Sometimes the thought of starting a school garden can be overwhelming. Here are a few general considerations to be made at the very beginning stages. Your decisions around the initial building of the garden should directly reflect your answers to these questions.

Identifying the Stakeholders

  • Does the administration support the program?
  • Will time in the school day be carved out for garden education or will it be part of an after-school program?
  • Which teachers will be the champions of the garden?
  • Is there parent interest? How will that interest be managed?
  • Who will organize summer garden care?
  • How do the neighbors feel about the garden? How can they be engaged in the program? Can they be counted on to keep an eye on the garden after school hours?
  • Who is responsible for initial start-up funding and on-going funding for maintenance?

Define the Program

  • What are the learning goals? How do they align with the classroom curriculum?
  • Which classrooms will participate? When will they participate, and with what frequency?
  • Which garden activities can be wrapped into the school day? Which are recurring and need a more flexible schedule?
  • Who will maintain the garden? Who will keep track of garden tasks and their scheduling? Will custodians be responsible for maintenance of any part of the garden space?
  • How will the produce be used? Who will harvest it? Is any produce available for any passerby?

Create the Space

  • How large should the garden be to accommodate the students and facilitate the learning goals?
  • How small should the garden be in order not to burden those caring for it?
  • How far do students need to walk to access the site?
  • What kind of beds will be used—in-ground, container, or raised bed?
  • What ground cover will be used between the beds (mulch, grass, clover, stone)? Who will maintain it?
  • Has the soil been tested for lead or other heavy metals and been found to have less than 300ppm? If not, make sure to test the soil here or through your local extension agency.
  • Does the site receive at least 6 hours of sunlight?
  • Is there convenient water access?
  • Where will tools be stored?
  • Is there space for a compost bin and an outdoor classroom?
  • What other physical structures are desired? (rain barrels, cold frames, arbors, trees and shrubs, processing shed)
  • Have you seen rabbits, deer or groundhogs on the site? Is fencing necessary?

A Few Tips

  • Identify roles, establish teams, and create forums for communication
  • Establish procedures and expectations
  • Use small groups, delegate projects
  • Create artifacts, records, and documents of small successes and activities
  • Help students to understand the parameters when giving them freedom of design
  • Encourage common ownership of the entire garden rather than individual ownership of part
  • Choose plant varieties and planting times with the harvest in mind. See our Plant Notes for advice.