Berry Public School Nursery – nurturing young minds

By Lyn Clark

In September 2022, Lyn Clark, the lead volunteer coordinator at the Berry Public School Plant Propagation nursery hosted a chatroom for participants of the Australian flora conference. The key points of her chatroom discussion were:

  • Writing an open source document about seed germination of local provenance rainforest species.
  • Growing a Tree Orchard for seed collection.
  • Propagating local provenance plants for the community.
  • Growing local plants in themed Garden Beds as a practical resource for use by teachers for the science curriculum.

Here is the story that she shared.


1995 – National Tree Planting Day – Camp Quality

Berry Public School (BPS) has hosted volunteers at Plant Prop since 1990. The nursery was established by Dave Johnson, a retired primary school Principal, and Barry Virtue, then teaching at BPS. Barry’s informal practical plant propagation lessons provided opportunities for the children to engage with their local natural environment. Barry also started to plant out a tree orchard of local native plants in the school grounds, including some uncommon species. The aim was to have a source of seed for future propagation.

Dave and Barry organised planting days at sites in the Illawarra and the Shoalhaven including site preparation and planting at Camp Quality, the first National Tree Planting day (NTPD) in Berry. The children have been involved with growing and planting local native species ever since. Barry’s trees have now matured and are providing a continuous source of seed for Plant Prop.

New Directions

After Dave Johnson passed away, it was clear in 2015 that a new site for the nursery was needed. The existing site was overshadowed by trees. The Principal, Bob Willetts, suggested relocating the nursery and the new building came to be. The name – Natural Studies and Plant Propagation Centre, captures the aims of teaching and learning about the natural world, while retaining the connection with growing local provenance plants from seed for community use.

The larger space in the purpose built facility allows for multiple teaching and learning opportunities, particularly the new Science Curriculum – THE LIVING WORLD. From term 3 this year classes will be held weekly in the nursery. Plant Prop volunteers will assist the teaching staff by preparing and demonstrating some practical aspects of the science curriculum. Proceeds from the sale of plants have enabled the purchase of equipment to enrich the children’s understanding of the natural world.

The volunteers will continue the practical nursery role while adding the functions of recording data on the location of significant trees and the seed collection times together with detailed propagation notes. In many species that are less common or slow or difficult to germinate this information is not available elsewhere. In the past local knowledge acquired over a lifetime has often been lost when people pass away. Plant Prop volunteers are collating and recording this information to provide a data base for future generations.

The seed bank, tree orchard, propagation notes and copies of historic local herbaria together with historical rainfall records are resources that can be used for practical curriculum based activities.

Growing plants – growing community – the story of succession

Learning how a plant grows from seed is the first step to succession. Planting those tree seedlings which may grow to live for 100 years or more in the tree orchard is part of a succession plan to provide continuity of local plant knowledge.

Potting on Livistona australis – Cabbage Tree palm seedlings

The children at BPS have been involved in community planting projects from the beginning of Plant Prop. In past years planting has taken place at several sites in Berry, including the Sport and Recreation Centre, Princess St. and Alexandra St. parks. The site at Camp Quality has been revisited several times. The last planting was a major community project that was hosted by Fulton Hogan, the head contractor for the highway bypass.

Landscaping the new road corridor with local trees and shrubs was a condition of the contract and Plant Prop was one of several local suppliers of local provenance trees used in the project. This year, with help of teachers, parents, grandparents and volunteers, year 6 students and their Kindergarten Buddies will plant additional trees in the tree orchard. Volunteers from Plant Prop, Landcare, Berry Garden Club and local residents will plant local species of shrubs and trees on the verge of Clarence St. along the school boundary This will complement the tree orchard plantings and enhance the aesthetic appearance of the area. When mature they will provide food and habitat for local native fauna. 

This combined school and community activity provides a practical way for children to have a greater understanding of their environment while experiencing the benefits of working within the community.

Barry Virtue in the old nursery. 2013 National Tree Planting Day Princess St. Park
2013 National Tree Planting Day Princess St. Park
Planting for succession – Edith Faulks and Audrey Heather National Tree Planting day July 2017

The tree orchard and the White Beech story

National Tree Planting Day 2017 was the beginning of the tree orchard. Central to this was the planting of a seedling raised from the first seed that geminated from the Gmelina leichhardtii White Beech which Barry planted in 1990. It is a very beautiful tree that grows readily in cultivation. It is not common as far south as Berry and after logging during the late 19th and early 20th centuries natural recovery of the species was unlikely.

In 1990 Edith Faulks was given two seeds by a local seed collector. She gave one to Barry to plant in the school, and planted the other on her property in Crozier’s Rd. Both trees have grown to maturity and produce flowers and fruit. The flowering cycle usually occurs every 2-4 years.

In 2015 Barry took some children seed collecting among the trees planted in the school grounds. Audrey Heather discovered a germinating White Beech in the leaf litter under the mature tree. Since Audrey’s discovery more White Beech have been found north of Berry and their collected seed have germinated in the nursery. To date more that 150 have been grown.

The image of Edith and Audrey shows a wonderful symmetry. Although 80 or so years separates them in age together they planted the first of the second generation of White Beech in Berry Public School – a planting for succession.

Future directions

2019 Year 5 and 6 students come face to face with seeds at 40x life size




Although an independent entity, Plant Prop has always been encouraged by the school and the local community to be considered an integral part of the school. 

Natural Studies and Plant Prop are perfect partners.

The success of the Natural Studies and Plant Prop Centre rests with enthusiastic teachers and volunteers, both young and old, working together to share knowledge, skills and experiences to guide children to engage in understanding the natural world.

More information ANPSA Conference