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The importance of school gardens 

Many believe that learning at school happens only inside the classroom. Now we recognize that the whole school environment is involved in children's development. The school grounds are:
  • a source of food for improving children's diet and health;
  • a source of healthy influences (clean drinking water, physical activity, hygienic latrines, washbasins, school meals);
  • an area for learning (about nature, agriculture, nutrition);
  • a place of pleasure and recreation (flowers and shrubs, play areas, shade, eating areas);
  • a continuing lesson in respecting the environment and taking pride in one's school.
Tarmac, dry earth, mud and empty fields are turning into green grounds, outdoor laboratories, vegetable plots, herb gardens, play spaces and study areas. School gardens are leading this change.

Tyre gardens A child-size garden can be made in a car tyre cut in half. Fill it with soil and a little chicken manure and plant vegetables. Heat from the sun warms the tyre and helps the plants grow. Each tyre garden needs only a litre of water a day. Children can protect their gardens from animals by bringing them near to the house. Mandela’s garden
While Nelson Mandela was a prisoner in South Africa, he spent hours every day gardening. He grew vegetables, often in oil drums cut in half. At one time he was looking after about 900 plants. In this way he improved his own diet and the diet of other prisoners - and also that of his white warders!
(P. Lloyd-Lister, personal communication, 2003)(Mandela, 1994)


The School Garden Manual is based on experiences of setting up and running school gardens all over the world.

Who is it for?

The Guide is for anyone who is interested in starting or improving a school garden, in particular for growing good food and for learning to market garden products. You may be a teacher, a garden manager, a group of teachers, parents and community members from one school or from several different schools.

What is the age range?

The intended age range of pupils is 9 to 14. “Younger pupils” means pupils aged 9 to 11, and “older pupils” 12 to 14. This is not to say that children outside this age range cannot be involved; there is always something for very young children to do, and senior students can of course lend a hand with all kinds of task, including managing the work.

What does it consist of?

The Manual takes you through all the steps of planning a garden project: deciding what your garden is for, planning how to get help and learning how to prepare the site. There are sections on organizing the work, and motivation has a separate chapter. In the appendices there are horticulture notes and factsheets on nutrition and on some widespread crops. N.B. The Manual does not aim to give detailed horticultural advice for all situations. For this you will need to consult local experts. In each part there are also:

The lesson outlines

Parts 3 to 10 have outlines of appropriate lessons to do in class. These are aimed at ages 9–14 and supplement and support gardening activities. They focus not only on knowledge and skills, but also on awareness, life skills, attitudes and routine behaviour. Such “garden lessons” have enormous educational value. They bridge theory and practice, reinforcing classroom learning with hands-on experience and observation, and vice versa, and should have a regular place in the classroom timetable, In assition to gardening time.

How do you use the Guide?

We suggest this approach:

School gardens across the world

Children learn by doing Sligoville, a farming community, was the first free village in Jamaica after slavery was abolished. The all-age school has been called the “most environmentally aware” in Jamaica. The head teacher encourages the garden strongly because she believes that children learn by doing. Children gain skills they can use, teachers find new ways to teach, and everyone gets some delicious nutritious food. Most of the staff are experienced gardeners and there is an active parent-teacher association.

Photo courtesy of Claudette Power, Sligoville school, Jamaica

Each grade manages a small plot with a few crops such as carrots, corn and thyme. The older children have an acre with a variety of vegetables and rows of plantain, banana and cocoa. There are chickens, rabbits and goats. The garden is completely organic. The children eat a lot of the garden food and take some home; some is cooked in the canteen and some is sold in the community. Each year a cross-curricular project focuses on one food. One year they researched corn, grew samples, and produced songs, puppets and poems. Their book “Corn in the Classroom” was translated into 84 languages and featured on the radio. (C. Power, personal communication, 2003; Bruce, 1998)

AIDS orphans help themselves In northern Zambia’s Mansa township, the Seventh Day Adventist church opened a small orphanage for AIDS orphans, with support from the Rotary Club and the Zambian Government. To provide the children’s food, they established a half-hectare garden which the children cultivate themselves under the supervision of a qualified volunteer gardener.

A small grant from FAO provided seeds, tools and a small-scale drip irrigation system. Now, under the children’s careful tending, the garden is flourishing, producing eggplants, peas, maize, green peppers, soybeans, sweet potatoes,

tomatoes and chickens. “They are completely self-sufficient for vegetables, maize and poultry,” says Karel Callens, an FAO nutritionist. “They are producing enough surplus to sell at market and are reinvesting the proceeds in the garden.” The children are also learning teamwork and farming know-how, which will support them for the rest of their lives. “That’s a pretty impressive return on a small investment,” says Mr Callens. (FAO Telefood, 2004a)

School gardens transfer knowledge and practice to children’s homes In Trincomalee in Sri Lanka, food insecurity was a severe problem after civil unrest and war. Agricultural clubs were formed in the schools, consisting of eight students and a teacher. Basic agricultural training was given by the Department of Agriculture. Vegetable plant nurseries and school gardens have been established on the school premises and the vegetable seedlings are sold to households.

Knowledge and practice are transferred to the home: students grow their own seedlings at home and pass on information about how to grow them to friends and family. Students report that they have gained knowledge, practical skills and opportunities for self-employment. (Wanasinghe, 2003)

Variety of activity, variety of learning Manorbier School in Wales, UK is in a depressed area with high unemployment. Although it is a rural area, many of the children have their first experience of growing things at school. The school garden has herbs, flowers, a play area, a large apple tree, a small wood and a pond for studying wildlife. It grows beans, tomatoes, sunflowers and leeks (the Welsh national emblem).

The whole school has created a pebble mosaic at the entrance, with a segment for each class. The idea is that the garden belongs to the children and they should run it. Children volunteer to be “garden monitors” for the week. Each class has a responsibility - e.g. the pre-school class looks after flowers, older pupils see to the pond. A garden club meets once a week after school. The garden is used for learning by direct experience in science and environmental studies, maths, literature and art. (J. Greenhouse and L. Carr, personal communication 2003)

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