Setting up and running a school garden - Teaching ToolKit

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To open discussion about the aims and uses of gardens:

  1. Shall we have a garden?

For background information and ideas of good gardening:

  1. What plants like
  2. Starting with soil
  3. Soil quality
  4. Seeds and germination
  5. Growing plants
  6. Organic gardening

To establish garden records:

  1. The Garden File


Set A starts with general gardening questions, basic information and principles. It aims to find out what learners know, think and want, and it introduces learners to the idea of consulting gardeners in the community. An option is to open a Garden File or Garden Portfolio, which can serve many purposes motivation, publicity, revision, evaluation.


This discussion lesson helps teachers to find out what learners know, what they can do and how they think and feel about gardening. Most information in this lesson comes from the learners.



- become aware of the various uses of gardens
- recognize their own potential ("I can do it too")
- appreciate some positive aspects of gardening
- discuss reasons for having a school garden
- feel motivated to start.


- paper "plant strips" (see Guide) representing small plants, bushes, trees
- (for younger learners) paper, colour pencils and glue for a follow-up collage


Before the lesson, ask learners to

- look at what is grown in home gardens in the area and try to identify three or four different fruits and vegetables
- find out what tasks have to be done in a garden
- (for older learners) find out about the times of year when different tasks have to be done.


1. What do our gardens grow? Display the "plant strips". Learners say what is grown in home gardens in the area. As crops are named, learners write the names on the plant strips.

2. What happens to them? Ask what happens to each crop (e.g. sold, eaten, burnt as fuel, used for medicine or for making things, kept just to look pretty etc.).

3. What other things do we have in gardens? (e.g. trees, flowers, hedges/fences, gates, chickens, compost, sheds, taps, pipes).

4. What do we do in a garden? Learners say what work has to be done in gardens. Individuals explain and demonstrate garden tasks (e.g. digging, planting, watering, weeding, harvesting). Praise all knowledge and skills so as to establish a positive idea of gardening knowledge.

5. When do we do them? If there is time, older learners explain when in the year each activity is done.

6. Do we want a school garden? Discuss what learners would like to do with a school garden.


Drama Turn the question-and-answer into a little play. Present it to other classes when they are about to harvest, so they can discuss how it applies to their own crops.


1. Collage (for young learners) Using the "plant strips" as a basis, map out a classroom collage with three different heights (tree height, bush height, small plant height) and a few climbers. Learners draw and colour in particular plants and add pictures of garden activities.

2. Table (for older learners) Learners draw up a table of Garden Produce and Uses.

3. List Older learners draw up a list of ideas for the garden, copy it and take it home for discussion.


Fold a strip of paper into a concertina. On the top draw a picture of a plant (tree, bush etc.). Make sure you leave a strip at the bottom of the picture so that the pictures will join up. Cut around the plant, then open up the strip.



This early lesson, which is best done in the garden, raises awareness of good growing conditions. It should be recalled many times in following lessons.



- become aware of plants needs
- can identify the needs of some real plants.


- real plants, some weak and some healthy


Ask learners to find a growing plant in the school grounds which looks healthy and one which looks sad, old or sick. They should also ask their families what makes plants grow well.


1. Lead-in Learners show and describe plants, first sick ones, then healthy ones. It is best to do this in the garden. Bring out the features:

Sick: small, dry, bent/drooping, yellow/brown, spotty, leaves eaten etc.

Healthy: strong, erect, straight, green, big, juicy, bushy, whole leaves, new leaves

Learners speculate on why some plants are not well.

2. What plants like Younger learners stand in a circle and imagine they are plants, with roots (feet) and leaves (fingers). Ask questions, demonstrating physically while learners copy. Older learners can answer the questions without the physical demonstration.

- Do your roots like space to move, or do they like to be squashed together?
- Do your roots like to be fixed firmly in the ground?
- Do your roots like to be very dry? very wet? or nicely damp?
- Do your leaves like to be in the dark, or to have some sun and light?
- Do your leaves like to be in the open air, or under the ground?
- Do your leaves like to be blown in the wind all the time, or protected?
- Do you like to be growing under a lot of big weeds or in your own space?
- Do you like to have nothing to eat, or plenty of good food from the soil every day?
- Do you like bugs and insects? (Learners speculate some insects are good and some bad).

