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GREEN CLARE: Sixmilebridge polytunnel coming to life

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Although schools are currently closed across the country, one Clare school is ensuring their garden is being well maintained.

The Sixmilebridge school garden was established in 2009, under the guise of primary school and yoga teacher Aisling Murphy. The idea was seeded from a lack of understanding and appreciation around the source of food, on the children’s behalf. In March of that year, fifth year students set out to construct a small school garden on a neglected patch within the grounds. Seasonal vegetables were the primary focus from the offset.

On a deeper level, Aisling saw the garden as a safe space for the social and cognitive development of each and every child at Sixmilebridge. A sense of responsibility and purpose began to permeate the lives of the children, each tending to their own beloved crops.

For many years now, the school garden has successfully grown food on a small scale, with the children and teachers enjoying the fruits of their labour, both financially and spiritually. The garden was awarded first place in the mid-west schools’ category of the Tidy Towns competition. Building on this success ten years later, the school garden is now located in a 16ft by 50 ft polytunnel which has nineteen raised beds partly funded by the community Environment Action Fund previously known as Local Agenda 21.

In September 2019, the highly motivated school garden team consisting of an eclectic and enthusiastic mix of class teachers, special education needs teachers, pupils, two caretakers, and parents began to set up the space for planting.

The polytunnel now facilities an affluent and highly diverse collection of flora, with the space being used by teachers as a positive and engaging environment for a hands-on approach to learning science. Highly detailed topics such as life cycles, habitats, pollination and adaptation have made their way onto the school curriculum as Sixmilebridge pioneer a practical approach to learning.

Lessons in literacy within the polytunnel take the form of plant labelling, seed sowing instructions as well as creative and report writing. Next up is numeracy with measuring plant distances and counting seeds. Finally, Sixmilebridge continue to foster creativity within their students in the form of art classes within the garden whereby students sketch plant life utilising dried flowers and seed materials as part of project work.

Within the polytunnel itself, the children are growing, maintaining and harvesting a vast number of plants both edible and decorative, all grown from organic seed using organic methods of production. Last September the children planted vegetable such as kale, spinach, radish, purple sprouting broccoli, cauliflower and flower bulbs as well as hyacinths, daffodils and crocus. The produce was harvested from the garden, producing bags of kale, spinach, bunches of daffodils and potted hyacinths which were sold by the children and the sales revenue helped to fund the garden.

Before the closure of the school due to COVID-19, the classes at Sixmilebridge N.S had planted a variety of vegetables, flowers and herbs including sunflowers, aquilegia, cosmos, calendula, delphiniums, lavender, helichrysum, phacelia (green manure), aubergines, tomatoes, lettuce, basil, coriander, squash, strawberries, celery, broad beans and runner beans. There is one bed dedicated to aesthetically appealing plants comprised mostly of colourful perennials that can be used in cut-flower arrangements. One child planted a raised bed with ingredients to make his own soup out of garlic, cauliflower and broccoli. The polytunnel is now in full of life and colour.

Since the closure of the school, third class Syrian student Yazan and his father have been taking care of the polytunnel. The produce planted by the children before the closure is now thriving and Aisling is excited for the children to see the results of their hard work and dedication. On the future of the project as a whole, Aisling admits:

“I believe that our school garden will evolve into a space that promotes the creativity and the imagination of the child. A space where children can develop a positive connection with nature. A space that offers real, authentic learning experiences for the child. A calm space that engages all their senses. A place where children can slow down and explore the wonders of the natural world. There are many emotional, environmental and physical benefits to having a school garden. Gardening encourages healthy eating, teaches responsibility and patience and most importantly improves health and well-being.”

An avid reader from a young age, Cian’s love of the archives has been shared by Clare Echo readers who enjoy his Reeling in The Years section. Charles Dickens, Terry Pratchett and Michael Crichton were his favourites writers in his younger years while he was always a fan of studying the opinion columns in The Irish Independent. A past pupil of Lissycasey National School and St Flannan’s College, he is currently completing his final year studies at the University of Limerick in New Media and English. From September, he will be commencing a Masters Degree in Journalism at UL.

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