Backyard Schooling

We had our third field trip on Tuesday to St. Patrick’s BNS, which is just a few hundred yards down from the college so we were able to walk there. I coached in the school for a few years dealing with 5th and 6th class and the all boys school always struck me as very progressive and supportive of new ideas.


Skibbereen is a typical Irish town and there is plenty of green around the place, the school itself is surrounded by some lovely trees, it backs on to fields so it has a part urban and part rural feel to the place. There have been some dramatic changes to the grounds with new initiatives to promote ecology and I suspect our Tutor Michael has had a lot of input into these schemes and is quite rightly enthusiastic about this project.


He began the tour showing us a variety of plants and where they had planted some apple trees leading to the main garden around the back of the school between the main building and some outer classrooms. There are plenty of areas to just sit and relax for the kids as well as some interesting features like a willow dome and tunnel, there is a Bug Hotel made out of pallets with nooks and crannies for all those little creature to hide away and keep warm during the winter but the main feature of the garden is a Geodome. The futuristic Geodome cost around €20,000 and is used as an outside classroom.


There are loads of interesting plants inside and there is a theme of the 4 continents. They have tried growing rice which managed to reach the seed head stage but wasn’t able to produce viable seed. There is a Tea plant, Ginger plants, avocado and a number of exotics. We were told the parents association helps out with the upkeep but the main work is done by the kids themselves. The garden is open to the public on some Saturdays and is part of the West Cork Garden Trail and it is unsurprising they have won awards for the project.


The connection with growing doesn’t just stop with the Geodome however as there is a sensory garden which has loads of features including different surfaces, smells and textures for the kids and visitors to explore. There is also a number of raised beds where each of the classes can grow plants to experiment with what can grow and watch how it grows. I particularly liked the three stage compost system they have built at the school and was surprised to see a hen house with a few hens scratching away at the grass.


The school has obviously put a lot of effort into producing this garden and I think we all agreed that it looked like an excellent space for the inquiring mind to explore young or old. The school has an very informative website and a video that shows how the school has changed and developed the grounds that you can find here School video on Youtube


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