3. Happy Plant Mime (for younger learners) Tell learners they are happy plants. Chant and mime:

- Our roots are firm and damp and have space to grow (Learners wriggle their feet.)
- Our leaves have light and air and not too much wind (Learners wiggle their fingers.)
- We have plenty of food (Learners pat their stomachs.)
- We have plenty of space (Learners open their arms wide.)
- We have plenty of bees and butterflies (Learners wave at the insects.)

4. Whats wrong? (for older learners) Learners look at the Guide and discuss whats wrong with the plants in the outer circle (they lack the elements of light, air, water etc). Praise (but do not demand) scientific explanations.


1. Plant hunt Learners find happy/unhappy plants in the garden and speculate on the causes.

2. Drama Learners write/act a play about the dramatic adventures of an orphan tomato plant: overshadowed by a family of sunflowers greedy for light; saved by being moved to a row of onions; nearly eaten by a large slug; invaded by leaf-sucking bugs; rescued by a child.

3. Poster Learners make a poster of the Guide. It will be useful in future lessons.


Science Photosynthesis, capillary action, plant form and function

Drama Struggle for life in the plant world


The plants in the inner circle are fine.
The plants in the outer circle are not doing well.
What are their problems?


A feel for soil is the beginning of good gardening. Hands-on experience is the best way to learn. This needs a double lesson.



- recognize topsoil and subsoil
- recognize good soil by feel and sight
- become aware of all the components of soil.


- spade
- water
- large pieces of newspaper or cloth
- containers (e.g. cups, old tins, jars with lids)
- twigs or sticks for separating out soil
- plates/pieces of glass


Find an area in the school grounds with good soil (lots of humus), and an area with poor soil (e.g. plain sand or clay). If it is very dry, moisten it before the lesson.


1. Cross-section Take the class outside. Ask: What will we see if we dig a hole? Is the soil the same all the way down? Dig a hole in good soil and get learners to see the difference between topsoil and subsoil. Ask them to describe all the things they see in the soil.

2. Feeling Learners pick up a handful of soil each, smell it and feel it with their fingers. Ask: Is it damp?

Is it nice and dark? Is it crumbly? Is it full of life (bits of plant and animals)? Then its good soil. Let them feel a sample of poor soil too, describe it and conclude that it is not so good.

3. Experiments Say that we are going to find out EVERYTHING that is in the soil. Start with two experiments.

a) Experiment 1: AIR Learners put a sample of soil in a container and fill it up with water. Ask them what they see on the surface (bubbles). Explain that there is air in the soil.

b) Experiment 2: WATER Explain that this experiment will take a little time. Learners put a little soil in a dish, cover it with a plate or lid and leave it in the

sun or a warm place. Ask them to guess what will happen. Say we will come back to it later.

4. Sorting components

a) Divide the class into groups. Give each group a large sheet of newspaper/cloth, a small box (for crawling insects) and a jar or can (for hopping insects).

b) Put a small spadeful of soil on each sheet. Ask groups to see what they can find in their soil, and to separate elements on the four corners of the sheet like this:

- anything coming from plants (seed, bark, bulb, leaf, root, twig, flower, pip, grass)
- anything coming from animals (e.g. dung, bone, bit of insect wing, dead beetle)
- anything live (keep it but dont hurt it) in a box or jar
- anything else (e.g. stones, household rubbish).

5. Feedback Groups say and show what they have found. Show your approval of the organic elements (vegetable/animal matter). Older learners estimate what proportion is organic matter.

6. Water Go back to the water experiment. Learners remove the plate/glass carefully, without turning it upside down, and look underneath. Ask what they can see (drops of water). Ask where the water comes from (from the soil).

7. Recap Learners recap by calling out everything that is in the soil (including air and water). Back in the classroom they compare what they have seen with the Guide.


Poster Learners draw a cross-section of soil (including air and water). They write and learn the caption Good soil is damp, dark, crumbly and full of life and undertake to show good soil to others.


Science Decomposition

Drawing Animals, plant parts


Plants grow and take nutrients from the soil. Plants die where they grow. They drop leaves, fruit, seeds. Dead plants are eaten by ants, worms and bacteria. The nutrients go back into the soil. New plants grow in the rich soil.


