Getting down and dirty

Isellah Gordon, from left, Jellicoe house leader, Lleyton Phillips, school leader, Ryan Brosnahan, Evans house leader and Angel Small, school leader, with the Hurdley Shield in the school garden.
Isellah Gordon, from left, Jellicoe house leader, Lleyton Phillips, school leader, Ryan Brosnahan, Evans house leader and Angel Small, school leader, with the Hurdley Shield in the school garden.

At a ceremony last weekend, Grantlea Downs became the 100th name on the Hurdley Shield, a South Canterbury trophy aimed at encouraging pupils to take pride in their schools and to get their hands dirty doing so. Features editor Claire Allison went to see what the school was doing that made it such a worthy winner.

The view from the road gives away little about Grantlea Downs School.

Recognisably "school" buildings, a child-safe gate, and, down the path a little, a small dog keeps her eye on visitors.

GROWING WELL: Grantlea Downs has won the 100-year-old Hurdley Shield.
GROWING WELL: Grantlea Downs has won the 100-year-old Hurdley Shield.

The immaculate lawns and gardens are a testimony to caretaker Garry Ford's efforts - by the time we finish our walk around the grounds, he's already got a handful of flax leaves and a bit of rubbish to dispose of - but Grantlea Downs pupils are more involved than many others in looking after their school environment.

And that pupil involvement - led enthusiastically by teacher aide Reon Keenan - has seen the school win, for the second year running, the Timaru Horticultural Society-administered Hurdley Shield.

It's in the school office, among other awards, but clearly taking pride of place; huge, and with a decidedly Ranfurly Shield look about it.

But this impressive trophy isn't for sporting prowess, it recognises different efforts - efforts that involve cows and sheep, chooks and compost, vegetables, flowers and trees.

The school buildings occupy the top side of a generously-sized site. As the land slopes gently down, it's then the scale of the property becomes apparent. A well-planted area houses the school's pool, and nestled beside that is the vegetable garden, composting area and worm farms.

On the opposite boundary, Ross Hyline chooks scratch around the henhouse. Brought in as one-day- old chickens, the eggs are collected and sold at the school office. The hens are fed scraps, and fundraising is carried out to buy in other poultry feed.

Further along is a new development, a "trees of the world" area that the children are involved in planting. At the bottom of the school grounds, shady walkways wend through a native bush area, and the Seadown oval is being readied for Saturday JAB cricket.

The school's hands-on efforts don't stop at the school boundary. They've been planting along the banks of the stream that runs below, and they lease land from neighbour Harvey Norman to run cattle and sheep, and at the moment, two alpacas.

School has only just begun for the year, but the vegetable garden surprisingly lush after the long summer break. Companion planting means marigolds and nasturtions are offering a vivid burst of colour, while a crop of ornamental gourds is also flowering.

Alstroemerias grow alongside rosemary, tarragon and oregano, and the bees are busily investigating the three different types of lavender. They've grown strawberries, brassicas and potatoes - 16kg of the latter were harvested last year. There was no need to buy in vegetables for the Year 8 dinner.

There is evidence of planting and harvesting, but also of other skills; they're grafting some apple trees, espaliering another, the pupils are growing gladioli corms, they're scaling lilies, taking cuttings off the rosemary - all tasks aimed at making them as self-sufficient - and needing to buy in as little - as possible.

Last year, they experimented with making creams - a sunburn cream from flax, an exzema cream from the lemonwood tree. The latter, says Keenan, was trialled by a school mum, who reported favourably on its effects.

Our tour guides - Ryan Brosnahan, Lleyland Phillips, Angel Small, Isellah Gordon - know their stuff. Being able to answer judges' questions is an important part of the Hurdley Shield challenge, although we manage to stump them by asking what kind of chooks they've got.

Standing at the farm stile, in the distance, we can see a blue-shirted man repairing some fencing - there was a break-out the previous night. He's bus driver cum farm manager John Doggett, whose home backs on to the farm paddocks.

The two boys are from farming backgrounds - Grantlea Downs came into being in 2005 - an amalgam of Grantlea School on the present site, and the more rural Seadown School - and the two come in to school from Seadown.

Lleyton says it's a really good learning experience, being able to share their knowledge of farming life with some of the town kids.

Friday's the day children help out on the farm, the garden club is a lunchtime event, but Keenan says the teachers at school are supportive, and will let children out of class when they're needed to help out.

Ryan is involved with the farm over summer. Sheep needed to be crutched, and they made hay - about 380 bales in total, with 150 kept for the school and the rest putting some useful money in the kitty.

The cash winnings from the Hurdley Shield - this year, for the 100th, and impressive $1000 - will go towards a new glasshouse.

The fruits - and vegetables - of their labour are freely shared within the school community. Pupils can take home some silverbeet, or maybe some mint. And more often, they're taking home the enthusiasm to start growing vegetables at home.

For principal Dave Hawkey, first impressions of the school are important, and he's right behind the ongoing efforts that have seen the school win the shield for the second-year running.

"It's about presentation of the gardens and the buildings and the whole environment; you're setting a standard right from the start. We can't ask the children to reach a certain standard, or emphasise the importance of presentation and quality if it's not obvious around the school.

"For me, it's about involvement and ownership of the school, and kids engaged in the place that they spend a lot of their day in - over and above all the knowledge and skills that they gain."


John Hurdley was on the Timaru Fire Board, the Timaru Borough Council, and stood for mayor in 1917.

He was a member of the school committees for the various schools his children attended. He wanted to see more gardens, shrubs and trees around the schools, and for pupils to take pride in their place of education.

He provided a shield for the winning school, which became known as the Hurdley Shield. The competition is open to all South Canterbury primary schools within the bounds of the Rangitata and Waitaki rivers.

The competition was originally run by the Canterbury Education Board, with the Timaru Horticultural Society providing the judges. With the demise of the board in the 1990s, the society took over administering the competition.

Space became limited on the original shield, so it has been extended over the years.

Although amalgamation of schools has meant larger grounds, requiring the appointment of a caretaker or groundsman to do the mowing and maintenance, today's pupils continue to meet with the judges, answering questions relating to the school, its trees and shrubs, the value of good environmental practices, and presenting a horticultural project which they have been working on.


One of the stand out features was the fact that those schools all had a "person of passion" when it came to environmental matters and had the capacity to incorporate the competition requirements into the whole year curriculum. It was not then a standalone competition requiring dedicated time to take part in.

The overall winning school was Grantlea Downs who were also the winners in 2012. Grantlea Downs has a school role of some 400 students and every class was engaged in some way with the Shield requirements. The students were obviously very proud of their school.

The overall charge person was Reon Keenan with the full support of the principal, Dave Hawkey.

Starting from new entrants to Year 8's each class had a different challenge and their progress was photographed and put together into a folder entitled "Enhancing our School Environment". From growing gourds for the youngest pupil to grafting apple trees, breeding ladybirds and providing the potatoes for the Year 8's dinner as a few examples it was amazing what was achieved across the board. Organic practices were very evident ie natural sprays and companion planting in the vegetable gardens. The school was overall winner as well as winning Sections A & C. Their overall mark was 96.

Other schools who entered the 100th competition were:

Albury School under the direction of Principal Ken Heaphy.
Beaconsfield, with the leader being teacher Danielle Young.
Cannington School, under the direction of principal Sally Guthrie.
Bluestone School, under the direction of teacher Alison Coombridge.

The Timaru Herald