Montessori children's garden wins gold at Chelsea

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A garden designed to celebrate 100 years since Maria Montessori introduced her pioneering educational vision to Britain has won a gold medal at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

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Montessorians from The Gower School in Islington show Chelsea Pensioner, Michael Dows, around the sunken greenhouse

The Montessori Centenary Children’s Garden has been designed by the horticulturist and educator Jody Lidgard, (below), who aimed to bring a child-centric approach and highlight the multi-sensory nature of a Montessori classroom. It is the first time he has designed a garden for the show.

jody-lidgard‘Visitors to Chelsea may be surprised by the imperfect look of this garden,’ he said. ‘This is a space that is designed to be experienced and enjoyed by children, teaching them about the natural world and allowing them to explore horticulture in their own way.’

After the show, the Space to Grow garden will initially move to Montessori Centre International's training centre in St John's Wood. However, there are plans for it to be permanently based at the V & A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green to provide a natural teaching space for families in the local community.

The area has a history of being linked to Montessori, as suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst used the Montessori approach to set up the Mother’s Arms nursery in Bow.

The garden’s many playful features include a raised dipping pond to make it more accessible for children, featuring glass gargoyles that drip water from the wall above, and a water play station allowing children to learn about measurement, and sinking and floating.

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The raised dipping pond and water play station, complete with glass gargoyles

gargoyles


A propagating greenhouse (below) doubles as a teaching area and a place where children can grow micro vegetables and salad leaves using cutting-edge hydroponic technology. Children enter the scientific and playful space, with a door specially designed at child height.

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Jody Lidgard said, ‘Although it’s a centenary for Montessori we needed to look backwards, and in Victorian [times] sunken green houses were a lot more prominent.

montessori-garden-door‘When the kids are in there, they are in amongst the plants. The really nice thing is the door. We wanted to do the door for the children, so it was obvious [that it’s theirs].’

Speaking about the children that had been invited to the garden the day before, he said of the greenhouse, ‘That was the den, there was a password to get in and they had a door monitor and if you didn’t have the password you didn't get in.' The children played for eight hours. 'They did not stop. They were oblivious to everything going on outside, and that’s how it should be.’

Sustainability is a key theme running throughout the garden, which features a SUDS compliant system that slows down storm water from the greenhouse roof into the natural filtration system that is then used for irrigation.

There is also ‘a squiggle’ beneath the steel grid teaching platform (below), a place for children to enjoy surrounded by mint and other herbs.

the-squiggle

Leonor Stjepic, CEO of Montessori St Nicholas, said, ‘Maria Montessori believed fervently in the importance of access to the outdoors. This garden is a reminder of the vital part that nature plays in a holistic approach to early years education. We want visitors to rediscover the joy of learning and inspire children to discover the natural world in a fun and interactive way.’

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The edible wall, container classroom and greenhouse


Children’s gardens

Other children’s gardens on show at Chelsea include the Green Fingers Charity Garden, which won a silver-gilt medal at the show. The charity is dedicated to designing innovative therapeutic and recreational gardens for children’s hospices, accessible for children with complex needs.

The garden provides a peaceful space where life-limited children, their families, friends and carers can come together for play, relaxation or peaceful reflection.

Set over two levels, with a lift and sloped walkways, the garden is an accessible space for people of all ages and abilities.

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The Green Fingers Charity Garden


The Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED) garden, which won a gold medal, aims to show what is possible when girls are given a space to grow. It includes a classroom rising out of the typical Zimbabwean landscape of red soil and large rocks surrounded by plants and trees with edible fruit, leaves and roots. The garden uses 'climate smart techniques' used by female agricultural entrepreneurs supported by CAMFED across Africa.

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 The CAMFED Garden

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