Good soil is the basis of good gardening. This lesson deals with the structure of soil. The first half of the lesson should be in the garden.


Learners understand what makes good soil components and structure.


- a little water
- a patch of good soil
- a little compost


In preparation for the lesson, learners consult gardeners, families etc. to research the questions: What is good soil? What happens in the soil? What kind of soil have we got? How do we improve it? Groups or individuals may take one question each. Teachers (or learners) copy up and display the diagram in Guide A for class use.


1. What makes good soil? Take learners outside and dig up some good soil. Get them to notice the qualities of a "good loam" - rich dark, fertile, moist, crumbly but firm, full of organic matter and life. Review the contents of soil from observation, recapitulating the previous lesson air, water, organic matter, plant roots, insects etc.

2. What happens in the soil? Display Guide A. The whole class discusses the roles of all the elements observed.

- What opens up the soil, makes space for air, water, roots? (worms, organic matter, roots)
- What keeps the soil surface soft?
(organic matter, water, cultivation, nobody walking on it)
- What provides essential food/nutrients for plants? (organic matter, water)
- What holds the plants firm, so they dont wash away or fall over? (roots, soil in general)
- What allows animals and bacteria to live and breathe? (water, air, organic matter)
- What traps the water so it does not drain away too fast? (organic matter, clay)
- What helps the water to drain away?
(organic matter, sand, worm holes)
- What holds the soil in place?
(roots, organic matter, mulch, rocks)
- What dissolves the nutrients so roots can drink them? (water, worm urine)

3. Clay/silt/sand Learners rub some soil with a little water between their fingers. Ask:

- Does it feel gritty? (it is sand: big grains)
- Does it feel smooth, like flour? (it is silt: medium grains)
- Does it feel sticky? (it is clay: tiny particles).

They try to roll the soil into a worm (with a little water).

- Does it fall apart? (sand)
- Does it stick together? (clay).
- So is this soil mostly clay, silt or sand? Will water run through it easily?

4. Drainage Sprinkle a little compost in the hole. Explain that compost will help to keep water in, or help it to drain away. Whatever kind of soil we have, compost will make it better.


1. Chart/diagram Learners prepare a chart showing soil elements and their functions.

2. Hole-in-the-ground experiment (for older learners) Dig a hole in the ground about 35 cm deep, fill it with water and leave it to drain. Once drained, fill it up again and get learners to time it as it drains away. Discuss what kind of drainage we want not very fast, not very slow, but a gradual trickle (about 6-10 cm per hour). If the drainage rate needs improving, add compost.

Adapted from Guy et al. (1996)

3. Mudshake experiment Fill a large glass jar about one-third full with soil. Add a tablespoon of table salt and one of laundry detergent, then fill with water. Close well, shake vigorously for 5-10 minutes and leave to settle. After about two days you will be able to see clearly the composition of the soil: sand and gravel at the bottom, then silt, then clay, and organic material floating on the top. The ideal proportions are clay 4, silt 4, sand 2 and about 5% organic matter.

Adapted from Guy et al. (1996)


Science/Geography/Environment Weathering and soil formation, soil erosion.




organic matter


animal life

bacteria and fungi


clay soil

sandy soil


to open up the soil

to keep water in

to let water drain out

to keep the soil soft

to feed plants

to give support

to keep soil in place

to let animals and bacteria live


air Air is essential for roots, for animal life, for bacteria and for keeping the soil open.
organic matter Organic matter (e.g. bits of plants and animals, dead bacteria) opens up the soil, makes space for air, traps water, provides essential nutrients.
roots Roots "cultivate" the soil, take up the nutrients, hold the soil in place.
animal life Animal life (e.g. earthworms, beetles) opens up the soil for air and water, digests organic matter.
bacteria and fungi Bacteria and fungi break down organic matter, release nutrients.
water Water is essential for growth of plants, dissolving nutrients and bacterial activity. It needs to get into the soil, but also needs to run away so that the soil is not waterlogged.
clay soil Clay soil helps to trap water, holds plants in place.
sandy soil Sandy soil helps water to drain away.


Sand has large grains.

Water drains fast.

Add compost and anthill material.


Silt has medium grains.

Water drains more slowly.

Add compost.


Clay has very fine particles.

Water drains very slowly.

Add compost.


