Mr MacDonald tells all about the recent Royal Norfolk Show garden from its initial plan in February to the show itself in June.

‘In February schools were invited to apply and participate in a competition to design and display a garden at The Royal Norfolk Show. The application process was put into action immediately. The information given was quite limited at the beginning; only to be informed that each school would receive an area allocated to them three metres by three metres. This was a little bit of a challenge at this point, due to the fact we had never done anything like this before.

Information began to filter through from Ellen Mary; a writer who provides columns for numerous publications both online and in print. Her writing includes travel blogging about gardens around the world from France to Australia and she has a long running column in Places & Faces, along with a kitchen garden column in Feast Norfolk.

Meeting Ellen Mary

Ellen also works as a copywriter alongside many large companies to provide social media content, marketing articles and blogs. Working with marketing agencies she helps to provide gardening related content for marketing campaigns including growing your own produce, my own recipes and gardening for mental health.

So with all of the above our school was in pretty safe hands with Ellen at the helm. The next steps for us were to decide on a theme, as there were three categories to choose from. They were ‘Wellbeing’, ‘Fork to Plate’ and ‘Coastal’. It did not take long to decide as our links with Dereham Dementia Group were so strong; it was an obvious choice to go with ‘Wellbeing’. 

The plans were underway and research was an important factor with this project as dementia is a very topical condition and the impact on families is overwhelming. I knew from personal experience how difficult the times ahead and situations families have to deal with and go through with their loved ones, so there was no question this garden had to be perfect in every way. It would be on show to an estimated 80 000 visitors to The Royal Norfolk Show in June.  I knew from our relationship with the Dereham Dementia Group, this would be such a fulfilling project to undertake, so work began with little workshops out of school hours.

The criteria of what we would be judged on was not actually made available until a couple of weeks before the competition, so at the stage of near completion and assembling the display we were not entirely sure if we had met the requirements of the judge’s criteria.


Colour and texture


Health (pest and disease)


Association and relevance


Information/ Interpretation

Knowledgeable portrayal

Clarity Well-researched message, does it meet the RNAA criteria one or all of Wellbeing, Field to Fork, and Our Coast). Does it meet the initial brief provided by the designer?

Is it 360 viewable (outside gardens), is vertical space used (inside gardens)?

Overall Impression

Impact (Including creativity/theatre/artistic effect)

Unity, balance and scale

Design, colour and texture

Finish – Pots, edging, labels well-finished / space well-used

Relationship between horticulture content and interpretation

Ambition of the design


Levels of difficulty in creating display

Props/development of information

Difficulty in growing plants

Originality / New Ideas

Quality of build

The criteria understood, it was time to get on with the jobs and involve students every step of the way. Their enthusiasm and willingness to be involved was obvious and they simply threw themselves into the project, knowing how important it was to our school to set such a high standard on completion and to ensure we met the judges’ expectations.

This was a mammoth task to have everything completed and assembled including the painting in the distinct colour of ‘Forget Me Not’. The blue was certainly eye catching against the other colours of vibrant flowers. This was extremely important to have colour along with the smells and textures, to enable memories to be triggered for anyone with dementia or working with someone who has dementia, then these are the little things to consider when designing a garden.

The morning prior to the garden getting ready for its final logistical journey to the showground; the Year 10 students completed their dementia training to become Dementia friends. This would be a fantastic opportunity of training, prior to meeting lots of visitors at The Royal Norfolk Show and therefore be able to engage with the public.

Peter Rabbit was also a star addition to the garden, particularly as we commemorate 100 years of Beatrix Potter. Peter would hopefully be there to trigger stories from the past. Peter was knitted for the project by the wonderful Dereham Carnival Craft Team. Their skill was certainly appreciated by everyone at Northgate High School, ahead of The Royal Norfolk Show. He sat proudly on his platform, helping himself to the knitted basket of vegetables.



The evening the 26th June it was set up time at The Royal Norfolk Show, it meant the journey of careful logistics from Northgate High School and of course the precious cargo of the display all on the back of a carefully packed trailer. On arrival it would appear our display was the final display to be set up, so there was an element of panic from the coordinator of the event. We only had a matter of hours to transform a dusty sandpit into a show stopping garden, when I say we, I meant me!

The morning of the show began with an early start to ensure everything was in place and of course a breakfast ahead of the two hottest days of horticultural pleasure. The gardens and stands around the showground were amazing; it was a mixture of professionals in the trade and enthusiasts alike. It was simply brilliant to have so much colour and design all within the same area; everyone was so friendly and helpful. It did not matter who you talked to, whether it was competition or a member of the public. It was a lovely atmosphere and for our students to mingle directly with judges and the thousands of visitors over the two days was an incredible experience.

The comments were just fantastic about our students and deservingly so, as they did an outstanding job of representing Northgate High School. Click here to see some of the comments from the public. It certainly filled me with pride observing their interactions with members of the public, with confidence and impeccable manners. It was fantastic to have Mr Mason (Head of School) and Mrs Galley (Deputy Head teacher) present during the two days. It just lifted the importance of our display and event. Mrs Galley has been the driving force behind the scenes raising our now even stronger links with The Dereham Dementia Group. This provided an opportunity for a number of our students to attend training and become recognised Dementia Friends.

It would be fair to say we met so many lovely people over the two days. Many of the people we met were so encouraging to our students. This was based on their time talking to them with the knowledge they have about living with Dementia and how being involved with gardening can change their lives and hopefully trigger memories of the past. This was always my intention when we began the project and hopefully this will be continued. Potatoes were a big feature of the garden and our message was to encourage people to eat more potatoes. We were delighted to meet Mr Craig Stephen of Solana Potatoes Ltd and Kirsty from My little allotment, a very inspiring young lady.

The Royal Norfolk Show was a wonderful showcase for our students at Northgate High School, to demonstrate to the public the ethos of our school. It was a couple of days full of pride and a time to cherish, raising awareness of a charity and a condition which has an effect on thousands of families in the UK. We gave an example of just how much we care ‘The Northgate Way’. It may have been a gold medal for the garden, but it was a gold medal achievement from our student’s interaction with the public.’

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