Celebrating the work of School Seed Guardians
by Julie Henley-Wilkinson
Cast your mind back to the start of the growing season on a cold, rainy, sleet ridden and blustery day in March. Enthusiastic staff from schools across London set off on a journey that commenced in Holland Park Ecology Centre in Royal Borough Kensington & Chelsea.
Their mission? To take some precious Heritage Seeds that are no longer commercially available and teach young growers in their schools to become ‘Seed Guardians’, and learn how to sow, grow, harvest and preserve the next generation of seeds for ‘Mummy’s Pea’ and ‘Czechoslovakian climbing French beans’ varieties.
Why save seed? – Garden Organic’s Heritage Seeds Library
The destination of the newly produced seed is the unique Heritage Seed Library run by FGSL’s lead partner Garden Organic. Here they will be carefully checked and quality assured so that more Seed Guardians may continue the fragile and hugely important work of keeping these special varieties alive. Without this work varieties of fruit, vegetables and herbs will decline and important seed varieties will become extinct.
City growing spaces for schools
London schools often need to be creative and inventive with their sometimes limited urban outdoor space in which to grow. The Seed Guardians took up the challenge with great gusto, using community allotments, purposed built raised trugs and old tyres all obligingly hosting the precious seeds. The schools involved were:
Camden – Argyle Primary School
Croydon – Bensham Manor School
Ealing – Berrymede School
Greenwich – Charlton Park Academy
Hackney – St Scholasticas RC Primary School
Havering – Brookside Infants School
Kingston – Richard Challoner Secondary School
Lambeth – Bonneville Primary, Dunraven Primary, Hitherfield Primary
Richmond – Trafalgar Infants School
A challenging growing season
Growers out there may agree that the 2016 growing season may be remembered for its inclement weather. A cold, if non-existent spring followed by the exceptionally late arrival of summer. A few slugs and snails nibbled away at our luscious ‘Mummy’s Pea’ and ‘Czechoslovakian Bean’ plants whilst they were still getting established, but our Seed Guardians did not let this stop them! A school visit to Trafalgar Infants School in early September revealed we were not the only ones to think this way. A sudden and previously unexplained disappearance of some of ‘Mummy’s Pea’ crop was obligingly solved when Mr & Mrs Mouse and family, put in an appearance for a photo call.
Successful seed saving in schools
The final arrival of some summer sun was welcomed by our young Seed Guardians, and plants finally flourished and produced gorgeous seeds for an autumn harvest. The seed saving journey has proved to be loaded with fun, challenge and opportunity for a group of eager young growers. As pods are dried and seeds are harvested, we wait with anticipation to learn how many seeds were saved from the London schools pilot crop this year. But we do know it was all worth it when we hear that lovely question: ‘can we do this again next year?’
Seed Guardians pass it on: sharing seeds for planting next year.
A small enthusiastic and committed group of seed guardians made a really important contribution to saving heritage seeds this year. To keep on growing a good thing just needs a bit of foresight and local school co-operation. Our pilot school seed guardians are now equipped to pass on their learning experiences as guardians and can offer a neighbouring school a few saved seeds to start growing their own heritage plants next growing season and save even more seeds.
Find out how to do ‘Seed saving in schools’ with this handy Garden Organic guide – found on our FGSL Resources page.
Julie Henley-Wilkinson is one of three School and Community Engagement Officers. She works with schools and organisations in: Ealing, Hounslow, Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, Kingston, Richmond, Hackney, Merton and Wandsworth.
Julie supports both community events and school events where there are multiple schools involved, in all of these boroughs. She also runs twilight seminars and training sessions on a wide range of grow your own topics to suit the needs of the schools. Occasionally one off school visits can also be arranged.
Julie has worked with children and families for more than 25 years, 15 of those have been directly in education, working with children from early years, right through to college leavers. Helping and supporting the learning needs of children with disabilities and those from vulnerable groups has been a consistent thread throughout. Passing on her knowledge and skills related to ‘how to grow’ means that I can make a contribution towards young learners accessing opportunities to develop confidence and achieve their aspirations.
Find support in your borough: FGSL Team.