Since1642, the family of Robert Sergent-Fairley has been involved with the discovery and the propagation of plants from all over the world. Their extensive plant knowledge has enabled them to achieve almost 400 years of amazing garden designs and children’s play area constructions.
Robert has inherited his family’s addiction to plants and through his school designs, he is able to pass on his knowledge to new generations of children, whilst providing them with a wonderful Natural Play environment. Robert’s main horticultural interests are in his fascination with Nature, which he aims to recreate on a microcosmic basis, in his school planting areas.
Robert is a firm believer in the grouping of plants which enjoy each others company or which thrive when surrounded by other suitable specimens. One of his favourite sayings is that in the plant world, there are always “horses for courses”. As an example he points out that for a small plant bed immediately outside an Infant’s classroom, he would plant a mixture of bright colours, pleasant scents, different leaf textures and in fact, a complete medley of small Sensory plants.
However, for beds in a Quiet Garden, he would use plants with pastel colours and those with softer foliage; he would use smaller trees or those with a Weeping habit. Robert’s attitude to School Playgrounds is that the planting is equally as important as the Activity and Sport items contained therein. His aim is always to create a complete Utopia for the children where the Plants and the Activity items all combine to form one amazing Dream Play Area.
He has used the same Plant Nurseries for decades and regularly visits them to check on plant availability. He personally chooses, at the Plant Nurseries, each individual Tree, Shrub or Plant for his Planting Schemes - often exceeding 2000 plants for each project, as well as huge numbers of carefully selected Bulbs and Wildflowers.
The choice of Plants for a School Play Area obviously depends on the size of the area, the aspect of the area and the ages of the children who will use the area. As a general rule, the trees will first be chosen.These could be soft flowing trees, for central and viewing areas, often with tree seats around; these trees would include Weeping Willow, Weeping Birch and Weeping Pear.
If all year screening is required Conifers, various Eucalyptus types (but not Gunnii) and Mimosas can also be used along with Bamboo. There are many deciduous trees suitable for Schools.
The aim to include as many varieties as possible including those which flower at different seasons, those with different leaf shapes and leaf colours, those with different barks and those which supply amazing Autumnal colours.
With Screening in mind, a variety of bushy and tall bamboos are used.
Evergreen shrubs are also used to form Screening and Hedges for Privacy. The Evergreens (such as Cherry Laurel) vary in size on arrival from 3 feet up to 15 feet . Thus, it is possible to use School Plants to create instant privacy for Play Areas
Deciduous hedging is often used, for example when creating the surrounds for a School Woodland Garden. Preferred plants are Filberts, Field Maples, Hazelnuts, Multi Stem Birches and Grey Willows.
Still, with Trees in mind, a Copse of various Deciduous Woodland Trees may be used. This is a good idea to break up a large open grass expanse as it adds interest to the view and acts as a windbreak.
It is exciting for the children to walk around and sit inside, as well as being a possible position to create a Natural Wildlife Habitat, complete with Old Logs and Wildflowers.
Once the Trees and Perimeters have been handled, the “filling in” can begin. The aim is to supply “All Year Interest” Planting, with as much colour, scents and changing interest as possible.
Shrubs Gardens, Flowering Gardens, Bulb Gardens, Sensory Gardens, Fruit Gardens, Vegetable Gardens, Bog Gardens and Wildflower Gardens are all used in this process. Quite simply, for School Children of all ages, there is always something changing and something to inspire them, every minute of the day in this medley of different Gardens.