Combine science with healthy snacking by using seeds with edible sprouts to demonstrate germination. The activities for this lesson are spread over several days, and begin the day before the lesson.



- identify some common seeds of food plants
- understand the nature of seeds
- know how seeds germinate
- know how to produce edible sprouts
- eat and savour edible sprouts.


- some common seeds of food plants, including seed pods
- seeds for sprouting, e.g. alfalfa, barley, broccoli, celery, lentils, beans, pumpkin, sunflower, wheat (the bigger the seeds the more spectacular)
- a glass jar, a piece of thin cloth to cover it and a rubber band to keep it in place
- clean water


The day before the lesson, learners put the seeds to be sprouted in water to soak.


1. Lead-in: what is a seed? Show some common seeds of food plants and ask learners to guess which foods they grow into. Ask: What are seeds? and praise all good ideas e.g. a seed is

- a plant egg (like a chicken egg)
- a packet of things needed for growing (with a hard cover for protection, like a box)
- a food store
- a sleeping plant which will be wakened by water and light.

2. Setting up the experiment Learners pour off the water from the seeds they put to soak, put the seeds in a glass jar, cover the top with the cloth and label it with the date (see Guide A). Explain that the seeds will be kept damp (but not wet), warm and dim (as if under soil). Learners find a suitable place in the classroom and place the jar there on its side.

3. Predictions Ask learners what they think will happen. For older learners ask detailed questions, e.g: When will seeds start to grow? Will root or stem come first? Which will be longer? When will the leaves come out? How many? Will new leaves come under old ones or on top? What will happen to the seed cover? Older learners write up their predictions so they can later compare them with reality.

4. Finishing the experiment

a) Twice a day learners rinse the seeds with cool water and drain the water through the cloth.

b) They describe what happens each day and compare it with predictions. Older learners keep an observation schedule as in Guide A and match events with Guide B.

c) When the seeds sprout after a few days, learners move them into the light for a day or two. The shoots will then turn green and will start to develop vitamins. Raw sprouts contain substantial amounts of vitamin C and some good B vitamins.

d) Give the sprouts a last wash, then boil, steam or stir-fry them before eating them, alone or with other foods. Make a ceremony of it!


1. Food seeds Glue seeds of common foods onto a big sheet. Add labels giving the names and/or pictures of the plants. Turn this into a guessing game.

2. Watching seeds sprout Display the completed observation schedule in poster form.

3. More sprouting Learners repeat the sprouting experiment at home and persuade families to eat the sprouts. (Brief parents in advance and ask them to show enthusiasm!) Do not forget that the sprouts should be cooked before eating.


Biology Growth, germination


Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5, 6, etc.

Soak the seeds.

Put the seeds in a jar in a warm, dark place.

Rinse the seeds twice a day.

The seeds start to germinate.

(to be completed by the learners)





(to be completed by the learners)


Seeds are about 1.5 cm long.

The seeds are now twice as big.

Some seeds have split. They have tiny roots.



The seed is damp.

It absorbs water and swells.

A root begins to grow.

The stem begins to come out.

The stem lifts up the seed.
Side roots grow.

The seed coat slips off.
Root and stem grow.

The seed leaves come out (cotyledons).They open to catch the light.

Real leaves appear.


This lesson is an overview of the process of growing plants, to be done just before or after planting.


Learners become aware of the process of plant growth and the plants life cycle.


- a few seeds
- (if possible) a seedling, a young plant, a flowering plant, a fruit and a seed head
- a sketch of each stage of plant development
Guide A, copied and enlarged by learners)
- cards or small pieces of paper
- something for sticking paper on walls (glue, pins etc.)


Ask learners to prepare for class by asking gardeners about one crop they grow (e.g. maize, beans, pumpkin) and what they have to do to look after it (e.g. transplanting, watering, weeding etc.). Older learners make a list of these gardening activities. Before the lesson, display the sketches of plant development in any order but the right one.


1. Lead-in: How plants grow Show some seeds and say what plant they are from. Ask: What will happen to them first? And then? Learners suggest the stages that a plant goes through. Display the plants or the sketches. Ask learners to find the seedling, growing plant, flowering plant, fruit and seed head and put the pictures in order of development. Post the pictures or plants all around the room to form a cycle.

