By Dr Keith Bensusan and Christine Gilder 

The Alameda became the Gibraltar Botanic Gardens in the early 1990s.  It has been involved in educational activities since then, but up until seven years ago, this consisted of hosting school visits and giving them informative tours of the gardens.  However, as the Alameda progressed in its evolution as a botanic garden, we decided to develop a comprehensive education programme of our own. Furthermore, we have enhanced our outreach to local schools, with whom we work closely, and have appointed an education officer from among our staff.

We firmly believe that it is important for children to be given the opportunity to enjoy themselves outdoors, and the natural environment is our classroom.

Our education programme uses horticulture to educate children on environmental and sustainability issues.

We try our best to ensure that our activities are relevant to the school curriculum, but we also strive to go beyond what children learn at school.  There is so much more that children can learn from the outdoors, about the world around them and about themselves.  We hope that we may inspire children to view the world around them in a different way, and to eventually consider career paths that include landscaping, horticulture and the environment.  Foremost among our aims is that our activities should be inclusive and embrace the abilities of all children.

Our education programme has proved so popular that there is now a long waiting list.  But our success isn’t simply measured in numbers.  Children gain so much from the activities, and this shows in the enthusiasm and happiness with which they engage in their tasks.  How could it be otherwise, when most of us in Gibraltar grow up without our own gardens?  And satisfaction among parents is very high, with a frequently emotional response to how much their children have gained.

Due to the rapid growth of this aspect of our work, we have found as the programme has developed that our facilities are no longer fit for purpose.  We now need new, bespoke facilities to cater for our highly valued environmental education work.

Our aim is to develop a secure area with a range of facilities that will allow us to enhance our education programme and make it yet more accessible to all children.  The ‘Alameda Biodome Project’ aims to create an education zone within the heart of the gardens.  It will include a ‘biodome’ that will serve as a greenhouse and indoor learning space, outdoor learning space, planting beds for horticulture, a sensory garden, a dipping pond and other features that will allow children to explore the natural world.

We have already raised some of the money and resources that we require in order to make this a reality.  This includes the biodome itself, an indoor space that will serve as a greenhouse and classroom, very generously donated by a local family in memory of their daughter.  But our aim is for the facilities to include more, including outdoor learning and growing space, a sensory garden, a dipping pond and more.

Your support is crucial to making the entire project a reality.  For more information, please contact nlc@gibraltargardens.gi.

Topics covered include:

  • Seeds and Cultivation, where the rudiments of horticulture are shown.
  • Growing Your Own Food, so children learn about the origin of fruit and vegetables.
  • Pollination, Plants and Wildlife, to demonstrate the importance of plants in ecology and the interdependence between plants and insects.
  • Composting and Earthworms, which explains the importance of earthworms to soil and therefore plant growth and health.
  • Water Conservation, a particularly important topic, with our changing climate and the source of Gibraltar’s water, which is desalinated, a process that relies on fossil fuel.
  • Renewable Energy, another theme that explores the challenges faced by the planet due to a warming climate and highlights the importance of sustainable energy generation.
  • Trees and Climbing, so that children can learn about trees in an active and entertaining manner.
  • Arts, Crafts and Games using Natural and Recycled Materials, through which children learn about recycling in an engaging, fun and creative way.