When the organisers of Floriade: Reimagined put the call out in May for community groups to apply to plant their own gardens of flowers, Woden Valley Child Care Centre nature pedagogist Gabby Millgate knew her team of little gardeners would be more than up to the task.
“The selection criteria said you needed to have experience planting to a timetable,” she said.
“I sent them the video of the children planting and looking after and harvesting our corn crop in summer to show that the children were really capable.”
Other criteria stated the garden needed to be near a public place, which the Woden Valley Child Care Centre ticked off given it is located beside Canberra Hospital.
“We thought it would bring the people visiting Canberra Hospital a lot of joy … It might just bring a smile to their face seeing the children out working on the garden or waking the flowers up because it’s springtime,” she said.
“Those little moments of beauty and joy are a really nice way to connect with the community.”
Once the 200 bulbs and 400 seedlings arrived, “Ms Gabby” as she’s known by the children, scheduled time with every age group at the centre to ensure they could all play their part in the planting process.
“We’ve since just been visiting the garden and watering it and then on 1 September at the start of spring we did a little ‘wake up flowers, it’s springtime!’.
“(The children) were giving the garden their well wishes and instructions that it was time to start blooming and it worked! So there’s a method nobody talked about on Better Homes and Gardens,” Ms Millgate smiled.
The flowerbed outside the front gate of the centre is just one of the many ways the children at the Centre engage with nature.
Since joining the Woden Valley Childcare Centre in 2017, Ms Millgate has utilised the Centre’s outdoor spaces by planting and nurturing an abundance of flowers, plants and crops, plus introducing a few animals.
Seasonal flowers welcome everyone on approach with false sarsaparilla currently in bloom, succulents, pansies and pink native daisies lining the path to the front door.
The Narragunnawali garden – Ngunnawal for alive, wellbeing, coming together and peace – is home to mum-to-be duck Muriel, Daddy Duck, Lord Cluckingham the rooster and a few hens known as ‘the Bronwyns’.
The top yard is where summer crops of corn and cosmos flowers, beans, peas and Jerusalem artichokes are grown.
“I knew I was inheriting a fantastic space that had been created by my predecessor,” Ms Millgate said.
“I suppose I filled those structures that he created with the living plants … It’s been learning on the go and learning about how capable children are.”
If the children at the Centre so wish, they can be involved in composting and preparing garden beds, helping to look after the animals, or tending to the plants.
“There’s a ritual that goes along with responsibility and children want to show you they are capable of doing something that benefits the land, the animals and each other,” Ms Millgate said.
“As adults, we control children’s access to nature, and I’m sure there’s learning that’s occurring that I’m not even aware of yet.
“That is what’s exciting about this job. I’m constantly thrilled and amazed at how children’s interaction with nature builds their confidence and I suppose it makes me feel good about the future of the environment.”