2. Harvest Talk about one or two crops which learners know well, or are planning to grow. Ask: Do we harvest the leaves, stems, roots, fruit or seeds? Learners show when in the cycle these crops are harvested.

3. Gardeners What do we do to help plants grow? Older learners take the displayed stages one by one and brainstorm ideas about what needs doing (e.g. weeding, watering, mulching, fertilizing, tilling, getting rid of caterpillars, thinning, transplanting, training up), calling on what they have learnt from talking to gardeners. They write or draw suggested activities on cards and stick them up on the development cycle. Some activities (e.g. watering) should come up several times. N.B. If learners do not mention some important activities (e.g. mulching), introduce them yourself.


1. Garden tour Learners find seeds, seedlings, young plants, flowering plants and seed heads in the school grounds.

2. Collage Learners create a collage of the plant cycle using real seeds, pressed flowers/leaves and paper cut-out roots, stems and fruit.

3. Life story of a plant (for older learners) Each learner adopts a plant to monitor through its whole life. S/he keeps a notebook entitled "The Life Story of a ..........." (see Guide B). Younger learners can make up a fictional life story.

4. Frieze Learners make a frieze of gardening activities and display it. Use it to pick out the activities needed each week.


Biology Life cycle of plants; life cycle of animals for comparison



The first page is a summary record. On the following pages, learners draw a weekly picture of the plants development and describe its condition and treatment. They compare notes each week, discuss questions and show each other interesting features of their plants.

Adapted from Kiefer and Kemple (1998)


Learners should learn about organic gardening gradually, through
- practical activities (e.g. mulching, composting, careful watering)
- sharing values (e.g. about beneficial insects, earthworms, compost)
- understanding (about soil, plants and the environment).

This lesson introduces the idea of caring for a plants basic needs in a natural way. It should be done in the garden. (For further information, see "Organic gardening" in the Manuals Horticultural Notes.)


Learners know how to improve conditions for plants using natural methods.


- a little compost or mulch
- labels for plants e.g. strips from a plastic bag
- one sad plant preferably overcrowded, in poor hard soil, and afflicted with bugs
- for each group, a pointed stick for loosening the soil and a small container for pouring water


Before the class learners find some plants around the school which look unhappy (the type of plant does not matter).


1. Lead-in Learners repeat the Happy Plant Mime from Lesson 2 What plants like. Show your own sad plant and ask learners to give it a name (e.g. Betty).

2. Planning discussion How can we make life better for Betty? Learners discuss the questions below, inspecting the plant and feeling the soil. As they suggest answers, demonstrate how to "make life better for Betty". At the end, label the plant with its name, the date, and action taken.


a) Has it got enough space and light?
- If not, clear a space around it.

b) Is the earth around it very hard?
- If so, loosen up the earth and make a little hollow around the plant to hold the water.

c) Is it too dry? - If it is, water it around the base until the soil is damp.

d) Does it have rich soil to feed it, full of life?
- If not, put a little compost or mulch around the plant.

e) Is it being attacked or eaten?
- If it is, find the bad bugs and pick them off.

f) How can we go on helping it grow?
- Keep it moist, keep the weeds away, keep the bugs off.

3. Garden work Ask learners if they can remember the six questions (and what to do with earthworms). Give out labels. Each group finds a sad plant, decides what is wrong, makes life better for it, and labels it with name, date and action taken. As they work, go round to check they have the right idea.


1. Picture Learners draw a picture of the sad plant they found; older learners describe it in writing. They write in the name, the date and the action taken, as on the label.

2. Before and after Learners tend their chosen plant regularly for two weeks and study its progress. At the end they draw another picture or (older learners) write a before-and-after report.

3. Organic ideas Older learners research the following questions by consulting families, farmers etc., then scan the Guide to find answers.

- Is it good to use fertiliser? Why/Why not?
- Is it good to use insecticides/pesticides? Why/Why not?
- Is it good to use compost? Why/Why not?
- What is green manure? Why is it good?
- What is mulching and what is the point?
- What is crop rotation? Is it a good idea?Why/Why not?
- How is it best to water plants? Why?
- What worms and insects are bad for the garden? Why?
- What are the best kinds of garden bed?
- Why? What worms and insects are good for the garden? Why?



Rotate crops to restore the soil.

