We are often asked how to set up a school garden. We have learned so much about this through supporting a local community group, Linlithgow Farmily. They aim to get families gardening; we support by helping suggest activities for kids. We benefit by learning so much about gardening and access to some amazing experts!
A school garden is a great way to explore sustainability, where food comes from, responsibility and more. It can be a great way to help children feel more invested in their school grounds and decrease the vandalism school experience.
In this blog, we will work through some of the issues you might want to be aware of when designing your school garden.
Before Designing, Consider
- Identify a Location
Think about accessibility for all children and staff. Distance to the garden, access, wide paths (at least 180cm wide will allow 2 wheelchairs to pass) and surfaces (surfaces allow wheelchair access, but a range of textured surfaces help children who are partially sighted navigate the garden). Other issues include access to water, storage of materials and tools, security etc., all play a part. Many factors should all be taken into consideration to ensure all children can access and benefit from it.
- Check Plans
Find plans of the chosen site, available from the LEA, to determine whether there are any services underneath the surface or contaminants from previous land use that you should be aware of. If you are growing veg, which we recommend, you want to ensure there are no contaminants.
- Risk Assessment and Safety
Look at legal, technical, safety guidelines and school policy documents as required and ensure any risk assessments are completed before work commences. There are likely other schools in your authority that have gardens, so reach out to them and see what procedural hurdles they had to overcome. In my experience, schools with ASD bases and severe and complex needs often have the most amazing gardens, so it could be worth reaching out to them.
- Incorporate and Share
Incorporating the garden into the school improvement plan is key. This is a straightforward way to ensure it is a priority for the year. But, at the end of the plan, ensure you keep going with it. This is the hard bit! Also, shout about it to share the vision and get support.
- Discover Skills
Like any big school project, it is always worth consulting with the parents, governors, PTA and the local community. Yes, Covid may make getting on the school grounds tricky, but could they offer advice over online meetings?
Who will care for the garden during the school holidays? Is there an after school/ holiday club that could jointly run it with you? What about the local community?
Once the site is identified, decide how big it is and investigate the soil, how much light there is, is there enough moisture, are there permanent features you need to work around, is there an entrance to it.
- Establish the Purpose of the Garden
A wildlife garden is great for attracting the local wildlife and can be low maintenance but is it a project that could extend throughout the school? We find projects that involve the whole school tend to be those that grow produce or herbs. It could include herbs, vegetables, edible flowers, and some of these are even kind to local wildlife.
- Decide on Shape and Position of Planting Beds
Narrow raised beds (no more than 120cm in width, or 60cm if only accessible from one side) is good for children as they can reach the middle for planting and weeding from both sides without compacting the soil. The height means children will limited mobility can access them. Raised beds can also be placed on concrete which could widen the scope of where a garden could go.
Try to include a compost heap, and water butt is possible. You can always find compost bins being given away for free; ask your local community.
Recycling old containers to create some wonderful pots.
Implementing your plan
- Clear the Site
The first thing you need to do is clear the site of weeds and rubbish. Be really careful if you choose to involve children at this stage; there may hidden dangers so ensure gloves are always worn.
- Design the Garden
Try to involve the children as much as possible in the garden build as this helps them form a feeling of ownership and care towards it. We have found schools that experienced a high degree of vandalism found it decreased significantly when children felt ownership of the grounds and gardens.
- Label Everything!
Even as experienced gardeners, we can forget this! Make sure you label everything in a large easy to read lower case font. You may even want to use braille. Children enjoy making the labels or signs.
In our online portal, we explore how this project can provide progression for each year group. It is filled with ideas to help support teaching in the 3-12 curriculum and even supports those with severe and complex needs.
Love Outdoor Learning offers a range of support for curriculum-based outdoor learning within the nursery, primary and secondary. Our membership resource offers training and lesson ideas throughout the curriculum, and we regularly share blogs with new activity ideas and thoughts on outdoor learning. We can also offer on-site training and support.
We aim to help support as many educators as possible. We offer free support calls to help schools understand how we can support them in their learning journey. If you wish to book one, jump over to our diary.