Reordering and landscaping of FHS garden beds

The school’s staff, students, school council, City of Yarra and members of the local community have been involved for a number of years in an ongoing project to improve the school’s garden beds.

What are the objectives of this reordering and landscaping program?

To create much improved: amenity, biodiversity, representation of indigenous plants, teaching spaces and generally peaceful and welcoming precincts for staff and students to enjoy.

One of the specific objectives of the program is to provide the school with four, of the nine, Ecological Vegetation Communities (EVC) within the City of Yarra.

A further specific objective is to provide additional habitat for local fauna thereby further increasing the biodiversity of the school grounds.

What are the educational advantages from this garden beds program?

To support, expand and enhance the overall Education for Sustainability (EfS) objectives of the school, including involvement of: all teachers and students, particularly the VCAL teachers and students, with formal and informal links to the curriculum, the local community (they have already been involved with the tangential Community Compost Bins Project), parents and School Council. For a number of years the school has taken part in the ‘Resource Smart Schools – Sustainability Victoria’ Program and this reordering of the school’s garden beds adds to the school’s sustainability credentials via this program.

It is apposite to look at the ‘…three focus areas’ of the school’s ‘EfS policy’ outlined in that school document. It states that they are:

• curriculum;

• management of school resources;

• management of school grounds.

To achieve the objectives of EfS, Fitzroy High School will address all three focus areas in ways that are meaningful to the students, teachers, school council and the whole school community.”

It is also interesting to note that in a major report titled ‘Ecological Education at Fitzroy High School: a Report of Research Conclusions and Recommendations’ compiled by Alicia Flynn in November 2018, she outlines three things that are essential for ecological education. They are: ‘Learning with other species’, ‘Learning with materials’ and ‘Learning with other places’.

From Alicia’s report it is possible to conclude that enhanced FHS gardens would provide an opportunity for students who participated in any inquiry using garden spaces to relish the opportunity to learn in such a diverse multispecies community and precinct. The teachers and other adults who participate would also benefit by experiencing a sense of space, calm, fun and ‘a different relationship with students and learning’. 

Therefore it is possible to say that in addition to the direct educational advantages outlined above, an enhancement of the general health and well being of staff and students flows from the improved ambience of the school’s surrounds.      

What has already been achieved?

The earliest stage of the garden bed program took place a few years ago when the garden area facing Falconer Street – the gateway to the school’s main entrance, was reordered with garden beds of indigenous plants and the provision of timber surrounds and seating areas. The beauty, sustainability and utility of this first step of the program was recognised with the school gaining an environment award from the City of Yarra.

Some work on a new and revamped program took place in 2018. The first stage of this program, ‘The Escarpment Shrubland’, involved the complete reordering of the area in the south-east corner of the school, adjacent to the Michael Street driveway. Many of the unsuitable existing trees, shrubs and grasses in this area were removed, the ground was tilled and suitably mulched, and many new plants were established in the landscaped garden.

In 2019 it was hoped that another stage, and a more ambitious part of the program would be reached. The gardens on both sides of the ‘Corridor Area’, running north-south between the main building and science block, was to be reordered in a similar way to that of the first stage outlined above. Unfortunately the maintenance and painting work on the timber windows on the western side of the main building took precedence. It was not possible to guarantee that the newly established gardens, adjacent to the main building, would not be impacted by the machinery or scaffolding that was required to complete this work.

What is planned for future years?

The garden and landscaping of this ‘Corridor Area’ will now take place in 2020.

Further stages of the whole program are planned for coming years and in particular the creation of a ‘sensory garden’ which is likely to be located on the eastern side of the school; existing garden areas would be suitable for this part of the program. In 2018, the outline of possible approaches that could be used in creating a sensory garden was provided to the School’s Council by an interested parent, Ms Tonya Slee, who was a member, at that stage, of the ‘Master Plan Subcommittee’ of FHS Council

The stages of garden reordering outlined above have been under the oversight of the school principal, Linda Mitchell and member of the Buildings and Environments Subcommittee of FHS Council using the plans, principles and guidelines provided to the school by Ms Jenny Harrington of the Victorian Indigenous Nursery Corporation.

The School Council endorses this program and does so in the knowledge that it has already provided many aesthetic and educational benefits for staff, students, the school’s neighbours and members of the school community, and will continue to do so for many years to come.

It has always been a major aim of this program to create model gardens that will create additional resources for teachers and students and the local community to enjoy. 

How can you help?

The school has already raised over $1000 to support the purchasing of plants, mulch and general landscaping.

In the future, when we can all assemble again, we will have at least one school ‘Maintenance Day’ where we will work on the school’s garden beds.

Roger Smith

Community Representative and Convenor of Buildings and Environments Subcommittee of FHS Council