How to Set up a School Garden

, written by gb flag

School garden

A school garden is becoming an educational must, but, without an experienced gardener on the staff, it’s difficult for schools to know where to start. Here at GrowVeg.com we’re frequently asked how to set up a school garden and in compiling this article I spoke to Sophie Ioannou, an Environmental Educator who runs gardens in London’s inner-city schools, including Pooles Park Primary; we've also included links to resources from many useful organisations.

Planning a School Garden

Sophia is used to establishing gardens in schools which possess little space and few resources, but for any school she advises, "Start off very small." This is because, in her experience, teachers do not have time to run a garden. "If you start simply," says Sophia, "you generate momentum and people take an interest." Before you know it, you’ll have a bank of volunteers and, meanwhile, won’t have burdened yourself with an enormous learning curve.

Even starting small, you need helpers. Sophia establishes a weekly rota with children as monitors for tasks such as composting and watering, but nevertheless gets in local volunteers at least once every other month to keep on top of maintenance.

Garden Organic's Food for Life Partnership contains a comprehensive breakdown on getting started and advises on planning, fitting the garden into the national curriculum, and provides instruction leaflets for students and teachers.

Children harvesting rhubarb

Sophia grabs whatever space is available and has tucked beds in corners and under windows, though somewhere sunny and well-drained is best. If the site is in full view, so much the better; the more interest raised, the more offers of help you’ll get.

Caitlin Mathis says: "Space plants well so little feet are free to go in and explore without stepping on too many plants." Raised beds have clear boundaries and, as you’re possibly taking on a tough piece of land, they mean that you won’t have to dig deeply and can fill them with good quality compost, vital for successful plants. Deep beds could even be placed on tarmac. Wherever they are, make them narrow enough for small children to reach across easily.

What to Grow in a School Garden

Easy-to grow vegetables include early potatoes (grow quickly and fun to dig); beetroot; pumpkins (lots of character and ready after the summer); cherry tomatoes (the easiest type to grow and eat); peas (delicious straight from the pod); rainbow chard (very colourful); and fast-growing saladings such as cut-and-come-again lettuces, oriental leaves and rocket. Have a look at our article Easiest Vegetables to Grow and Dallas Arboretum’s ABC’s of School Gardens. As Claudia Maskeroni advises: "Do not set them up for failure. Plant plants that they will actually harvest by the end of the school year."

The Royal Horticultural Society’s Campaign for School Gardening has superb resources, offering a simple school’s Vegetable Crop Schedule and Month-by-Month timeline, as well as a handy range of lesson plans.

Our own Garden Planner is always popular with children and we do special educational accounts so it can be used by a whole class at once - great as a wet-weather option if conditions outside aren't right for digging!

Perennial herbs like rosemary, lavender, oregano, fennel and thyme attract bees and butterflies and offer strong scents to explore. The Herb Society’s teachers’ pages contain a garden plan.

As your confidence grows, so more can be added. Kimberley Edwards suggests giving all classes their own garden in their first year, to see through until their last. "Let them do everything – design, plant, harvest, eat, so they learn from their mistakes." There’s a full rundown on planning and how to involve children from the very beginning at Kids Gardening.

School garden lesson

Sophia recommends a greenhouse to start seeds off early and protect them from pests. Alternatively, volunteers can grow seedlings at home and bring them in for planting.

Every gardener will tell you that it’s impossible to garden strictly to plan. "We work with what’s happening on the day," says Sophie, who installs a pond and wildlife area where possible. "When food slows down, I might get them to develop the woodland area. It’s a holistic approach – encouraging pollinators into the garden – helping children to see the whole picture."

School Garden Funding and Free Resources

The RHS’s brief guide to funding suggests ways to find support locally as well as a list of UK funding bodies. One possible source of materials in the USA is the National Association for the Exchange of Industrial Resources, and School Garden Wizard gives other ideas as well as a sample letter to businesses asking for donations.

Margaret Burton suggests that local garden centres and timber merchants will contribute materials in return for a mention in the local paper. At Sophia’s schools, parents contribute seeds, leading to a "global garden" with okra, aubergine (eggplant), and pumpkins from Bangladesh.

The simplest gardens don’t have to be expensive; the project on The Grow Your Own Grub website costs somewhere between £40 and £60 ($60 - $95).

Finally, don’t worry when things go wrong. An RHS report on school gardening states, "From failed crops to insect damage, children were forced to deal with setbacks to achieve positive goals." Resilience in the face of disappointment is yet another life-skill conferred by gardening.

By Helen Gazeley. Photos courtesy of Garden Organic.

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Comments

 
"Hi I work with the EPA Environmental Protection Agency in Philadelphia PA USA. We are about to build a school garden in every public elementary school in the city. It's going to take us a while but the kids need it! I was thinking it would be a great idea for the kids here to share information about gardening and other things with the kids all over the world via the internet and cameras. This could be a vehicle to exchange ideas and culture thru gardening and agriculture."
Ralph Brogdon Jr. on Friday 21 October 2011
"This post is so timely! I was just asked to consult on a school garden for pre-school children and love all these great resources. Thank you all for sharing!"
Susan L. Miller on Saturday 22 October 2011
"A work colleague and I have just started a school allotment for our students who have special needs. I have found your website to be incredable with a wealth of help and advice! Can't thank you enough!!!!"
Pamela Ingham on Saturday 22 October 2011
"There's some excellent research about the impact of school gardens here which we have just become aware of: www.teichgardensystems.com/School-Garden-Research.html"
Jeremy Dore on Tuesday 24 January 2012
"Great resources! I would suggest adding a TickleMe Plant to every school garden and classroom.TickleMe Plants are the only interactive plant that will close its leaves and lower its branches when tickled. Put a couple of flower pots of this plant in the garden and kids will run to greet their Pet TickleMe Plants each day. You can search TickleMe Plant or visit http://www.ticklemeplant.com Its our kids favorite school garden plant!"
Fran on Saturday 25 August 2012
"I think another key to gardening in schools is to link gardening into other areas of the curriculum too so it isn't just a tagged on topic. I have some ideas for how a garden topic can link with other curriculum areas here http://theschoolvegetablepatch.co.uk/page62.html which may trigger some ideas"
Sue Garrett on Monday 16 September 2013
"I really appreciate all the information i get thanks alot, it's help us"
Isabella on Wednesday 9 December 2015
"What tools will help with my school's garden and how much do they cost"
Mrs. S on Wednesday 27 April 2016
"Hi Mrs. S. There are lots of tools sold that are suitable for children. They aren't very expensive, though if you are kitting out a whole class it can obviously add up. An alternative could be to ask the parents to loan hand tools - trowels and forks - that the children can use for most of the gardening jobs."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 28 April 2016
"thank you, i got some great ideas from this website!"
mariko on Sunday 19 February 2017

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