Monday, May 17, 2010
The Rabbit's Eye View
Doing a lot of teaching this spring. Groups of keen gardeners, garden design students or practising designers. English Gardening School, Society of Garden Designers regional groups, that sort of thing. Great fun, and terrific response from students. I love it. As for “teaching”, anyone who has to face a class of 30 inner-city kids five days a week is entitled to turn around and ask me to use a different verb – everyone is so keen and so appreciative. And always learn stuff from my groups as well.
I’m currently pushing what I call the “rabbit’s eye view”, getting people down on their hands and knees looking at plants, really closely, trying to observe things they might not have seen before. It’s my belief that it is possible to predict how a plant will perform (spread, longevity, drought tolerance etc) from looking at key features of its shape, form, etc, and especially the bit where the stems join the roots. I try to pass this ‘reading the plant’ onto my students. Its about relating
But they’ve got to get onto their hands and knees. You can’t observe plants from standing up. At the Hillier Arboretum, I have divided a group of 30+ up into groups of 4/5 to select plants to describe in their immensely long Centennial Border, “get on your hands and knees” I have to shout at some of them – this is where the sensible types get sorted out from those who brought unsuitable shoes or are afraid of tearing their tights. At least British students will work in groups. Did that with a group of mostly Chinese at Sheffield University once; as soon as you go to talk to one group they all sneak up behind you, and you turn around to see the entire class – ‘the teacher as the fount of all knowledge’ is so fundamental to them, which it isn’t to us.
I studied adult education when I was teaching English as a Second Language back in the 1980s. The current dogma then was that a much as possible should come from the students, which is actually good, as it empowers classes and makes for a good interactive atmosphere. You don’t get a chance to nod off in my classes, there’s too much expected of you.
Photos Annie Guilfoyle, at West Dean, July 2009