Royal School Manchester teacher, Jean Barratt, runs a programme at Seashell, funded by the DWF Foundation, which looks to develop our students’ skills through horticulture. The programme evolves with the seasons, with school holidays providing a demarcation point for Seashell’s students to change: i.e. from sowing seeds in May to harvesting in June and June and planting in autumn.

The development of students’ skills is the main focus within the horticulture programme and the skills of Jean’s team are boundless.

Jean takes to writing short pieces to truly provide an insight into the activities of the horticulture programme and the key development of Seashell’s students:

Tales from the Greenhouse │ June 2021

Sometimes working with nature can feel like a penance rather than the pleasure it normally is.  It is hard to believe that this time last year we were watering the raised beds three or four times a day in temperatures above 28 degrees.  This year I have to admit that I still have the heater on in the hut and the watering can is gathering cobwebs in the greenhouse. Seedlings have rotted in the ground while others have failed to germinate because the temperature has failed to rise. What a difference a year makes!

As well as the weather, we seem to be under assault from a wide variety of local wildlife.  Our fixed planters have been ravaged by squirrels viewing our displays as a rodent version of MacDonald, chomping their way through a sizeable chunk of the garlic crop. The radishes are doing well but sadly there is always more demand for the garlic than radish but at least we have something to show for our efforts.  The blackcurrant bushes have been undermined by marauding rabbits, and for the first time I have had to net some of the beds as they have fallen victim to night time excavations! These things never seem to happen to Monty Don!

However, there have been compensations too.  A family of coal tits took up residence behind the fascia boards of the hut and charmed us with their diligent parenting.  Since both families have fledged I have missed their cheerful chittering and am keeping my fingers crossed that a second brood may be on the way for these delightful little birds.

On the work front, the students and I have not been idle.  Whilst we could do little with the raised beds in the constant downpours, we have planted cuttings and seedlings for selling on as part of our mini-enterprise scheme.  We have also spent a huge amount of effort creating our planters and hanging baskets.  Normally our sales are restricted to school staff but this year we have been broadening our horizons and selling across site.  Given how difficult it can be for our youngsters to practise their social skills, never mind in the throes of a pandemic, this has been a really useful experience for them.

When we come back after the break the students will be helping thin out the carrots – a tricky job but a good way to practise a fine pincer grip.  The same applies to the cuttings we have been growing-on which are well on the way to needing repotting.

Another exciting piece of news is that we are about to embark on a skills sharing project with a local charity which supports young adults with learning difficulties.  Once the covid rules allow, my post 16s will be helping maintain the sensory garden alongside their clients where, hopefully, new friendships will be made and a new cohort of gardeners will be forged.   An added bonus is that we can share their headquarters in Handforth one day a week and move our vocational crafts and plants into the wider community. So, if you find yourself at Costa coffee on a Wednesday afternoon, please say hello as we will be just next door at the Time Out centre.

During the high winds in April my very elderly greenhouse finally gave up the fight and had to be dismantled.  Fortunately one of Seashell’s longstanding benefactors, the Mulchand Foundation, stepped up and provided the funds for a new one.  It is hard to explain the impact of such a generous act as, for me, this is not simply a greenhouse but an extra classroom for the students to work in no matter what the weather.  I am very excited for its arrival which should be at the start of the autumn term.

One of our long-standing volunteers, Peter Meddows, generously gave up his time during the Easter holidays to upcycle some pallets into the long awaited new raised bed.  Anyone who has read my previous ramblings will know this has been a long-cherished idea which was disrupted by Covid.  This time I was sure it would be plain sailing – how hard could it be to order five tons of topsoil?  I should have known that nothing ever runs to plan!  Who knew there was a national shortage of soil?  However, where there’s a will there’s a way.  Currently Willmott Dixon, the construction team working on the new building project, are gathering together the best bits of topsoil they can find and it will be arriving in the digger, ready for us to get started, any day now.  Most of the students will have a part to play in filling the bed as, for so many, it is a practical means to understand the strength of their own bodies, something they often do not fully appreciate in day to day life.

I live in hopes that the second half of the term will bring us some sunshine and a return to more normal summer conditions.  As I look through the photos, there seems little difference in our dress from the pictures taken in February to the ones taken today.  Surely the sun will shine on our endeavours?  If not, I am not sure how my strawberry-addicted workforce will cope if we don’t manage to rustle up at least a few punnets by the end of June!

Happy gardening!