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Combining nature with nurture

October 12th, 2016 7:15 AM

By Southern Star Team

An overhead view of the beautifully designed garden, including geodome, at St Patrick's Boys' National School in Skibbereen.

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The geodome is the focal point, but what really is at the heart of the garden at St Patrick’s boys’ National School in Skibbereen is the children.

A film crew from RTÉ visited the school last June and the end results were shown on Nationwide on Monday, September 19th – and it’s still available to be seen on RTÉ player.

One of the nicest images on the show was of several children from fourth class slurping on smoothies, which were made using strawberries that were grown in the school’s geodome.

The programme was all about harvest time. But, as the principal Alan Foley, said: ‘Normally, harvesting would have been done during the school holidays but thanks to the geodome we can now control what we grow.’

Each and every one of the 215 pupils at the school have got their hands dirty, so to speak, by planting seeds in the garden – a garden that includes a raised bed for each of the 11 classes, a willow dome, and exotic plants in the geodome.

A geodome costs €11,000 to make and install. ‘Initially,’ Alan Foley said, ‘we were just going to put in a few raised beds, but with three classes for autism we decided to also create a sensory garden.

‘Then, a new member of staff, Brian Granaghan, was the inspiration for taking the project to a whole new level when he designed a multifaceted garden and suggested the geodome.

‘We were blessed in many respects because Tim Farley, who makes the geodomes, lives locally and he was as enthusiastic as we were about the project and he helped us in very many ways. The new garden – which was officially opened on Saturday, September 10th last by Mary Clear, the founder of Incredible Edibles – also features a Zen garden, an amphitheatre, a wild trail, an insect hotel and a woodland area.

‘We also have plans to create a wormery, composting areas, a herb wheel, and a water feature,’ said Alan. ‘We are even looking at creating our own orchard. And want to plant a native Irish hedge along the school boundary.

‘The size and scale of the project has surprised us all,’ said Alan, who acknowledged the tremendous amount of support and goodwill the project has received from day one.

In his speech at the launch ceremony, the principal thanked the Gwendoline Harold Barry Trust, who got the project started with a €13,000 grant; the school’s parents’ association who raised more than €10,000 to date; Fusion Home Interiors who donated paint; Norma Deane who supplied bark mulch; Skibbereen Golf Club who supplied sand; Lorcan Murphy and Tadhg Murphy who supplied horse manure; Liam O’Driscoll of Teagasc who organised a team of volunteer workers; Ian O’Regan who drew up the garden plans; Mark Lee who did the original ground works; Andrew Hume who built our raised beds and Kevin O’Flynn who allowed us access through his land to the back of the school; and everyone within the school community who gave of their time.

Alan told The Southern Star: ‘The school has done something unique. We are the first primary school in the country to built our own geodome and it has inspired many of the children to take a real and abiding interest in food.

‘I believe they now have an appreciation for food that they never had before. Instead of opting for fast food and sugary snacks they are beginning to appreciate the flavour contained in home-grown fruit and vegetables.

‘It was a pleasure on the opening day to actually serve soup made from the produce grown in our garden. They took pride in that, and so too did the staff. This project is more than something to educate – or divert – the children. It has had a unifying effect on the school, and maybe even the community.

‘In fact,’ Alan said: ‘I’d go so far as to say that it has become an exemplar for other primary schools throughout the country.’

Alan said: ‘This is a garden that will grow in size and scope. ‘The possibilities are endless, especially as the children take ownership of this project and its produce.’

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