In November, the Yarrow Gallery will be hosting a student-led exhibition in celebration of biodiversity called “Where the Wildflowers Grow”, co-curated by pupils from the Art department, Pippa Thompson (N) and Max Lee (S). In preparation for the exhibition, Pippa and co-organiser Lucy Stubbs (N) joined the Grounds and Gardens department for the autumn sowing of wildflower banks across the school.

The pupils were met by Nick Tebbs, Grounds Manager, Gary Peden, Assistant head of Grounds, and retired teacher Clive Humphreys, a volunteer with Grounds and Gardens. They learned about the objectives for the management of the school gardens, and helped with the sowing of seed.

When Nick started working at Oundle 31 years ago, he already had a life-long experience of land use issues and the role of conservation and bio-diversity in the managed landscape. He grew up on an arable and dairy farm in Glatton, and worked for the leading entomologist and pioneering conservationist Dr Miriam Rothschild in nearby Ashton. It was Dr Rothschild who helped Prince Charles create his ten hectares of wildflower meadows at Highgrove. Under her tutelage, Nick learned about harvesting wildflower seed and planting meadows, which has influenced the introduction of wildflower banks across the school’s grounds from the athletics track and Sports Centre to the Gascoigne and SciTec.

The Grounds and Gardens department at Oundle manages 300 acres of grounds, gardens, and sports facilities, including the Heron Rogers Wood. Because the school grounds extend across a vast area in town, there is wide variation in conditions. Each meadow area has to be sown with different seeds to suit different soil types from heavy clay to chalk and limestone, alongside consideration of conditions such as shade and hedgerows.

Nick’s long-term ambition is to move beyond a mono-design of ordered gardening of planted flower beds and mowed lawns, and achieve a balanced approach to management and maintenance where conservation and biodiversity are not seen as an additional or supplementary programme, but the principle around which all other provision is met. He admits that this aim is very long term and requires a shift in public expectations of what a beautiful park estate should look like.

Pippa and Max aim to explore these issues in the Yarrow exhibition. The pandemic lockdowns created a “renaissance” of appreciation for nature and a new fervour to tackle environmental issues. Their exhibition will celebrate the colourful world of wildflowers and raise awareness of the importance of their role in our environment. Featured will be a full range of media by pupils and staff, including 2D and 3D work in different materials, digital and written work, and textiles. On the cold, darkening days of November, the Yarrow Gallery will be a burst of spring-time colour. The exhibition will run from the 12th to 18th November, with a Private View on 11 November.