Berwick Lodge Primary School's accessible, sustainable, historical and fun gardens were a winner at recent Victorian School Gardens Awards.
The school secured the Kevin Heinze Perpetual Award for its four garden settings, including a Community Garden, Memorial Garden, Sensory Garden, and a work-in-progress Outdoor Common Room.
Berwick Lodge was one of three state award winners and narrowly beat out Cornish College (located in Bangholme) and Swan Hill Specialist School for the main prize.
Planting the seeds
Assistant Principal Sandra McCrum originally suggested building a vegetable garden at the school.
'I realised a few years ago that many of our students weren't aware of where their food came from, and many thought they just bought it from the supermarkets,' Sandra says.
Students, teachers, parents and local residents all chipped in to help build the school's first ever Community Garden from recycled materials in 2014. Every grade grows fruit, vegetables and herbs in the garden. The garden club at recess and lunchtimes is very busy, with students weeding, mulching, planting, investigating worms and mini beasts, harvesting produce, cooking and playing.
'The Community garden is a space where students can get 'hands on' with planting and other activities within a garden to grow food and learn about life cycles,' Sandra says.
'It also is a space to educate our students about composting, recycling and biodiversity.'
'Our Grade 4 students run our composting program. This has dramatically reduced school waste going into landfill as our food scraps are now composted.'
The sensory garden opened in 2017. Sandra says the vibrant space is designed to stimulate or calm the five senses. It's wheelchair-accessible and has plenty of activities for students.
'The Sensory garden provides quiet spaces, outdoor classroom spaces, chess/checker board, musical instruments, solar powered water feature, dry creek bed, windmill, bridge, jetty, dinosaur discovery area, Helmeted Honeyeater garden, art works and many varied opportunities to learn and experience nature,' Sandra says.
'Students love touching, learning and playing with plants, rocks, stones, sticks, bark, and making their own imaginary 'play' spaces.'
The Helmeted Honeyeater garden teaches students about the native Australian bird. Four students have become Helmeted Honeyeater Ambassadors, working with a local conservation group to share their knowledge with the community.
The school also built a Memorial Garden dedicated to returned soldiers living around Berwick. 'The Memorial garden assists with educating our students about war and how our country has been shaped from those who sacrificed so much for us,' Sandra explains.
Sandra says school gardens are important for children today who often don't have backyards or regular access to parks and other outdoor spaces.
'Our gardens are wonderful spaces for our students to connect with nature, learn about the environment, and from a wellbeing perspective, have the opportunity to use the environment to connect and calm their emotions,' Sandra says.
'We have many students who have now started gardens at their own homes. Students are more knowledgeable about plants and food, have a greater awareness about recycling and how they can all make a difference for a more sustainable future.'
'As the gardens change during the seasons, many different learning opportunities arise. The learning is endless and never stops!'
The Victorian Schools Garden Awards encourage school communities to develop, grow and celebrate their gardening achievements. The awards foster a lifelong student connection with the natural environment and promote the value of outdoor spaces in progressive modern education.
Established in 1977 by Paul Crowe OAM and the late Kevin Heinze, the program, now in its 41st year, is supported by the Victorian School Building Authority in partnership with Nursery and Garden Industry Victoria.
For more information on the start-of-year grants program and the end-of-year awards, and to get your school involved in 2019, see the Victorian Schools Garden Awards website.