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Creating a Garden of Sanctuary in School

Portfields Primary School is proud to be on a journey to become a School of Sanctuary. Alongside this journey, we are creating Gardens of Sanctuary on our school grounds. These gardens are a place of welcome for people seeking sanctuary, somewhere to learn how to better care for ourselves and spaces to create better habitats for wildlife.


1. Involving people seeking sanctuary.

In January 2021, we welcomed 24 Afghan children to our Portfields Family. We have been working closely with their families and other families seeking sanctuary from Hong Kong and Ukraine to ensure they are welcomed and settled into our school. As a part of our School of Sanctuary journey, we have been talking to our whole school community about plants from different countries and cultures. For example, ae have grown okra and bitter gourd from seeds donated by a staff member.

Getting the polytunnel ready for spring. Our polytunnel was donated to us by a local school.

One parent showed us the chickpeas she had grown in her back garden in Newport Pagnell, which prompted us to give it a try; she is growing some for us as a backup! We are always trialling new exotic crops; it’s inspirational. We are just watching our Callaloo seeds to see if we can get them to germinate.

We have also raised funds through our Friends of Portfields School charity to buy a pomegranate tree. In Year 5, each year, the children read the book ‘The Boy at the Back of the Class’ by Onjali Rauf, and pomegranates feature in the story as a symbol of welcome to the main character, a child fleeing from the conflict in Syria. As well as acting as an ice breaker for our new families, these different plants help all children to understand the cultural and climatic differences between countries.

A local flower farmer kindly donated enough sunflower seeds and pots so that every child in the school could grow a sunflower. We plan to sell sunflower plants at our summer fair to raise money for the ‘Schools of Sanctuary’ network. Growing so many sunflowers will also help us raise awareness of the situation in Ukraine. Sunflowers can be used across the curriculum, e.g. maths (measuring and tracking growth, the Fibonacci sequence) and science (germination, pollination, heliotropism).

Our Young Interpreters, a group of children from Key Stage 2, have been trained to work closely with new starters for whom English is an additional language. They have been growing Calendula from seed (kindly donated by a local garden centre), ready to create a large heart-shaped flower bed at the front entrance of the school, which will be filled with orange flowers through the seasons (Crocus, escholzia, zinnias etc.). All visitors to the school will be met with a huge orange heart for refugees.


2. Gardens to promote sanctuary: caring for ourselves.

2023 has seen the introduction to Portfields of the Zones of Regulation (, a new framework and curriculum to help us all develop an awareness of feelings while exploring various tools and strategies for regulation, social skills, self-care, and overall wellness. Our sanctuary gardens provide key tools and environments to help regulate emotions.

We have included plants to help children follow the 5,4,3,2,1 grounding activity. We ask children to find:

5 things you can see

4 things you can hear

3 things you can touch

2 things you can smell

1 thing you can taste.

The plants in our gardens have all been carefully chosen to be safe. We have grasses and bamboo for sound, lambs’ ears (Stachys byzantina) and other soft plants to touch, and lots of herbs and flowers.

A team of parent helpers tidying up the Nurture Garden.

Some students struggle with eco-anxiety and worry about climate change and the future. Our gardens are a place to take positive action to ease that anxiety; we have an allotment designed by a group of year 3 pupils in September 2022, which our Year 2 Gardening Club is now planting.

We are learning about food security, rainwater capture and composting. Children from the Year 2 gardening club record the temperature and weekly rainfall on graphs to help them better understand how to care for our crops. Children have been raiding their shoe racks at home for wellies with holes in for our welly boot planting project. And we are using old football goals as structures for climbing beans and peas, another example of a positive action we can take to recycle and create planting solutions.

The Year 2 Gardening Club planting sweetcorn

Year 3 designs for the school allotment and our Nurture Garden designed with input from the Junior Park Rangers

Our Nurture Garden has been a garden of remembrance for over 30 years, and it is still known to many as Shamma’s garden. We also remember Kaylah in our garden, a pupil who loved sunflowers. Too many of our children are working through their own grief journeys and asked us to find them a quiet place for reflection and a tree to tie ribbons onto. So our gardens are a sanctuary for all of our Portfields Family.


3. Building sanctuary through gardens

Our Junior Park Rangers are on a mission to provide sanctuary to all sorts of wildlife. They are a group of 12 children from years 4, 5 and 6, working with The Parks Trust, Milton Keynes ( The Parks Trust have inspired them to add bird boxes (we are watching with interest for new residents), piles of tiles for newts, insect hotels, and a hedgehog house.

The most exciting part of the project is the new pond. We have been fundraising through the Friends of Portfields School for a safe pond for pond-dipping, and we look forward to this being installed in the summer term. As the children know well, water brings life into a garden. We hope this, along with the wildlife-friendly planting that the children have included (poppies, Echinops, Salvias, lavenders, hollyhocks), will boost the species visiting our garden and help enhance our garden outdoor science lessons and inform our creative writing and our artwork.

At Portfields Primary School, we believe our gardens should genuinely be a sanctuary for all and are working with our students, staff, parent/carers and wider community to realise this vision.