school garden

School Garden 101, The 5 Ws

So… my last post was the beginning of my School Gardens 101 series in which I discussed finding funding for your garden.


Today I’m going to talk about the five W’s, and I’m going to start with…


Why you want to begin a gardening program is central to your mission. Understanding why you want to build a garden should be the guiding principal in all decisions and planning that goes into creating and implementing the use of a school garden. And…why you want to implement a gardening program must be kid centered.

I suggest brainstorming a list of why’s to help you create a broad mission statement that is still focused on how your students will benefit from a school garden. Maybe you teach in an urban area, and your students haven’t had much exposure to the natural world. Maybe you teach in a rural area and many of your kids do understand gardening, so you want to use the garden as a way to extend your classroom lessons. I promise you that even if you have only one reason to  build a school garden, your students will benefit in multiple ways.


Who? is a biggie. (Actually all of these w’s are biggies…that’s why I’m dedicating an entire blog post to them.) Here are some considerations:

  • Who is going to serve on a garden committee? Yes, I said committee. I know, I know…you are committee’d out. But a garden is too much work for one person alone. (Just a piece of advice: I imagine if you are reading this, you are probably the person that is going to chair the committee. Don’t appoint committee members – ask for volunteers. Gardening is not everyone’s “thing” and if  you appoint someone to an extra committee that they don’t want to be on…well…you are starting off at a deficit.) Having said that, not all committee members need to be teachers…
  • Who from the community can you involve? Parents, neighborhood volunteers and homeowner associations, local volunteer organizations, garden centers, and county extension agents are all good resources to consider approaching. You may be surprised at the number of people that are very knowledgeable and that would love to help out.
  • Who’s going to do what? and where are they going to do it? Our school garden has seven planting beds, and each bed is assigned to a a grade level. Once I’ve assigned the bed, I leave it alone. When plants or seeds come in (part of our particular grant), I let the grade chairs know, and then it is up to them. Honestly, I try to let them have the autonomy to do what they want with their bed as long as it is centered on the needs of their students.
  • I know of several schools that are lucky enough to have an appointed garden specials teacher (that person is also the committee chair). The regular classroom teachers keep the garden teacher apprised of what they are learning about, and then he or she plans lessons based on supporting the classroom teacher (my dream job!). These schools have a lot of community support as well.

Don’t let all of the Who’s be intimidating. Start simply, and you will understand the needs of your garden as they arise. Just remember… No man (or woman) is an island, and they can’t do it alone.


This is my favorite of the five W’s! Basically, WHAT kind of garden do you want to have? Do you want to grow fruits and vegetables, encourage butterflies, encourage and cultivate understanding of diverse cultures? Really you can incorporate so many different ideas into a garden and address curriculum standards at the same time.

I was originally going to write a separate post just about WHAT, but then I found the following

Why reinvent the wheel, right?


Here is some food for thought:

  • When will you begin building the garden?
  • When will teachers use the garden, and does there need to be a master schedule?
  • How will the regular curriculum be implemented. Will the garden be integrated into regular classroom time, specials classes, after or before school clubs, etc…
  • How will garden usage be tracked (you may need to do this if you receive a grant that has certain stipulations attached).


This one is pretty self explanatory. Where are you going to locate the garden? If you want a vegetable garden, you are definitely going to need an area that receives at least six to eight hours of sunlight a day. Also (based on personal experience), you need to think about garden access. If you have an enclosed courtyard area, I highly suggest that you locate your garden there. My school’s garden is open for anyone and everyone to come and visit, and believe me they do. I’ve done plenty of cursing (not in the presence of children, mind you), when I’ve gone out to check on the garden only to find that some one has pulled up all of new transplants, or picked all of the baby peaches off the tree and piled them on the ground, or picked our ripe veggies that the kids were looking forward to harvesting (I could go on and on). It is very disheartening to both me and the kiddos. If you don’t have an enclosed area, you will need a fence. Not a fence that only serves the purposes of marking the garden boundaries and being pretty to boot. No. You need a tall fence that locks and keeps people out. Hey…I’m a realist.


If you have applied for and received a grant, you may have already addressed some of these considerations. If you are doing this through different channels, or if you have received funding that doesn’t require some of this information, here are my suggested action steps (in order):

  1. Work with your principal and a few other like-minded teachers to create a core committee.
  2. Begin brainstorming your “WHY?” component. Without a central mission or vision, your efforts will be haphazard at best, and your results won’t be nearly as powerful.
  3. Then begin working through the other elements.

I hope I haven’t scared you away. This is a lot of information to digest, so just take it step – by – step, and remember that all things worth doing are worth doing right!

Note: This is an updated blog post series. However, all links have been checked or changed as needed. The final post in this series can be found here.

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