Permaculture Garden

Creating the Garden
I love being outside and running around. We can also be imaginative and create all kinds of stuff. Albert (Y5)

This project aims to provide a comprehensive permaculture-inspired outdoor education programme at ISL Surrey. The programme complements our Forest School initiative and incorporates gardening, landscape design, animal husbandry and systems-thinking as an approach to learning about resource flows and environmental sustainability. Additionally it enhances ISL Surrey's ability to provide contextualised, real world learning, yielding abundant opportunities for engagement with the wider community.

The project

Permaculture Garden PlanThe aim is to develop ISL Surrey's outdoor education space and to expand our hands-on, experiential education. This includes a sensory and wildlife garden with a pond, beds for each year group, and a food forest. We have already started to develop these within a permaculture framework.

The garden reflects the unique global community of our school by growing some exotic varieties in addition to those native to the UK, highlighting their unique history and climate requirements. We will be able to accommodate these plants through the creation of a warmer micro-climate with our pond and, in the future, with a greenhouse.

The vegetables and herbs produced in the various areas of the garden will be used for classroom cooking projects, Forest School activities and eventually, for school lunches. Plans also include undertaking various food processing activities: drying, fermenting, and the creation of various herbal products such as teas, balms and natural fertilisers.


Children with rakes in the gardenWhy we believe this is important?

In recent years, we have seen disturbing trends in childrens’ wellbeing, with an increasing incidence of childhood obesity, learning disorders and mental health problems. Social scientists have proposed that many of today’s children lack a sense of “rootedness” in the natural world and in their environment, and may suffer from a “nature deficit disorder” that contributes to the aforementioned problems. Spending time outside, as prioritised by ISL Surrey's Forest School initiative, is an important step towards fulfilling students’ need for exposure to nature. Furthermore increasing their eco-knowledge through participatory development of a garden and diversified landscapes may go further to enhance their sense of “rootedness” in their environment and community. Research has shown that children’s level of engagement with nature strongly correlates with their level of concern for the environment in later life.

Why Permaculture?
Research shows that when lessons focus on the environmental problems we face as a society, “students close down” (Stone 2009). Teaching about environmental sustainability through the framework of permaculture offers a perspective of empowerment. Permaculture teaches that “the problem is the solution” and that through systems thinking we can solve the massive environmental challenges we face.

By empowering the children to begin to think about resource flows, how to recognise the impact that our actions have on the environment, and ways to mitigate or offset these impacts, we can foster an awareness of environmental issues that becomes a core competency.

Girl with a watering can watering some plants


Cheney Skerrow

Interview with Cheney Skerrow, Environmental Education Advisor

What is the background to the project?

I’m passionate about the importance of experiential and environmental education, and since moving to the UK from Florida, I have also become a keen gardener.My children have been students at ISL Surrey for three years, and from the beginning I adored the School and spent as much time there as I was allowed to as well! I rapidly came to appreciate that it is an extremely unique learning environment where the value of inquiry and experiential learning is celebrated, and I saw that many of the teachers were doing great work guiding the students to learn about sustainability.

Our Forest School programme has been growing and is really helping the students to develop an appreciation and affinity for the natural world (and helping them in countless other ways), and I felt that we could build on that initiative and take a more comprehensive approach to environmental education school wide. ISL Surrey students have been engaged in gardening activities for many years, but creating a large school garden as a community space that will blend into our forest seemed like a perfect way to begin to integrate these activities into a more cohesive whole and to provide a host of new opportunities for students to learn experientially.

What is a Permaculture Garden?

As the core idea of this project was an enhanced focus on sustainability and environmental education, it was paramount that our garden reflected these driving values. Permaculture is a design system that seeks to mimic nature’s patterns to create environments that meet humans’ needs as sustainably as possible. I was familiar with it through my graduate research and volunteer work, as was my colleague Lucy. Our school wellbeing leader was independently introduced to permaculture over the summer holiday, and when she came back excitedly talking about it, we all realised that it needed to be the framework in which we developed our garden (and eventually, our entire campus!) We’ve had some help with the design process from a local permaculture consultant, Daniel Tyrkiel.

Permaculture is a melding of the words “permanent” and “culture” or “agriculture.” In our garden, it means we will look for ways to capture and utilise the inputs we have (sunlight, rainfall, wind), in the most efficient way possible; to consider and provide for the needs of the plants, the wildlife, and the humans, and to minimise waste through recycling, composting and re-purposing.

Young child gardeningWhy is the Permaculture Garden project important?

Humanity is facing innumerable environmental challenges, and if we cannot solve them, they will be even more urgent for our children. Addressing these issues and will take creative, independent thinking, and I would argue that a strong sense of biophilia (love of nature) is also necessary- these are already nurtured at ISL Surrey, but to fully equip our youth, we need to help them to understand sustainability, how natural systems work and how we are all connected in this system.

Our garden, our food forest, our pond, these will all be ideal spaces to learn these lessons- to see how the wellbeing of the bumble bee is connected to that of the food we grow, how the weather impacts the wildlife as well as the success of our own efforts at cultivation - or how our actions effect outcomes in the system as a whole.

What is the timeline?

I think its hard to put a timeline on a garden, as it is ideally something that will always be in development and always be improved upon. That said, the plan is for the core elements to be in place by the end of next year. Our pond will be created this spring, and we are getting ready to plant the first trees in our food forest. Our outdoor classroom and roundhouse should be in place by Autumn 2018. I think we might be ready to add chickens to the garden by next spring.

How will the kids get involved?

Our students have been involved from the beginning.They helped to measure for the fence and to add compost to prepare the beds. Over the past few weeks they have been busy starting seeds and planting plug plants in their new beds. They are also getting ready to plant trees to begin our fruit forest, and they will take part in the creation of the sensory garden. Beginning next year, the older students will be looking at resource flows and finding ways to make our garden, and our school, more efficient and sustainable.

Permaculture Garden Digging Plant Beds