I visited Morocco for five days this week to represent Cressing Temple as part of a conference called ‘Growing Gardens’. The conference, part of a larger project called Shore to Shore, was designed to encourage dialogue and the sharing of ideas between Britain, Spain and Morocco, with a focus on gardens. Using existing work in Britain and Morocco, the conference explored ways of encouraging young people to be more aware of their environment and to become educated in creating, maintaining and using gardens and public space.
Our involvement was a result of the student work placements we hosted in 2016, when three horticultural students, one from each country, visited Cressing Temple for two days of horticultural experience. They were touring England studying gardens of Shakespeare and their experiences were made into a film to be used as an English Language teaching resource in Morocco and Spain. It was a great surprise and pleasure to be asked along to this year’s conference and to meet up with the three scholars, Rhiannon, Ines and Neezha once again.
The garden makes a perfect outdoor theatre, as seen here, as we were entertained by two British actors and representatives of the history department from Cadi Ayyad University.
The day of presentations in Essaouira focussed on educational and health settings, as well as placing an emphasis on sustainable development and tourism.
My presentation showed how we can use the garden at Cressing Temple as a resource for learning, using a variety of techniques such as artefacts and demonstrations in the garden, workshops and garden tours, as well as a range of written interpretive material with plant labels, display boards and our new garden leaflet. This use of gardens as an educational tool is only just beginning in Morocco and there is an eagerness to see what is being used successfully in other countries.
Of particular interest was a report about an inspiring eco school in Marrakech where children are being encouraged to garden in a sustainable way and to consider the environmental impact on all that they do.
We visited the school the following day and saw many great ideas being put into practice and were impressed by the happy, enthusiastic, approach of the pupils.
Old tyres being used here as planters.
Colourful painting of the buildings gives a good backdrop to the new lush planting areas in the school playground.
We may think it is a struggle to keep the plants at Cressing watered when faced with the recent lack of rain but just imagine what ingenuity is required in Morocco!
These are some of the children using drama to tell us all about their message of looking after the environment.
Further visits were made to a ground breaking psychiatric hospital, the first in Morocco, which is introducing therapies such as gardening, cookery, pottery, painting and other creative activities. As a result of the conference there will be the creation of a new network of individuals and organisations in Morocco, Spain and Britain interested in using gardening to enhance social, personal or educational wellbeing.
We were taken to see other inspiring projects working to reduce exploitation and disadvantage in Morocco including a womens’ co-operative producing Argan oil for sale directly to the public, and the Amal Womens’ Centre providing training and employment opportunities in the restaurant trade for disadvantaged Moroccan women.
Apart from the business side of the conference there were plenty of opportunities to experience the sun, the warmth, the colour and the generous spirit of Morocco. Here is a flavour of my stay:
It was such a privilege and delight to have been asked to represent Cressing Temple at this conference and I am very thankful to REEP for such a wonderful opportunity. I met up with other gardeners from this country, including Neil Miller, Head Gardener from Hever Castle in Kent, Sam Crosfield from the Royal College of Physicians Garden in London and Glyn Jones from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford Upon Avon. I made contacts with inspiring gardeners and landscape architects from Spain, including Ricardo Libero from GreenerLand and several young horticultural students from Morocco. Such a sharing of experience is encouraging, stimulating and offers great opportunities for further collaboration and exchange. I hope to welcome them all to Cressing sometime soon.