Sensory garden designer Lola Walker, left, with the Challenge Shield, pupil Olia Wildman and competition convener Coral Aitchison. PHOTOS/MARY ARGUE

Mary Argue
mary.argue@age.co.nz

A passion project has won this year’s Challenge Shield School Gardening Competition, with South Featherston School crowned the champion.

South Featherston School’s winning sensory garden.

The long-held dream of transforming a paddock into a sensory garden won the school a cash prize of $350 from the Wairarapa A&P Society and the coveted shield.

Competition convener Coral Aitchison said the shield had been awarded to the best agricultural plot in Southern Wairarapa since 1906.

In a ceremony last week, Aitchison said she was delighted to announce South Featherston School the winners for their “magnificent work with the sensory garden”.

She said it had been a strong contest with interesting and imaginative entries but that the judges from the Carterton Gardening Club had been particularly impressed by South Featherston School’s efforts.

Florist and flower farmer Lola Walker had designed the garden for the school more than two years ago.

She said sensory gardens helped ground people when they were lost in emotion by connecting them to their senses.

Walker said creating the calming outdoor space had been “a real passion project”.

“I knew how beneficial it would be, especially for kids who don’t always have the language to express themselves.

“Everything is edible, and all the plants have different textures that they can feel.”

She said it would take a while for the garden to be fully established, and the pupils would continue to contribute to it.

“They have taken real ownership of it, and seeing them in there using it makes it all worthwhile.”

Walker said developing the garden was “a pleasure” and “right up her alley,” but it would not have happened without help.

She said another parent at the school, Callum Lord, was a behind-the-scenes hero.

“He did all the digging, I did the planting, but I would ask for something, and he would just do it. He has been an amazing help.”

The garden included, among other elements, an outdoor classroom space, a dry river bed to be filled with tussock grasses, a butterfly garden, a rainbow of flowers, natives and edible plants, and wooden tepee structures that would eventually be wrapped in vines.

Pupil Beatrix Miller-Holley said her favourite flowers were the yellow gazanias.

“They’re bright, and they give a good vibe to the garden.”

She also enjoyed the edible plants and reading comic books in the outdoor classroom, while pupil Vena Johansson said she loved everything about the garden.

South Featherston School principal Tana Klarich said the idea for a sensory garden arose from a need.

She said the school had seen how nature could settle children, particularly those with behavioural needs.

“We saw it first with Coral Burrows’ garden. It has always been a pretty school, but we had a vision of how it could be more meaningful.”

Klarich said Walker had taken on the concept “100 per cent”, and Lord and real estate agent Steve Chapman had helped them overcome the obstacles of money and physical labour.

“They just fell out of the sky and made it happen.”

Carterton Rotary awarded a $200 cash prize to Gladstone School for second place and $100 to Kahutara School for third place in the Challenge Shield School Gardening Competition.



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