Urban Flower Power

Ask me what I remember most from primary school, and I will tell you it was the experiences outside the classroom. Lucky, privileged, even, to be in a leafy suburb, our school had large grounds. There was a pond and wild area, vegetable patch, trees, and areas of shrubs that were like epic forests to the five-year-olds. Oh, and for a time, a sheep pen.

Sadly the local council sold off most of the land to developers and built a new school with vastly reduced outside space. However, it’s still in a leafy suburb, and still has more outside space than many schools. Urban schools rarely have such luxuries.

In fact, people in some areas do not have any access to open spaces or gardens. A Newsround report from 2020 found that one in five people in England do not have a garden, public park, or open fields near where they live. And one in eight households does not have a garden (Office of National Statistics).

Children in tower blocks can end up spending their childhood between a flat and school. Lockdown only made this worse; those without gardens found themselves with little to no access to green spaces. BAME communities, which are more likely to live in urban areas are the most affected group. Black people are nearly four times more likely than white people to have no outdoor space at home, be it a private or shared garden, patio, or balcony (Office of National Statistics).

The importance of flourishing urban spaces can not be overstated. They are critical to our mental, and physical, health. For example, being in the presence of nature, even in an urban setting, has a positive effect. It can decrease our stress responses such as heart rate and blood pressure (OU). And then there’s the positive increase in heart rate, through exercise/activities, or helping to keep spaces maintained.

Those taking part in keeping spaces maintained, will be working in community gardens, and rewilding projects. It’s an opportunity for anyone to get involved, and can help ease the loneliness felt by an increasing number of people. Something else that was brought into the light by the pandemic. 

Recent events have shown us how important community is. Not just the local community, recent events remind us of our wider global community too. In times of conflict, the power of kindness and coming together is more important than ever. The idea of life, something as seemingly simple as a flower, growing somewhere humans have concreted over, or devastated by bombs, has a universal appeal. The persistence of beauty and nature over greed and power. I think of the poppies that grew in Flanders as the ultimate symbol of hope and recovery.

Recovery. It feels like we’re living in an era of recovery. Or soon to be. Nature recovering from humanity’s interference. Urban wilding projects aim to reintroduce wildlife, increase biodiversity, boost clean air by absorbing pollutants and contribute to the wellbeing of city inhabitants. Something becoming more and more important with 55% of the world’s population living in cities, and which is expected to rise to 68% by 2050 (UN). And, of course, restoring nature is one of the keys ways to reverse the effects of climate change.

One of the ways this is happening is through city beehives and “corridors” of wild flowers. Stretching across parks, gardens, and rooftops, these bands of wildflowers help the movement of pollinating insects so they are not confined to localised areas. Green roofs also improve drainage and are great for insulation too. However, it does add weight to the structure of the building, so installing them on older buildings is not always possible. But, the positives far outweigh the negatives. As a result, a place of colour, movement, and texture that isn’t grey, still, and hard.

As educators, don’t we find these projects inspiring? For instance, making the world a better place for future generations and teaching children how important they are. And involving children. Giving them these experiences and getting their hands dirty. It can be as simple as window boxes or hanging baskets. Growing vegetables – tomatoes in a grow bag won’t take up much space – also promotes healthy eating and sustainable living. Also, mini-greenhouses, vertical gardens, rain gutter planters, bird feeders…

Nature is often looked upon as the great escape, from our daily routines and busy lives. With an ever-increasing population, cities expanding, and natural habitats decreasing, urban green spaces are vital for wildlife and city citizens’ mental and physical health. Children carry positive experiences through to their adult lives, and so will the positive effects of green urban environments. Future generations will be able to enjoy them and tend to them as part of a community. We are both nature and community.

We all love to escape into a book. But what good is reading about how wonderful clean air is, how vibrant colours are, and the sounds of insects are like music, when you haven’t experienced them yourself?

Five things to do for Community Garden Week.

Community gardens and school gardens come in a myriad of shapes, sizes and styles. They all have a different heart and a unique mission. What each one of them has in common though, is the ability to bring people together using the power of nature to inspire, heal and make people happy.

Community garden week 2022 celebrates the amazing community and school gardens across the UK and will take place from 04 April – 10th April this year.

Here are five things that you might do in your school to celebrate your school garden or raise awareness of the importance of urban green spaces: