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I am in phase II of a learning garden project I have started last year. Is there anyone else that has done, completed, or in the midst of doing a similar project for a public school. I have run into many drawbacks and would love to discuss this with all of you. 

It has always been a passion of mine to teach children about nature and their natural environment. Last year I had a great turn out of families that helped build the first phase of the garden. It looks fabulous, but we have a lot of vandalism with our new baby trees. 

Would love to start the discussion.


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Replies to This Discussion

Hi Rhonda

Great idea for a discussion. By a learning garden, do you mean a garden that's used as part of the timetable/curriculum?

Also I wondered if you would mind mentioning some or all of the drawbacks you've encountered. That way we can all chip in and add to suggestions etc.

Thanks and best wishes

PS I've a couple of related blog postings which might be relevant to this discussion "Wee Green Fingers" and "Willow Structures"
yes, that is the plan that the teachers will incorporate it into their teachings. Some have already with butterfly releases. I am just on my way out the door, so will post more tonight. I am excited to hear what you all have to say.
Thanks for starting this thread, Rhonda. I have always wanted to do this type of project but have been concerned about things like vandalism. I hope others will be able to chime in with what has worked well. Like Juliet, I would like to know what other challenges have you run into.

So this project started out as a joke to plant trees to stop portables from being dropped on our school property. A joke that got me thinking, trees would be great to have on the school property. As I started doing research, I found the site Evergreen and read up on learning gardens. I thought this would be a great idea. I am in Ontario, and are a number of support for this kind of thing and our school board is on board with environmental projects. So it started... mostly with me and a handful of teachers until they felt they were being spread out thin. Then it turned to a few of us left to plan, usually one or two others.

Last year we got a lot of local businesses involved with donations of tools, and equipment rentals and got a discount for soil and mulch at a local nursery. We also applied for a Learning Grant from the school board which we received $750 and applied for funding with the TD Friends of the Environment. Which we received $2000. We also got a discount at a nursery for our trees and got them as wholesale price. We also contacted a local trailer park that had fabulous rocks we could extract as many as we wanted.

Here are things we got:
tools, shovels, wheel barrow, pails, rake, stakes, watering cans from Home Depot
watering cans from RONA
cement and hand cultivators from Lumber Yard
watering hose and nozzels from Home Hardware
triple mix and mulch from local nursery
compost at local waste management composting give away
mushroom compost from local mushroom farm
rocks from local trailer park
trees from nursery at wholesale price
wheel barrows, tree trolley from tool rental
Rotatiller from neighbour - we should have rented one!

We then sent out a sign up sheet to all the parents in the school to come out for planting day and start the garden. We got 75 students and parents join us through out the day. It was a lot of work, I mean a lot since we were on clay. We started at 9am and finsihed at around 3pm

Boston Pizza supplied lunch for us and Neighbours supplied coffee and Water Depot supplied water

We then bought some native plants and a parent seperated flowers from her garden and on our recess had the children plant them in the garden. The kids enjoyed it a lot and were eager and always waiting for us on the days we said we would be there for planting.

We also set up a watering schedule for the summer where 8 parents volunteered and took turns to ensure the garden was properly watered over the summer holidays.

Some of the issues I am dealing with is:
Vandelism of our trees and plants. We have lost over half of our trees. The only trees that have survived are the 21 gallon trees (bigger) that had to be staked... usually about 6-8 feet tall. Some were pulled out and others branches were ripped off. We also had many plants ripped out of the ground and thrown over the rocks. Interesting it is only a few plants, but all the same.

Another is the lack of people who actually help with the planning. We already have a hard time getting people out to volunteer at other events so I assume this is normal. It is usually 2 or 3 other people who actually do all the work.

All the teachers and principle are on board. We have started an adoption for each tree and participating classes will grow a plant to be planted in the garden. We were going to involve the local horticultural society in the design of the garden, but a parent eagerly voiced her enthusiasm to do it. So she is now doing it.

I am also, over the summer months going to put together a few curriculum projects that I can go into classes and teach in the garden and propose I come in and offer it. Not sure how yet, but to give teachers an idea of just how they can incorporate it into their class teachings.

We also have a non-profit organization call Earth Rangers who come in and offere the same thing and have a lot of resources available to teachers. www.earthrangers.com I will be contacting them to see if they can come in and teach about how to look after the garden. They will have lots of resources as well to provide. So will be partnering with them.

The biggest challenge i have really is the vandalism and maintenance. Myself and one other parent do maintain on a regular basis, but eventually we would like the school to take that over as part of the student body class projects or something.

Once we do our final phase this month, I am hoping that all the plants will limit the amount the kids can run all over the garden and put the stepping stones the students made last fall into the garden as pathways. So that they stay on the path most fo the time unless they are learning. There will be alot of pathways so that the garden can be explored withouth having over 1000 students trample the garden.

As much as I want the students to experience the garden, it is a very large school and there has to be a little bit of order to the place poeple can walk in the garden.

Oh and one other thing. There is a portion of the garden that will not have any thing growing in it. This will be a free space that the students can grow vegetables, sunflowers or whatever they wish to. Each teacher will get a plot of garden to grow different things. Coordinating perhaps so that each class grows something different.

the ideas are endless!!!

Visit Earth Rangers, they have a lot of ideas.

I would love to hear what you all have to say, comment, suggest, advice etc. My one goal is to make it part of the development of new schools. We have 5 new schools being built in our town... I am working on getting it part of the planning development to have a learning garden built right into the school yard from the get go.

Ok, I am sure you have lots to ask and say, I will stop now and eagerly wait for replies.
Hi Rhona

My first response is "Wow!" You've done incredibly well doing what you have done all ready. I'm genuinely impressed by your own and others efforts.

Here's my "toonie's" worth! With so many situations like these, I do not offer answers...only suggestions which may or may not work. When it comes to gardening and school grounds projects, it helps to take the attitude that "Experiments Never Fail"...sometimes we just need to keep experimenting.

1) If big trees are surviving the vandalism then perhaps this is a way to go in the short term. Evergreen in conjunction with the Eco Schools projects within TD have a "shade" solution which includes planting a ring of large native trees. This would help the school work towards its Eco School targets. (NB This info is 2yrs old so perhaps check this out)

In the medium term, consider growing trees from seeds. This may sound mad, but it is much cheaper than constantly forking out good money on saplings. Ranger services may be able to help with sourcing or collecting seeds - great fun for children too. It's a lovely project for classes to grow a "Forest in their Classroom" and watch trees sprout from seeds. Furthermore this could eventually become a commercial enterprise in its own right!

In terms of vandalism, my advice is always to assume that this will happen and to have contingency plans in place that enables the project to continue. Over the years, vandalism incidents will reduce. But it's often a long term drip-feed process. A couple of tricks worth trying are:
- Having lots of handmade signs up around the place clearly made by children. These can be informative signs but it shows the garden belongs to the children. So when a ladybug home is put in place, have a sign that says this, etc.
- Bright colours are meant to deter vandals. Apparently!
- Monitor the vandalism and try and workout the intent. Some vandalism is experimentation and curiosity...children just exploring the area in an inappropriate way. This is often limited to a one off event or couple of events. Some vandalism is accidental - youths on a Friday night drinking session having a laugh. Some vandalism is malicious, e.g. an ex-student with a vendetta. This is repeated frequently. Some is gang vandalism dependent upon proving one's worth to other folk. Once you work out the intent, it's easier to come up with an appropriate solution, e.g. involving ex-offenders and community service (those who do voluntary jobs instead of going to prison), local community college or high school students, portable CCTV, etc.

2) Put together a maintenance schedule for the garden....what is needed doing, how often and at what time of the year. From this list go round the classes and find out which ones would be willing to do this. For example, one class might be willing to look after the flower boxes at the front of the grounds. Another class might be willing to learn how to prune trees. Another class might undertake to maintain the composting systems, etc. Basically, if every class can do something then this takes away the need for a lot of parental involvement - which can be thin on the ground.

3) Regarding volunteer helpers...it may be worth asking the school to send out a letter which contains a list of useful skills including: digging, weeding, planting, watering, pruning, joinery work, construction, business connections for further donations of materials or money, etc. The parents tick which skills they think they can do. The next trick is to try contacting these parents directly to do specific jobs ...like your summer watering schedule. Plan only one big gardening event each year...and make it a fundraiser too if possible through a BBQ or fun event like a treasure hunt in the grounds (scarecrow festivals are fun in Fall, though!)

4) In terms of incorporating gardening into the curriculum...now you're talking! Find out from the teachers, what sort of projects and themes they cover and find a garden to meet this. For example, a class doing a pioneer project can grow heritage vegetables from the 19th century. A French immersion class can grow traditional French flowers and vegetables: aubergines, courgettes, lavender, sunflowers, etc. A class studying landscape, Ice Age and pre-history can look at plant succession (ie leave a patch of ground bare and see which plants arrive there). Biodiversity project - have a native flower bed. Minibeast project - create homes for minibeasts around the grounds. Farming project - grow crops, harvest them and bake bread etc. Pre-school might like a sensory garden or a garden themed around a colour, e.g. a blue garden. A class looking at climate change can grow vegetables in a recycled plastic bottle greenhouse (then it's easy to collect more bottles and mend the frame if it gets vandalised) and compare this to being grown outside. A giving garden is where the local community can pop in unwanted flowers and plants. A companion or friendship garden is where companion plants are grown together! Have a pip days. Where children try growing any pips they want and they watch what happens...some may even grow into mature plants.

5) Involve the children. Go round and see what they would like. The greater their involvement, the more ownership they have, then the more likely you will have lots of interested students. Ask them about seating around the gardens too. There's lots of neat ways of consulting children to get their views.

I hope this helps...I'm sure others will have lots of other ideas, relevant websites and organisations etc.

Best wishes and I hope your project grows from strength to strength!
Wow Juliet! Thank you very much for your comments and ideas! Love it and will try just about all of them I am sure! Definately will keep you up to date as to what has worked, not worked, tweeked, changed etc.

I am not one to give up! Like the seedling idea, have an area we can plant that too!

Rhonda check out some blog posts we have on this topic on Bay Backpack. Your might also want to check out the Schoolyard Habitat Guide!
Oh wow Rhonda, you have achieved so much.

At my son's school (primary age group) gardening is included in the curriculum. We too had a grant - from the government - towards creating a kitchen garden which included a new shed and stoves in the classrooms. This is how it works with us:

* We have a parent volunteer who does the gardening sessions with the kids. There are also several other parents who have a passion for gardening that step up from time to time, but we have found that it works best to have at least one committed parent who is in it for the long haul.

* Small groups work best - I think the kids garden in groups of about 5 - 8 children.

* We are only a small school with 3 classes but even so with our garden volunteer only working one morning a week we can't get through all the kids in one week so there is a roster system.

* Kid's are allowed to work in the garden at break times - this gives them greater ownership.

* We have found that the shed is necessary so equipment is returned and looked after responsibly.

* Every term we dedicate one whole day to gardening as a school community - not just the kitchen garden but the school grounds as a whole. Parents come along, and we prepare a meal from our kitchen garden.

* We haven't got much money to spend, so we rely heavily on donations from parents who work in landscaping etc.

* We invite visiting experts along to our garden days - one time there was a "bush tucker man" and another time a bloke from the local recycling centre who has set up an eco garden there. He got the kids all enthused about worms and composting.

Some links from organisations in Australia:

School Kitchen Garden Project

kitchen gardens
Thanks for your feedback.... I will check out the blogs and put together a plan for me to come in and talk with the students... great idea.
You might want to check out this recent piece of research about the impact of gardening in schools. Could add weight to any persuasive conversations...

This is a great piece of research, Juliet. I will use it when I am with the appropriate folks to support the movement. Many thanks. jt

Juliet Robertson said:
You might want to check out this recent piece of research about the impact of gardening in schools. Could add weight to any persuasive conversations...

If anyone out there is looking for school gardening supplies to help with a student garden project, here's a funding opportunity you might find of interest...

Healthy Sprouts Award
Application deadline October 1
The Subaru Healthy Sprouts Award recognizes and supports youth gardening programs focused on teaching about the environment, nutrition and hunger issues in the United States. Schools planning to garden in 2011 with at least 15 children between the ages of 3 and 18 are eligible to apply. Award package includes a $500 gift certificate to the Gardening with Kids catalog and online store, gardening supplies and educational materials. Learn more at http://www.kidsgardening.com/grants/healthysprouts.asp


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