Balshaw High in Leyland win 2013 Lancashire Life School Garden of the Year

PUBLISHED: 00:00 14 November 2013

The Gardeners

The Gardeners

Archant

A tragic accident led to the creation of a green oasis which has secured the title Lancashire Life School Garden of the Year, writes Roger Borrell

When a schoolboy from Leyland was killed while riding his bike to school, it must have seemed unlikely that any good could come from such a tragic waste.

However, that terrible accident has resulted in the creation of a oasis of tranquillity at his school, Balshaw’s High in Leyland, and fired the enthusiasm of a group of pupils who, with teacher Tina Thorp, have formed an eco gardening club.

The project has been so successful that it has earned them the title of Lancashire Life School Garden of the Year, sponsored by former BBC Young Gardener of the Year John Foley, who runs the successful Holden Clough Nursery in Bowland.

It means they will have £500 to spend on their garden, courtesy of Holden Clough, and the youngsters are already planning to buy some fruit trees.

School head Jo Venn explained that when 14-year-old Ryan Masterman died the school asked his parents what sort of garden they wanted. Gardening coordinator Tina adds: ‘The reply was they wanted something that had a wow factor.’

The project galvanised the community and Tim Callaghan, the chairman of the school governors, used his skills as a professional garden designer to come up with a plan. A grant application was successful and the area chosen for the memorial garden was a quadrangle at the centre of the school. It was a mainly concrete area with a single tree.

The biggest job was positioning 100 tonnes of topsoil. Because the quadrangle is enclosed it had to be brought over the rooftops with the help of an Ainscough Crane. Today, after much hard work, the memorial garden is dominated by striking, metre-high curvaceous raised beds and the wow factor comes from vibrant pink paintwork.

The beds contain saplings, shrubs and flowers, all maintained by the gardening club members, with alcoves containing benches for youngsters where they can escape the clamour of a school with 1,000 pupils.

The quadrangle also has a series of raised beds used to grow delicious vegetables, such as potatoes, peas, beans, onions and garlic. This has all been put to good use. For instance, the gardeners invited family and staff to help them with a ‘Big Dig’ and, as a reward, they put on a ‘Big Lunch’ to thank them.

Potato cakes made from the garden’s spud crop featured on the Balshaw’s school dining room menu and the children put together harvest parcels for the local senior citizens. They also distribute spring bulbs cultivated by club members while surplus crops are sold to raise money for the next year’s seeds.

John Foley has always championed the cause of horticulture as a career opportunity. ‘I think it’s important that young people get the opportunity to work in a garden because it can lead to a successful career path.

‘Gardening as a career can be very rewarding, it’s never monotonous, although it can be challenging. There’s always something new happening.’ It has certainly hooked garden club member Tom Clarkson.

‘I used to help my dad in the garden but when he had trouble with his back, I took over,’ says Tom, who was a highly commended nominee in the Royal Horticultural Society’s Young School Gardener competition. It has also inspired Tina, who studied for a gardening qualification and has become an avid visitor of top gardens open to the public.

As well as providing a practical space, Jo Venn says the memorial garden also has a spirit purpose. By day, it is used by the school pastoral counsellor for one-to-one sessions and once a year Balshaw’s uses it to stage a candle-lit memorial service for staff and pupils to reflect on loved ones who have died. And that means young Ryan Masterman is never far from their thoughts.

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