NB The Garden in Mind was eventually removed from Stansted Park by Ivan Hicks, but he has developed other similar areas around the country.
If you want to develop and outward looking school shouldn’t you go outside for inspiration from time to time?
From the Independent, 1st August 1993 (photos from http://www.ivanhicks.co.uk/ current )
Gardening: Enchanted gardens: Lobsters of inspiration: A crustacean on a lawnmower, a Cosmic Tree of cable drums - surrealistic symbolism blooms beside the passion-flowers in a Hampshire plot.
There's no point being sensible in such a dream-like place. Nothing is what it seems inside this half-acre plot in the grounds of Stansted Park in Hampshire. Everything symbolises something else. The three-tier box topiary tree symbolises a wedding cake which symbolises fertility. Dangling prisms twinkle like diamonds. A red lobster from a fishmonger's display sits on an old lawnmower, symbolising the surrealist poet Gerard de Nerval who used to take one for a walk on a lead.
Lobsters are a good clue to the main inspiration behind Garden in Mind. For as long as he can remember, garden designer Ivan Hicks has admired surrealist artists like Rene Magritte, Salvador Dali and Giorgio de Chirico. 'I love all those paintings full of melancholy viaducts and strange towers,' he says.
The influence of surrealism is everywhere as you look around this garden. The colourful, artistic planting is interrupted by visual jokes and weirdly puzzling images. 'This is Derek,' says Hicks, pointing out a naked shop dummy painted with a fantasy landscape including a maze, medieval tower and a classical temple reminiscent of Stourhead garden, in Wiltshire. Derek's mate Claudia is a female mannequin, painted with blue sky, fluffy clouds and the vapour trails of aeroplanes.
There were some new staff, some new ICT kit recently installed, a need to enhance classroom use of images and we were actively developing the approach to writing described in “Two page approach to writing”. So we were team building, all staff, ensuring an equal opportunity to explore ideas. It was a chance to put adults in the shoes of child learners, encountering something new.
Having started with coffee and a pleasant shortbread and armed with cameras and small notebooks (to write in, with pencil!), the whole staff went to this surreal garden. To say that it caught some by surprise would be an understatement. The initial comments were somewhat hostile, suggesting a waste of time, not able to understand, gardens have grass and flowers. But, as the morning wore on, it was the smaller details which caught the eye. The brave started to say they actually could see the ideas behind the garden, some began to draw and write as an aide memoire and take photographs.
The discussions became more nuanced, developing a broader understanding. As the garden had been influenced by Magritte and Dali, the artists began to appreciate the translation from painting to garden, so seeing the garden as a living painting. There was a significant sharing of background experience, deepening the group understanding.
Back in school, for the afternoon, teams had the task of developing flyers for the experience, based on their experiences, collected images and the conversations which had arisen. The team came together, within a collective project.
Discussion demonstrated that virtually the whole Primary curriculum could be serviced from the one experience, eg:-
- Maths, measures=length, shape=2D and 3D, counting, matching, sorting, scale drawing, balance.
- English, oracy throughout, reading (broad), writing=notemaking then drafting text for flyer (re-reading), descriptive and imaginative writing in the open air.
- Geography, mapping skills, links to scale, OS map work=plan a walk.
- History, Stansted House and Gardens, History of Garden/gardening.
- Science, plants, materials and change.
- Music, based on percussive instruments=wind chimes.
- Art, observational drawing, painting, collage, sculpture.
- RE, special places, spiritual feelings.
- ICT, images, text.
And from Ofsted at the time:-
The quality of curriculum planning is very good. It is planned in discrete subjects for
mathematics and English and in topics for science, history, geography and art. Other subjects
link with this where possible and some good links between subjects are identified. Planning takes
account of what has gone before and builds systematically on existing knowledge, understanding
and skills, ensuring continuity from year to year. Planning and outcomes are monitored by curriculum co-ordinators.
The curriculum is enriched by a good number of visits and visitors to give first-hand experience
and by a good range of extra-curricular activities. Visits include museums, theatres, churches
and many local places of environmental, historical and geographical interest. Visitors include a
theatre group, a local potter, a poet and the church team.
It’s a case of know-how and show-how.