By RACHEL MACDONALD
“What are those?” asks West Eyreton School’s deputy principal Lisa Duff, as she points to the mural behind a stunning display garden in the school’s playground.
“Mountains,” chorus a large group of enthusiastic pupils.
“Our mountains, the Southern Alps!”
“And the river?” asks Lisa, pointing to a braided cascade of resin and river pebbles, starting at the painting and running down through the garden, and flowing with real water.
“It’s our river, the Waimak, and it waters the farms that give us food!”
The garden is a work of art. It was created by the school as its competition entry in the inaugural Grow Otautahi Christchurch Garden Festival. The event was to have been held last week, but was cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions.
The plants, framing and artworks were instead brought home and assembled onsite for the community to admire.
At the end of last week, an amended version was moved permanently to a space cleared by volunteers beside the school hall.
Every one of West Eyreton’s186 pupils got involved, says Lisa, from developing the overall design to the paper butterflies created by the new entrants.
Many local businesses also came on board to support the project, offering funding, advice, building materials and plants.
In the original garden, one side of the miniature river featured a mass planting of herbs and vegetables Canterbury’s communities.
On the other, and still a key element, is a mass planting of native shrubs and grasses.
Both sides are peppered with marigolds, carefully painted native birds, skink sculptures, and hedgehogs made of pinecones, among other local fauna.
Eight schools entered the competition, with West Eyreton, which also created an exhibit for the 2014 Ellerslie Flower Show, being the only North Canterbury representative.
And it would have been a medal candidate, says Grow Otautahi manager and judge Rachel Vogan.
“The attention to detail and finish of this garden is literally world class,” she says. “It would also have scored highly in the design and story-telling categories.”
However, most importantly, says Lisa, are the core competency skills learned and demonstrated by the children in the course of the project.
“They learned about teamwork and problem-solving. They were shown what it takes to paint a mural, and then they had it done in just six hours,” she says.
“Most of all, they have learned where and how they fit into their wider community, and the landscape and environment that supports it.”