Photo from Denise Reid

Ensuring Garden Success

Creating a school garden is incredibly rewarding for students and educators. However maintaining a school garden can become a thorn for any dedicated teacher. We surveyed 10 teachers from around the country who participated in our Garden Grant Program. Below are five challenges any teacher may face when creating and maintaining a school garden.

1. Seek Approval

Before starting any project, like a garden, you’ll likely need approval to modify the school grounds and/or take kids outside to engage with the garden. Whether you need to present your plan to your principal, the district, a school board, etc. be prepared with a detailed plan and expected learning outcomes for students. Ensure you have staff support (see below), along with possible corporate sponsors or supporters. Demonstrating community support from local businesses, parents, libraries, or other educational groups will also add to the sustainability of your garden program. Finally the biggest feedback we’ve heard from teachers is don’t expect the garden to happen over night; seek approval a semester to year in advance. This will provide ample time to secure funding and approval.

2. Get Staff Support

One of the biggest challenges you will face is developing a sustainable model that will last throughout the years. We’ve heard from teachers who have started a garden initiative, but it failed after a couple of years due to decreased use. But have no fear! One way to ensure a garden lasts through time is to build staff support. First, consult with the grounds staff to ensure they will support the garden. Having the ground staff on your side can help you select the best location, and can lead to a beautification project that the ground staff won’t need to maintain. Also gain support and interest from your fellow teachers. Demonstrate how the garden can be used for different learning outcomes across different age groups and subjects. Demonstrating both need and support will help develop the sustainability of the garden. The more people invested in its success, the better!

3. Choose Your Location

Location is everything when creating a garden. You need to consider sunlight, soil health, ease of access, location to water, even seating. Our friends at The Nature Conservancy have developed great how-to garden videos, including the video below around planning your garden.

4. Consider Your Climate

Once you receive approval for the garden, you’re ready to start! You’ll want to plan your garden around local conditions. Whether you live in the north and experience intense snow until April or May, or you live in the south and can’t let students outside sometimes due to extreme heat, it’s necessary to consider the weather when developing your plan. If snow is a consideration, start the garden inside the classroom. If you live with extreme heat, consider building a shade structure or pavilion near the garden for students. No matter your region, native plants will be better suited for your specific climate. Garden can be interdisciplinary; have students research how their garden can be adapted to local climate.

5. Plan Summer Break

Summer break gives many teachers pause when considering a school garden. There are several possibilities to ensure summer break isn’t an issue. If your school offers a summer camp, see if the camp would take over the maintenance of the garden, specifically watering and harvesting. You can also consider creating a native pollinator garden instead. This provides the luxury of not needing to harvest or water over the summer. If you wish to have a fruit/vegetable garden, focus on plants that can be harvested early in the summer or in the fall when school resumes. This will help you narrow your focus when researching plants to use, and reduce the summer upkeep. If you plan ahead, you can even budget for a drip irrigation system.

Whatever your garden focus, don’t let obstacles stop you from creating a school garden! Have a challenge you’re encountering? Share it in the comments below and let the BirdSleuth community help overcome your challenges.

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