By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 8 March 2012)
School learning and production gardens provide many benefits ranging from improved student health to increased student engagement. In addition, they can generate nutritious organic fruits and vegetables that students will actually want to eat because they’ve grown the produce themselves.
Establishing a school garden entails leadership, research, fundraising, and design. The following activities are required to create a successful schoolyard garden.
1. Identify Those Who Will Create and Maintain the School Garden
The first step in creating a school garden is to establish a Garden Planning Committee that includes administrators, educators, parents, and students. Ideally, the committee should have some individuals with gardening expertise and someone who can manage the garden budget.
2. Research Working School Gardens
Visit successful school gardens and ask those who develop and maintain them for advice. Learn about natural, non-toxic garden pest control options, composting, native plants, and what grows best in various conditions.
It’s also important to identify potential curricular connections and develop lesson ideas for various subjects and age groups that would incorporate the garden. The North American Association for Environmental Education provides links to sites that offer guides for creating school gardens, educational activities for school gardens, and other resources. Additional learning activities and resources can be found at the School Garden Wizard. See the School Garden Wizard’s Cross-Discipline Learning pages for activities categorized by grade level and subject area.
3. Raise Funds to Support the School Garden
Determine what the garden’s supply and maintenance costs are likely to be, and then start fundraising. The following websites provide lists of organizations from which grants for school gardens may be obtained:
- Canada: Evergreen – Grants Available
- United States: GardenABCs – School and Community Garden Grants
- United Kingdom: Global Gateway – Gardens for Life program
If you’re unable to access a grant, there are other ways to raise funds including:
- Bake sales
- Events (i.e., concerts, treasure hunts, etc.)
- Sponsored athletic activities
You may also be able to obtain some supplies free or heavily discounted from local resources such as nearby businesses, parents, garden organizations, and others.
4. Choose a School Garden Site
Choose a place on school grounds that receives six to seven hours of sunshine per day and is free of large trees. If this isn’t possible, fruits and vegetables may be difficult to grow, but shade-loving plants can be grown instead. If there is plenty of sunlight but many large tree roots in the area, the garden can be planted in raised beds or pots.
Be sure to test the soil before planting and check how well it’s likely to drain (this activity can be done as a science lesson). Then, either choose plants that are likely to thrive in the existing soil or purchase a new planting mix that will meet the needs of the plants that will be grown.
5. Choose Plants to Grow
When choosing what to grow in your school garden, take the age of the children who will be planting and tending the garden into account. Young children do best with plants that have large seeds, grow quickly, and are easy to care for. The following are some good plants for young children’s gardens:
Children of all ages tend to like varied colourful produce and flowers. They also appreciate gardens that attract wildlife such as butterflies or hummingbirds. Lavender and Butterfly Bush will draw butterflies to the garden, and birds tend to like trees, shrubs, and flowers with edible berries, seeds, and nectar such as holly, dogwood, chestnut, and sunflowers, as well as trees that provide shelter and nesting sites such as conifers. If there are hummingbirds in the area, they will be attracted to tubular red flowers such as Trumpet Creeper, Bee Balm, and Red Columbine.
6. Design the Garden
There are many possibilities for school garden design themes, including:
- Alphabet garden (apples, beans, chamomile, etc.)
- Bird garden
- Butterfly garden
- Culinary herb garden
- Friendship garden (companion planting)
- Historical garden
- Hummingbird garden
- Literary-theme garden
- Medicinal plant garden
- Multicultural garden
- Pizza garden
- Rainbow garden
- Square-foot garden
- Wildlife garden
- Tool sheds
Decorative garden features (sculptures, water features, bird feeders, wind chimes, etc.) can also be purchased or made.
7. Purchase Garden Supplies
In addition to seeds and seedlings,and perhaps a few small trees if funds and space permit, core supplies for the school garden will include:
- An irrigation system (i.e., sprinklers or hose)
- Organic planting mix
- Small buckets
- Sticks for plant labels
- Tools such as trowels, shovels, turning forks, hoes, and rakes
- Watering cans
- Wood chips to line garden paths
Depending on which animals are likely to wreak havoc in the garden in your area, you may also need to purchase pest control supplies such as wire mesh to keep gophers out. If aphids become a problem in the garden later on, you can purchase live ladybugs from many garden centers – they’re voracious consumers of garden pests.
8. Plant and Decorate the Garden
Once all the supplies are purchased, the soil must be prepared, paths lined, garden features put into place, and seeds planted. In addition to gardening itself, there are plenty of fun activities that can be incorporated, such as:
- Decorating flowerpots and plant labels
- Making bee houses
- Making butterfly and hummingbird feeders
- Making regular bird feeders from various household objects
- Making garden wind chimes
- Growing a bean teepee
Creative teachers will likely come up with many more ideas.
To read about how school gardens improve the health, behaviour, and academic performance of students, see The Benefits of School Gardens. For answers to more frequently asked composting questions, see the Composting FAQ page. For a full list of gardening articles and links to garden photos, visit the main Gardening page.