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Running a garden project


  • Discussing preliminary questions
  • Reviewing the secrets of success

Three school garden skills
“You need to know only three things to run a successful school garden:
  1. How to cultivate people,
  2. How to cultivate plants, and
  3. Where to go for help.”
(Guy et al., 1996)

Running a school garden requires not only horticultural knowledge but also “people skills” and common sense. Other useful qualities are enthusiasm, organizational capacity and a flair for publicity. You need to plan and manage, find resources, get help and support, keep in touch with those involved, organize garden work and lessons, motivate people, and publicize garden achievements.

However, garden leaders do not have to do all this themselves. Good garden management means building up the school’s capacity until the garden can almost run itself. Older pupils show younger ones what to do; routine tasks are carried out automatically; helpers see for themselves what needs to be done.


Here are some questions that are frequently asked.

1. Who will be responsible for the garden?

The “garden leader” or “garden manager” may be a school principal, an experienced teacher or an experienced gardener from the community. She or he should be backed by a small team who between them have commitment, interest, experience, authority and contacts: for example, the head teacher, some parents or community members, a few students, a school inspector, a health worker, the school caretaker. Later a wider network of helpers and supporters can be built up.

The garden leader should have a colleague who can act as a deputy when necessary. It is also a good idea to establish an executive team of senior students who are able to carry on without much supervision.

2. What will we need?

Starting needs are discussed in Part 5. For tools and equipment, seeds and seedlings, the cost need not be high. If you start small they can be acquired over a few years. Often equipment can be borrowed, and sometimes you can save your own seeds. Local plant varieties, adapted to the local climate, are cheaper as well as safer. Organic approaches cut the cost of fertilisers and insecticides.

One expensive item is a secure garden shed. Even more important, and sometimes costly, are water and fencing. You must be able to irrigate your crops and protect them from predators. You may be able to get a grant for this kind of investment from charities, sponsors, government or aid organizations. But remember that pumps, pipes and fences need maintenance. If you have no regular funding, the garden needs to make enough money to cover its costs.

3. How big will the garden be?

Your garden could be anything from a window box to a field. The size will depend on the space available. If the school does not have suitable grounds, there may be space in a community garden, or on waste ground along the road.

Size also depends upon your aims (discussed in Part 3). If education is your main purpose, it will not matter if you do not have much space. A few plants are enough for experimental observations (for example, studying germination). A single bed 1 m × 2 m will produce token quantities of food. Three or four small beds can make up a model kitchen garden for demonstration purposes. You will need much more space if you want to produce a significant quantity of food or do professional agricultural training.

Whatever your aims, you have more chance of success if you start small. You can always expand later. Even with a small garden, you will also have more success if you have a variety of crops, not just one or two.

4. How will we decide what to grow?

This depends on your aims (see Part 3). The main garden projects in this Manual are about growing food to eat and growing food to sell. In general, choose crops and trees that are adapted to local conditions, easy to cultivate and fit into the school term. Your crops should fit in with local food habits, be easy to prepare and have high nutritional value (for example green leafy vegetables and orange and yellow fruits and vegetables). In any case, children should be involved in deciding what to grow.

5. Who will do the work? Much of the work will be done by the children. They should be helped by volunteers (parents, community members, students, ex-students of the school) and by the school janitor/gardener/ caretaker if there is one, especially for the heavier work (e.g. preparing the site).

But the bottom line is that children are learners and not a labour force. They must enjoy their time in the garden and learn from it. It should not be an unpleasant chore or punishment. The garden should also give children opportunities to take responsibility, make decisions, plan, organize work, collaborate, evaluate and publicize. Class time should prepare for these responsibilities.

6. How much time will it take?
Class time Ideally, lesson time and garden time should be matched one to one. Lessons are for discussing and explaining, planning and organizing work, setting up experiments and observations, and documenting garden activities and events. To maintain a small garden and get full educational benefit, a class needs about an hour of garden time and an hour of lesson time per week, with a little “garden homework” in pupils’ own time.

Teacher time depends on the size of the garden. The job of garden manager is also very elastic! Apart from organizing garden work and lessons, and helping children, it can involve encouraging volunteers, setting up garden events, contacting sponsors, finding supplies, organizing tours, keeping accounts, writing reports and attending meetings. A good garden manager will delegate work to responsible pupils and to a garden support group.

