Specialist students’ skills on show in Melbourne

Croxton Specialist School students showed their gardening talents to the world as part of the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. 

Croxton Specialist School
From left to right: Nick, George, Basil and Jordan

Included in this world-famous exhibition was a Victoria Schools Garden Program (VSGP) display designed by award-winning landscape designer, Richard Bellemo. Hundreds​ of students from schools around the state came to play in this interactive garden, learn about growing plants and make worm farms. 

Croxton Specialist School teacher Basil Natoli​ chose four students to help Richard build the garden. Students at the school have autism, learning difficulties, mild intellectual disabilities and trauma issues. The students selected to work on the display are studying a Certificate II in Horticulture through their Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL). ​

‘A major focus of our program is to build up the students physical endurance and stamina and prepare them for the potential of real work prospects when they finish school,’ Basil says. 

‘In the past, some of the higher achieving students from Croxton have gone on to employment in supported gardening industries.’

Building a world-class garden

Green Connections garden
The Green Connections Garden

Students Jordan, Nick, George and Will assisted Richard Bellemo and his team to build the ‘Green Connections’ garden next to the Victorian School Garden Program stall. The garden featured a maze, a bike-powered water fountain, and climbing structures – all constructed from natural and recycled materials. 

The students moved and installed 150 bamboo trees, hay bales, and all the mulch that covered the garden floor. ‘[They] have risen to the occasion and undertaken 101 tasks which have needed to be done before completion,’ Basil says. ‘We are very, very proud of the contribution they are making to the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show.’

Jordan says that seeing other people use the garden was the best part of the project. 

‘I enjoyed it because at the end of this, there’s gonna be families with their kids enjoying the garden. 
Just knowing that made me enjoy working on it.’

Nick says he enjoyed doing something different to doing schoolwork, ‘and the satisfaction of seeing the work completed.’

Jordan and George
Jordan (left) and George (right) setting up the garden. Credit: Basil Natoli

Basil commended George for lifting wheelbarrows full of mulch and the bamboo trees aroun​​d the garden. ‘I like sweeping, watering the plants, mulching the pathway and planting,’ George says. ‘I am happy in the garden. I feel good!’ 

​Basil is a gardening lover himself. His first gardening project was at the Royal Children’s Hospital, then a food-growing community garden in public housing communities. He had a role in creating the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program which is now in schools across Australia. 

‘I always had this very strong belief that connecting people with the garden and the earth was a powerful thing – for people of all abilities,’ Basil says. 

‘I think we need to be giving children more opportunities to engage in play in a natural environment. Kid​s only have a short chapter in their life when they’re children, and I think we need to give them every opportunity to enjoy nature and to be part of it.’

Hope for the future

Vic School Gardens Awards

 ​Basil says he’s aware that it’s hard for young people to get a job, especially when they have a disability, so getting the students to work with gardening professionals was ‘powerful’. 

‘They all grew through the process,’ Basil says. ‘When they came back for the opening – that was really exciting to see. They could say ‘wow, we’ve been part of this’.’

The experience has encouraged students to see their potential. ‘Maybe one day I will have my own gardening business,’ Will says. 

George’s mum came to see him as the students set up the garden, and Basil says she was ‘very excited’ to see him at work.  ‘I think George would be a great helper or assistant in a nursery,’ Basil says.

‘For the families, it gives them a sense of hope that maybe when their kids finish school, this might channel them towards something very real and possible.’

Inclusive education and school gardens

Inclusive education ensures that all young people living with disabilities or additional needs can participate, achieve and grow. Learn how we are creating inclusive education.​​

Now in its 42nd year, the Victorian Schools Garden Program (VSGP) inspires school communities to develop, grow and celebrate their gardening achievements. It promotes a lifelong connection with the natural environment and improves student learning, health and wellbeing.​​

The VSGP is supported by the Department of Education and Training through the Victorian School Building Authority. It's managed on behalf of schools by Nursery and Garden Industry Victoria (NGIV), the key convening organisation for the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. Submissions for both the grant and award categories of the program are now open. See all information at Victorian Schools Garden Awards.