they needed, let’s hope they don’t regret it! I made plenty of notes at the time and am still organising my lists, one for sun and one for shade. It is only a small area, so I’m sure it won’t take too long to fill it.

  4. Awesome project Pauline. It is always a tad difficult with school garden, they get so neglected during the long summer holiday! I love thinking about planting plans – I will be interested to see what you come up with.

    • Pauline says:

      I think the Rotary members would be looking after it in the holidays and the parents and children during term time, I hope so anyway!
      Lots of splitting will be done with plants in the garden here, but most if not all, will be with wildlife in mind. So lots of plants that will bring the bees and butterflies in will be chosen, as well as plants that will attract birds and other wildlife.

  5. Alain says:

    Congratulations Pauline, but what a lot of work! I work in a school garden but it is a lot simpler. The children plant vegetables in bags of soil (that is all what the ‘garden’ consists of) and I am only there in Spring to help with the planting. It is interesting how the children’s personalities come through. Some are very hesitant and meticulous, some are slap dash. Surprisingly most are interested. But they are primary school children. They have a lot of enthusiasm for everything at that age.

    • Pauline says:

      Many hands make light work Alain, there have been lots of people helping, so the site was cleared relatively quickly. This school is for primary and junior children, so hopefully they and their parents will get involved. Apparently there used to be a gardening club at the school but it lapsed a few years ago. We are hoping to get it started again.

  6. Anna says:

    Oh what an exciting project to be involved in Pauline. Do keep us informed about how it progresses. It’s great to read that the children will have an active role in the planting. Have they been asked what they would like to have in the garden?

    • Pauline says:

      I will keep you informed of our progress ,or otherwise, don’t worry. The children will be involved in the planting, it will probably take twice as long, but never mind. Who knows, there may be a budding gardener in there somewhere! I will find out if the children have been consulted, probably not!

  7. Helle (Helen) says:

    Sounds like an interesting project. Will there be beds where the children can grow things like veg or flowers? I could imagine, that the best way to get the children interested is giving them the opportunity to do things for themselves.

    • Pauline says:

      All I know Helle, is that Rotary were asked to make a wildlife garden. There isn’t really enough room to have veggie beds, but maybe if this garden is a success, we can suggest it for the future in a different area. The children will be helping with the planting then I think it will be up to the parents and the school garden club to keep them involved. Rotary will then just keep an eye on it from a distance, or that is my understanding of the situation.

  8. Sally says:

    What a great project, Pauline! The creative side of your brain must have been working overtime. I can’t wait to see more pics as the project moves ahead.

    • Pauline says:

      Thanks Sally, it is an exciting project, I can’t wait to get planting! Rest assured, I will be taking photos each time I go and will keep you all up to date.

  9. rusty duck says:

    That will keep you busy! It will be a fun thing to do though, with so many people involved. And fascinating for the children to see it develop.

    • Pauline says:

      With so many involved Jessica, it shouldn’t be too onerous. We will all be splitting plants from our own gardens, so hopefully won’t need to buy too many.

  10. Cathy says:

    Plenty of potential there, Pauline – well done to you and the undergardener and President Richard for making such a good start! Hopefully the fact that gardening is supposedly on the curriculum now will help – when I was teaching it was a real struggle trying to keep on top of the gardening club which I started because time was at a premium and most children just wanted to go and play at dinnertimes. No parental support or interest either…. quite disheartening. Yours will be a lovely space for classes to come and work outside in so I am sure it will be a success – and if the Junior Rotary award scheme still exists then it’s a good project for pupils to be involved in.

    • Pauline says:

      There used to be a gardening club Cathy, but unfortunately it dwindled and the garden just became very wild. It will certainly help if we can get some parents involved then Rotary will just have to check on progress in the holidays.

  11. Angie says:

    Phew! Thank goodness the kids are joining in the fun 😉
    What a wonderful project to be involved in Pauline and it will benefit the school and kids no end. I think it’s great that schools are now encouraged to get involved in such activities – my youngest niece gets lots about nature and gardening etc. at school, unlike the generation before them.
    Our local school had a greenhouse made from those plastic bottles but sadly has been set on fire twice and they have since done away with it. A real shame.

    • Pauline says:

      I think it is essential that the children are involved Angie, they will look after it better if they have some input in the planting. I agree, it is wonderful that schools are now introducing gardening to the children, I wish they had in my day! How sad that your local school had their greenhouse burnt down, such mindless vandalism, I don’t blame them for not getting a third one. I must get on with splitting the plants in my pond so that I can take them in when I next go into Exeter.

  12. What a worthwhile project to be involved in Pauline. You’ll have to let us know about that pop bottle greenhouse, I might start saving mine now, just in case 😉 . Looking forward to your updates on this and how the children enjoy it.

    • Pauline says:

      Yes Paula, it will be wonderful if we can inspire some of the children to have a love of gardening and the wildlife that relies on it. There seem to be quite a few holes in the plastic bottle greenhouse so I have a feeling that it won’t be very efficient!
      I will be posting updates each time I go.

  13. Frank says:

    Good job, the improvements already make a big difference and nothing breeds enthusiasm for a project more than progress. I’m looking forward to seeing all the goodies which make their way into the garden!
    When did ponds become so dangerous? I’m afraid in a few more years children will need goggles and suit up to play in the sandbox, and all swings will require seatbelts!

    • Pauline says:

      When I think Frank, of all the things that my brother and I got up to when we were little, children these days are so protected, but do they have fun any more? How are the children at the school going to do a bit of pond dipping with such a huge barrier to protect them? I used to love pond dipping and when our grandsons came here when they were little, the first thing they wanted to do when they arrived was to catch some newts and examine them intimately!
      I will take photos each time I go to the school, I imagine next time will be when we plant up in the autumn.

  14. It is exhausting just looking at a project like that. You did the right thing by just digging in and doing it. Maintenance after everything is planted will be key though.

    • Pauline says:

      We’re hoping to get the school Gardening Club resurrected Carolyn, then Rotary can step back and just pop in during the holidays to check everything is ok. Parent input will be important and getting a teacher on board is essential I think.

  15. Peter/Outlaw says:

    Oh my Pauline, you’ve tackled quite a project there! With your expertise and style, this garden will look beautiful again! I hope you’ll keep us posted on the progress!

    • Pauline says:

      With the many hands of Rotary, the clearing was soon done Peter, working in shifts, nobody had to do too much physical work! I’m looking forward to the planting up, with help from the children, that should be fun for us all! Of course I will keep you all up to date with any progress.

  16. Christina says:

    I hope you’ll be able to include the children in all of the activities. Would it not be possible to even try to get the children involved with designing the garden. It would be a wonderful opportunity for them to begin to understand the different micro-climates within the garden and how that affects what you choose to plant. I’m sure the RHS has some leaflets that might help with the project. The children will enjoy the garden much more if they are included at every stage of its development. Have fun!

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