7. What training do we need?

This depends on what knowledge and experience you already have. If possible, arrange for the head teacher and two or three others to have a training course in basic garden management, nutrition, organic gardening methods and project - based learning across the curriculum. Think about involving school cooks and caretakers too. Training can be organized by someone from the agricultural extension service, a knowledgeable parent, an NGO, or the education service.

Whoever receives training should pass it on to others - for example, in informal meetings. This reinforces the training, spreads the knowledge and protects the garden programme from losing its only expert.

8. What support will we need?

Keep all interested parties informed about what you are doing, and consult them frequently. Make the school garden a regular item on the agenda of school meetings.

9. How do we get people to feel positively about the garden?

Support depends on attitude. In some areas there is a long tradition of passionate home gardening. People want their children to learn the skills of growing food, flowers and trees. If gardening has this positive image in your community, you can build on it.

But often gardening is seen as just hard dirty work, not as education. At worst, schools may be accused of aiming to keep children tied to low-paid agricultural jobs. If this is the attitude, then one of your main tasks will be to change it. Many ways of giving the garden good publicity will be discussed in this Manual - for example, involving families, focussing on education, building a sense of pride and showing that gardening can improve our health and wealth. Your basic advantage in these efforts is that children find growing things and producing delicious food genuinely exciting and rewarding.

Support and success for disabled children
Divina Misericordia is a school for disabled children in Lima, Peru. The school has its own garden, which grows lettuce, beets, carrots and broccoli. Everyone was involved from the beginning: the director, the teachers, the students and some parents built the garden from scratch. When they started, there was nothing but sand and dirt. They cleaned it up, brought in soil and installed an irrigation system.
The school director Elvira Pacherres says the children are passionate about the garden. “Gardening is now part of the curriculum and it works as therapy for these children. It shows them how easily they can have access to food if need be, and it gives them responsibilities. Often, these kids are put aside in the family… here they learn to contribute to the household. Some grow their own little gardens at home too.”
(FAO Telefood, 2004b)


Some of the secrets of success are set out in the box below

The school garden will thrive if it has support from:
  • the local education authority;
  • the head teacher/principal;
  • all the school;
  • the parents and community.
Involvement and contacts
It will help if you can:
  • interest the local agriculture and health services;
  • involve the community as experts, advisers, helpers, observers;
  • interest the school meals programme;
  • set up a support group of interested, active and helpful people;
  • keep in touch with other schools that have gardens.
It's a good idea to:
  • start small and expand later;
  • establish (and maintain) a good water supply and fencing;
  • know how the garden will be funded, or how it can pay for itself;
  • use organic approaches to improve and conserve the soil;
  • choose crops which are adapted to local conditions, match local traditions and food habits, have high nutritional value, contribute to food security, are easy to cultivate and fit the school term;
  • make sure there is a takeover garden manager in case of emergency or sickness;
  • get trained and experienced teachers and helpers to pass on their knowledge.
The project will work best if you:
  • establish clear objectives agreed by all;
  • choose garden managers who know how to handle people as well as plants;
  • give praise, rewards, prizes and other incentives for children, teachers and helpers;
  • publicize success and make garden activities visible to the public and the whole school;
  • create pride, status, achievement and pleasure in the garden.
Educational value
Try to:
  • explore attitudes in the community, families and children, and recognize their importance;
  • fully recognize the garden as a learning experience and a learning tool;
  • involve pupils in planning, decision making, organization and publicity;
  • match garden work and classroom work one for one;
  • link the garden to the mainline school curriculum;
  • encourage observation, experimentation and record keeping.
Technical and pedagogic support
Do your best to:
  • get access to information and good technical advice/support;
  • get training in organic gardening approaches and garden management;
  • find/make suitable classroom materials.


Outputs: Ideas for the school garden; notes on problems, risks and attitudes.

  • Get artistic students to copy the “Grow with the Garden” poster below. Adapt it as necessary for your own context.
  • Take photographs of possible garden sites.
  • Visit home gardens in the neighbourhood for inspiration and ideas.
  • Contact other schools with gardens.
  • Start a Garden File for all garden documents.

The poster illustrates the wider concept of the garden:


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