Caroline Starr has retired August 8, 2019

On Caroline’s last day, we held a celebratory tea party. Pictured above, staff, former staff, trustee and volunteers with Caroline during the event.

“If we can encourage young people to look after the planet, hopefully some of the damage that we have inadvertently contributed to can be rectified before it’s too late.”            Caroline Starr

Since 1987, Caroline Starr has been here at Martineau Gardens, inspiring Birmingham school children with her passion for nature.

Caroline has had a long association with Martineau Gardens. Her first role was as a gardener (1987) and she became the teaching assistant for the Martineau Environmental Studies Centre in 1991, where she taught for a number of years until its closure.  She returned to Martineau Gardens in 2015, as a new education programme was introduced with Juliette Green (Education Officer), and has been our Educational Tour Guide since then.

Circa 2001, Caroline (far right) weeding flower beds near the Tai Chi Lawn


Pictured above, Caroline at work in the Gardens  explaining pollination to school children during ‘Signs of Spring’ tours

Our thanks to the National Association of Environmental Education and Juliette Green who published Caroline Starr’s fascinating insight into the developments in Environmental Education at Martineau Gardens. An extract follows.

She writes of her early memories of the animals that once lived here, when the Gardens were known as the Environmental Study Centre: “My main roles were to take small groups around the gardens and to help look after the animals. I managed the poultry — several ex-battery hens, ducks, two quail and an arthritic turkey. I also helped with the goats and sheep (once being involved in delivering a breach lamb!); handled, cleaned and fed the indoor animals — a tortoise, grass snakes, bearded dragons, an axolotl, chinchillas, jerds (a large tunnelling gerbil), giant millipedes, African land snails, three types of stick insect and several different species of bird.”

Caroline taught until 1997 when Birmingham City Council’s funding for the Teaching Centre ended.  The transition of Martineau Gardens as a Community Garden began.  A coalition of  former staff, supporters (including our former Patron Mollie Martineau and her husband Denis Martineau), and Friends of the Earth came together to keep the centre open. Caroline played an active role in the continuation of the Gardens. From this, the Community Garden was formed and Caroline Hutton (former Director) joined the organisation.

Caroline Starr explains her return to the Gardens in 2015: “I got involved again with Martineau Gardens … after attending the AGM. Once I heard that school groups were returning on a regular basis, I couldn’t resist! My main role now is to lead tours of the Gardens, where the children are provided with the experience of tasting some of our homegrown produce. I am often elated by their responses when they taste something they wouldn’t normally try — “You can eat more plants than I expected!” wrote one child on their evaluation form — and the vocabulary this draws out of them.”

In the article, Caroline writes of the importance of delivering Environmental Education:

“I believe that it is essential for children to know where their food comes from. Some of their misconceptions are really shocking: once when a child told me, “My mum grows peas on the balcony… in the freezer”. I always try to encourage teachers to try growing food crops with the children back at school; when children grow their own food, they are always keen to eat it, and it is a great way of introducing them to vegetables.

Environmental education is so important. During their visits to places like Martineau Gardens, children are introduced to the wonder of nature, and how it keeps going whatever the weather. The continuing cycle of growth and change that makes sense to me seems magical to children. If we can encourage young people to look after the planet, hopefully some of the damage that we have inadvertently contributed to can be rectified before it’s too late.”

Read Caroline’s article in full here (Environmental Education, NAEE, vol 118 – page 11)

We thank Caroline for her contribution to Martineau Gardens.

Staff at Martineau Gardens, past and present – spanning 22 years (from L to R: Caroline Hutton (former Director), Caroline Starr (Education Tour Guide) Stewart Holmes (Therapeutic Horticulturalist) and Gill Milburn (Director)