Get Involved

As an ever growing and dynamic organisation, the Secret Garden provides regular opportunities for interested parties, including volunteer and student placements. 

Current placements

Nick Thorsen: student placement starting March 2022

I am a Postgraduate student returning to university to study Outdoor Environmental and Sustainability Education at the University of Edinburgh. The natural world has always been a strong pull for me, mostly through the many hours I would spend watching birds in my garden as a child in St Andrews. Learning all their names, I became curious about all the other birds outside of my garden, and before long I had made pretty a good dent. Fast-forwarding a few years I finished university where I studied Conservation Biology and began work in a variety of conservation jobs, one monitoring beavers and ospreys at Loch of the Lowes and more recently, working as a Ranger at the enormous and beautiful Mar Lodge Estate. It was in this role that I was supposed to be working with children at the local forest school; however, due to Covid-19 the school was closed. As part of my university course I thought I would use this opportunity to get a taste of what I missed at Mar Lodge, as my course has really reinforced my beliefs in the importance of experiences in nature at a young age. I enjoy a good walk with my binoculars in the hope of spotting something exciting (ideally a white-tailed eagle!), but mostly I enjoy relaxing with a good book.

Catherine Devaney: Volunteer December 2021- present

I have two children who both loved their time at Secret Garden, so it’s a real privilege to be back in the woods and sharing the experience.  I grew up in Dundee, then studied in Edinburgh and Montreal. My background is in law, where I worked as an Advocate, specialising in civil litigation and medical negligence, before starting my family. Children and life (!) then took me down a very different path and I have been running my own catering business since 2018 and doing some freelance food writing. However I have always had a passion for understanding how little minds learn and develop and, in particular, how the experience of learning outside in nature can be hugely beneficial, having witnessed this first hand with my own children. The experience of home schooling during lockdown with them spurred me on to explore this as a career.  I’m delighted to have the opportunity to volunteer at Secret Garden, which I’m currently combining with other volunteer placements in primary schools, with a view to applying to study primary teaching.

Klara Malovrh: student placement January 2022 - present

Klara is a student in the MSc Outdoor Education program at the University of Edinburgh. As a child, she wished to spend all days outdoors admiring animals, crawling in the mud, and climbing trees. As a member and leader of the Scout Association for over 15 years, she took her love for the outdoors to her adulthood. Today more than anything, she loves spending days in the shadows of the trees,  the hills, and mountains. She has a Preschool Education graduate degree from the University of Ljubljana and a few years of experience working in kindergartens. Experiencing children’s need for open space and time for free play (and how little of both it is sometimes given to them), encouraged her to do her thesis on the topic of outdoor kindergartens. Her research inspired her to move to Scotland.  She wishes to learn how to provide space and time, that will encourage children, to build a sense of connection with the world. For that reason, she is doing her placement in Secret Garden and wishes to see how spending full days in nature help us to learn and grow. 

Lucy Ritchie: student placement December 2021- present

From a very young age I’ve always loved nature and just generally being outdoors. At Primary school we used to visit Tarvit Pond every week and I loved being in the woods there and making all sorts of things with the natural resources that the woods provided. To this day I am still fascinated and inspired by nature. I love just walking through woodlands and hearing the cracking of sticks under my feet and the sounds of all different wildlife going about their day. I am interested in a career working with early years children in the outdoor learning environment. Next year I hope to go to Fife College to study Early Education and Childcare – National Certificate SCQF Level 6 and then go on to do the HNC in Childhood Practice the following year.

Karen McLean: student placement September 2021- present

Hi, my name is Karen and I am studying HNC Childhood Practice after being a stay at home parent for the last 3 years. I love being outside and my passion for outdoor play has evolved from seeing nature create endless opportunities and meaningful experiences for my children. From March through to August 2021, I volunteered at the Nature Nursery, which is part of the Methilhill Community Children’s Initiative to gain experience working with children ages 2.5-5 in an outdoor setting. This year, I have also been volunteering at my local gardening group, helping to develop our “Wild Play Space” and giving families in the community a safe place to play freely in a natural environment. I am so thankful to get this opportunity to work with staff at Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery and gain all the experiences to develop my knowledge working in a fully outdoor setting.

Past student Placements

We can also welcome students on placement from universities and collages. So if you fancy spending your placement outside in the woods, working at a nursery that is a little different then please do get in touch – we’d love to hear from you. You can read Angela’s, Natasha’s and Antje’s stories below, they all volunteered with the nursery over the course of several months. 

Angela Lumsden: student placement March - June 2021

My placement at the Secret Garden has been an amazing experience. While the children are busy experiencing, exploring and experimenting with all that nature has to offer there is a sense of peace and calm. I have been passionate about bringing quality and natural ways of learning to children’s education as this beautifully balanced environment has so much to offer. As an active, creative person I support what outdoor learning can bring in developing creative minds and building connections with ourselves and the world around us.  

This experience has deepened my connection back with nature and my awareness of being more present in the moment. I feel uplifted and energised having had the experience of listening to the birds, feeling the warmth of the sun while observing the magical moments of children’s imaginations coming to life. 

The staff have been amazing in making me feel very welcome and part of the team. I have felt very much at home in the woods and feel blessed to have met each and every one of the team. I am inspired by the Secret Garden’s ethos and the opportunities this can give to children’s learning.

Natasha Lowery: Student Placement Jan-April 2019

Growing with the Secret Garden… On a mid April Monday, as the train brought me back towards Edinburgh, I reflected on how much has changed since I began placement in January at the Secret Garden. The days are longer now, so I don’t have to walk home in the dark. There is warmth to the air, often blown swiftly away by the strong wind, and the birds seem to never lose their breath as they sing from the treetops. My body and mind feel more alert at the end of the day, less tired, as if they have become accustomed to the long day and have grown stronger. But more than that, despite the movement of the train bringing me physically further from the woods, the children, and the other practitioners, I feel more connected and settled. 

I have learned so much at The Secret Garden, from the practitioner team, the children, and the woods. They have all offered the gift of awareness and connection and so even though my time there has ended, they are gifts that I can bring with me and carry forward through my practice and personal life. The teams commitment to awareness and support of learners (both the children and myself) is fantastic, and from my experience in this field, a rarity. I know I will continue to grow and learn from my time at The Secret Garden, as I continue to reflect on the moments we shared together. So for now, a HUGE thank you to the Secret Garden community, and best wishes for the future.

Antje Bahlinger: Student Internship Jan-March 2018

I spent three months volunteering at the Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery from January to March 2018 as part of my course (Childhood Education in Freiburg, Germany). All staff members, children and their families have given me a warm welcome in the woods. The team has been open to answering any arising questions and has given me the opportunity to take on responsibility in a supportive environment.

I‘ve always been passionate about the outdoors and my placement at the Secret Garden has given me the opportunity to combine my love for early years with the one I have for nature. Now, I am confident that I want to work in an outdoor nursery after my graduation in 2019. My time at the Secret Garden has helped me in my development as an early years practitioner and has inspired me for my future work.

If you are thinking about a student placement, I couldn‘t encourage you more to get in touch and arrange a visit to see for yourself if the Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery might be the right place for you.