The art of growing

By Nathalie Fitzgerald, Regional Manager, London

The daughter of a gardener, I spent my life learning how to cultivate. Understanding the delicate balance of an organic environment that grows at its own pace, affected by the elements and many other factors out of our control. This is an art! It requires a huge variety of skills, understanding when to gently persuade, when to intervene and when to leave well alone!

No surprise then, that as an adult I seem to have gravitated towards nurturing and growing. I’m now on my third house and garden renovation. And now, I’ve met my match. Meet my new nemesis; the garden at Number 68.

So, skip back to autumn 2015. I had watched the garden blossom throughout the summer, with ample fruits from 7 apple trees and 2 pear trees. The trees from the woods surrounding the house full with luscious green leaves. As the cooler days of autumn set in, my new garden began to look confused, overgrown and unbalanced. The initial amazement of the abundant fruits, began toBefore turn into questions about why so many of the apples were so small. With leaves falling everywhere, covering the overgrown mass of greenery, I started to realise that this little bit of nature of mine was not as healthy as I’d first thought. It was definitely blooming, but not reaching its full potential.

My challenge was recognising what I needed to do, and when and how to do it, in order to get my London haven back to beautiful. This was not as straightforward as might be expected, with out of control fruit trees, asbestos and ground full of clay. I began to expect the unexpected. YouTube and Google have become my new best friends.

Systematically over the winter, I have pruned, cleared, chopped, and lopped; giving each small piece of the garden its own individual lease of life. Individual being the operative word here, as almost each shrub, tree, plant and element of the garden needed its own plan of action. Having never pruned a fruit tree before and being warned “cut too much and you’ll kill it”, figuring out what was required was by and large trial and error and a leap of faith, trusting that nature would be kind to my decisions.

This whole process is something I recognise across the teaching profession. Schools are full of people who are nurturers and growers, selfless givers who spend their days ensuring that children in their care reach their full potential, and develop a love for learning. But as teachers, when do we take the time to nurture and grow ourselves? In the hours I have spent in the garden, I have pondered the links between my gardening experiences and Learning Nutrition.

For those of you who are real PE practitioners, you may or may not be familiar with Learning Nutrition. It features in your IntroductioDuringn Booklets and forms part of the real PE Day 4 for Subject Leaders. Learning Nutrition is exactly what I’ve been doing in the garden for the past year. Developing and nurturing, to bring about the best possible outcome for me as a gardener and everything in my care. The only difference is that Learning Nutrition, with its simple and gradual steps, allows teachers to become successful learners at their own pace; using a simple and elegant 5 stage guide. If only the same thing existed for gardening – Alan Titchmarsh, I hope you’re reading!

Learning Nutrition helps practitioners build their confidence in the ‘how’ of teaching PE, rather than the ‘what’ we teach. Shaping understanding, behaviours, language and practice; giving teachers control over their own development, and choice of where to focus their learning. The result of using Learning Nutrition is teachers who are motivated to continuously develop good teaching habits; and learners who take responsibility for their learning, understand where they are and their next steps in their journey, a culture of excellence and very happy classrooms which flourish and grow.

Leaping into the first full summer at Number 68, I’m beginning to see the fruits of my labour and decisions. The garden is definitely less cluttered and everything that survived the garden cull looking far healthier than it did going into the winter. I’ve handed the reins back over to nature. I am carefully listening to the responses, which will help me decide the right plan of action for the year ahead, along with a little help from friendly experts I’ve chatted to along the way. I’m pretty sure I’ve made some mistakes, one or two more obvious than others; I can safely say I will only be getting fruit from 5 apple trees this year, but fingers crossed they’ll be bigger, sweeter and tastier than before.