Creating a garden of tranquility

Creating a garden of tranquility
Transition Year students from Tuam describe a project to create a green space for their school

We chose ‘The Power of Women’ as our theme for Transition Year 2015/2016. This theme was reflected in all our projects and assignments. In the ‘Build a Bank Challenge’ we introduced students to an influential woman every week. We selected these women from history, politics, law, fashion and film. In our fashion show we attempted to recreate the styles inspired by fashion icons, female politicians and freedom fighters, past and present. It seemed natural, therefore, that we would attempt to create a permanent tribute to ‘The Power of Women’ and we choose our garden project to do so.

When the Presentation Sisters vacated their home attached to our school, their garden became overgrown and unused. Our aim was to create a recreational area for the students of the school.

We also wanted to create a lasting symbol of the creativity and talent that Transition Year had identified in all of us. Our school had recently lost some of its green space, due to development in the town, so we wanted to create a new escape place where students could experience peace and quiet and recharge their energies for the challenges of school life.

The most difficult problem we had to tackle was the removal of debris and weeds which had to be done before we could start planting. Every student in Transition Year equipped herself with a pair of gloves and a gardening tool and got to work, some of us even used our bare hands. In the battle between girls and weeds, the girls won.

However, the woodlice and insects that crawled around to say hello scared some of us out of our rubber boots! In the end, the final clearing was undertaken by our parents and grandparents to whom we are very grateful.

We thought it would be a lovely idea to have a sculpture made to represent our theme, and to be a good permanent addition to our school. To this end, we invited Donnacha Cahill of Red Hill Sculptures to visit our school and discuss our ideas for the sculpture. After much discussion, some of it heated, and with a limited budget, we opted for a steel figure of a woman mounted on a wooden plinth. We applied for and received a grant from the NAPD and raised the rest of the money through our Friday cake sales and our Christmas pop-up shop.


The day the sculpture arrived in our school, was one of the most memorable days in Transition Year as the finished product exceeded all our expectations. While waiting for the sculpture to be erected we stored it in our work room and every student seemed to visit it 10 times a day!

We soon realised that no garden is complete without seating and again we were forced to think outside the box. We advertised in the local papers for wooden pallets which we soon discovered were not as plentiful as we thought. We eventually used our contacts and secured a load of pallets from Tuam Farm Supplies. The restoration of the palettes was back breaking work as they had to be sanded and sanded and sanded before we could paint them.

The palettes were transformed into seating by Tuam Men’s Shed. We then got old foam cushions from a local upholsterer which we covered with plastic table cloths and finally a comfortable seating area was born.

The most popular area of our garden is a wooden gazebo designed by us and built by Tuam Men’s Shed with whom we formed a wonderful relationship and from whom we learned much about community and fun. We also invited some of our relatives who were carpenters to give their time and expertise and build bird houses for the garden. We then enjoyed painting them in bright colours.

We also have a bird bath as we are well aware that birds, like girls, take their grooming seriously.

In transforming the garden our aim was to combine the twin objectives of creating a lasting beauty and respecting the Earth by recycling. As well as using recycled timber for the seating we decided to create four mosaics using leftover domestic tiles. We choose four themes representing hope and permanence and designed our mosaics to give expression to these themes.

In October and November 2015, Transition Year students arrived in school, laden down with dusty wall and floor tiles of various age, shape and colour.

For weeks the Transition Year block resounded to the sound of hammer on ceramic as be-goggled students prepared to turn broken tiles into works of art. The resultant mosaics having been grouted and varnished repeatedly were finally mounted on the front of the school where they now look out on the town in amused silence.

While 16-year-old girls researching gardens on Pinterest and other gardening websites is unusual, many of us have continued to look at these sites and create imaginary gardens of water, plants and sculpture.

Finally, the garden came together and all that was left to do was to organise the unveiling. We invited everyone who had an impact on the creation of the garden including the Presentation Sisters and members of the Tuam Men’s Shed. Once the ribbon was cut by a Transition Year student the garden was opened for viewing. There was most definitely a sense of pride in seeing our project appreciated by others. We learned so much as a class through creating this green space. It was a clear insight into how hard work pays off. I would like to think we all took something meaningful away from the garden whether it was learning how to weed and plant or learning about the power of group work.

Fast forward six months and the garden is still enjoyed by the students in our school. Many students, on a fine day, like to eat their lunch there, or even just to take a walk around the area.

The most important lesson learned from this experience is that working together people can re-imagine and re-design their environment. Our garden is a living testament to this fact and we hope it will inspire future Transition Years to take on even bigger and more daring projects.

Presentation College, Currylea, Tuam is one of 110 voluntary Catholic secondary schools managed by CEIST (Catholic Education An Irish Schools’ Trust).