Add compost and manure.


Grow green manure.

Encourage earthworms.

Make raised permanent beds.


Use mulch to stop weeds growing.

Pull out weeds by hand. Do not use weedkiller.



Use mulch to stop evaporation

Use waste water. Harvest water.

Dont waste water.


Encourage beneficial insects.

Do companion planting.

Use good seeds, grow local varieties.

Remove or prevent pests - use few artificial pesticides.

Rotate crops to avoid diseases.

Give good growing conditions (space, light, water, good soil).



A record of the life of the garden reinforces learning and can be a strong focus for motivation, especially if learners create the record. A "yearbook" (for one year, one crop, or one season) is one way to try out the idea (see Guide A). Older learners can create portfolios for group or individual projects (see Guide B). All can keep regular garden records (see Guide C). Learners must feel that these records belong to them, so they should be always accessible, frequently updated and often consulted. Do this lesson as soon as there are some suitable documents ready to put in the file.



- are motivated to keep a record of gardening events and activities
- learn how to make a documentary record
- become aware of the value of records.


- a hard-cover file which holds pages firmly
- a large felt-tip pen for writing titles, dates etc.
- a blank sheet for the title page
- a few documents ready to go into the file e.g. a photo, learners writing/drawing, a map of the garden site


  1. Lead-in Pin up the documents you have collected. Ask learners to recall what they are about and to arrange them in chronological order (Which one comes first? And then?).
  2. Garden documents Say that these are our "garden documents". Ask what we should write on each one so we will remember what it is and when it was made. Learners suggest titles, captions and dates and nominate writers to label the documents.
  3. A Garden File Ask: Where shall we keep these documents? Suggest starting a Garden File and produce the file. Show how to insert the documents (e.g. punch three holes, use plastic sleeve etc.). Discuss and decide what order to put them in first first, or last first? (both have advantages). Individuals come forward to insert the documents one by one.
  4. Cover and front page Ask: What should we have on the cover? (e.g. title, name of class, year, picture). What will go on the front page? (e.g. title, list of contents, year). Where shall we put the title? etc.
    The class nominates learners to do the lettering, draw the cover picture etc.
  5. Contents Discuss briefly what we will put in the File. Best homework? Pictures of the class?
    A picture of the garden? A message from the Head Teacher? Older learners will have more ideas; younger learners will pick up ideas as time goes by. See
    Guide A for some ideas.
  6. Where shall we keep the File? Let the class decide a good place: accessible, but also safe.
  7. Telling others Learners volunteer to show absent learners the file and explain what to do.


Keep the file on display. Make a habit of discussing what should go in it. Get learners to select the best classwork and homework: it should be seen as an honour to have a piece of work in the file. Remind them to add dates and captions, and to file documents in the right order. Use the file frequently in class: get learners to look back, recall events and decisions, explain choices etc. Train them to explain items in the file to visitors.


Literacy and reading: Making a book


A Garden File or Yearbook can be kept for the whole school, for a particular project or for a class. Most contributions should come from the learners, or at least be inserted by them.


A Garden Portfolio can be kept by older learners as a record of a garden project. If it is to be presented by groups or individuals for assessment, specify contents and length. For example:

A   A title page with title, date, name of student, institution
B   A Contents page, listing sections with page numbers

Four main parts:

Part 1 Why did you choose this project? ( p)
Reasons, including personal motivations

Part 2 What did you want to achieve? ( p)
Objectives (material, personal, educational)

Part 3 What happened? (3 pp)
Description of project activities and outcomes

Part 4 Was it a success?(1 p)
Evaluation of project in terms of its objectives

D   Appendices: Project log (for example, weekly reports)
Data (e.g. figures, tables, graphs, diagrams)
Pictorial records (e.g. drawings, photos, maps)

After running the project once, collect good examples of learners portfolios which can be used as models by future learners.


Learners can keep a weekly log of events and work done.




First tomatoes should be ready to pick in a week.
They are going orange.


Tomatoes are still small. Need more water?


Watering and weeding. Picked stinkbugs off tomatoes and sprayed with soapy water. Put in more stakes. Made boxes for tomatoes from coconut leaves.


The tomato stakes are not strong enough or tall enough. The branches are bending to the ground. Next time use longer sticks.

.................................. (Signed)

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