School Gardens Planting

Research shows that school gardens foster academic achievement and improve attitudes toward school and learning. The garden is the “lab” for teaching nutrition, math and science. It is also a good place to learn responsibility and the value of hard work. For these reasons and more, schools are embracing gardens as an educational activity for children during or after school.

Our school gardens are as different as the gardeners that work in them. Some of the gardens are growing edibles. Other gardens are built for the pollinators. The garden at Argyle Elementary School, in Smyrna, was planted to draw birds to the garden, so the children can watch and record data. Garrett Middle School in Austell also sports a pollinator/ birding style of garden. The school gardens are not just managed by classroom teachers and science teachers. They are cared for by counselors, assistant principals, media specialists, and special needs teachers. King Springs Primary School garden is cared for by the school custodian. Week after week our teacher master gardeners and other energetic faculty work with children, the future Cobb County gardeners in their school gardens.

West Cobb Christian Academy, Still Elementary School, Floyd Middle School, and Kennesaw Charter Science and Math Academy are venturing into hydroponics. Still Elementary School boasts two garden clubs with a total of forty children participating after school. Dowell Elementary School’s “ Dig in the Dirt” club has 100 children in the garden club led by counselor Dr. Geraldine Bryant. She meets with 25 each week with a lot of parent support.

One of the oldest school gardens in Cobb is a private school at Midway Covenant School. Led by master gardener Becky Blades, the children look forward to planting and eating the produce from their garden. Birney Elementary School’s after school gardeners have entered horticulture in the North GA Fair for 5 years. They won many ribbons, and two are the coveted “Best in Show” ribbons. Due West Elementary School under the leadership of Master Gardener, Rita Fullick, boasts a garden centered on math concepts. Vaughn Elementary School has given their scout troops a place to garden on their campus. Master gardener, Michele Gambon, leads Sawyer Road Elementary School, a Marietta City green school. This school has a beautiful garden shaped like a star with a focus on composting.

The teachers are involved. The children are involved. The master gardeners are involved. School gardens are really “growing” in Cobb’s schools.

Garden Start-Up Guide : Easy Steps to Building a School Garden

1.   Desire and commitment.:  Since this is a school project, it is very important to have the support of the principal or vice principal as well as a sponsor … a teacher or administrator.
2. Find others that are interested. Find out who is interested in being involved by sending out a flyer, making an announcement, or making a video.  Have an introductory meeting. Be sure you announce to local groups:  PTA, teachers, churches, master gardeners, and boy scouts.
3. Choose the site of the garden: Sun.  A vegetable garden needs five to eight hours of full, direct sun every day for plants to be healthy. (Leafy vegetables like lettuce need at least five hours.  Fruiting vegetables like tomatoes need at least eight hours.)  The sun changes during the seasons, but in general a garden that is on the south or west side of a building will do better for vegetables than one on the north or east side. The site will determine if you will build raised bed boxes above the ground or put your garden directly into the ground. Note that it is often safer to build beds than to remove asphalt and work with the soil underneath, because chemicals from the asphalt can leach into the soil over time.
4. Water: Hoses are heavy and often can’t be left in the schoolyard.  You will want to build your garden as close as possible to a water spigot, hose bib, or install one near your garden site.
5. Drainage:  Most plants will die if they sit in soggy soil. Make sure that the site you choose isn’t the lowest place on campus.  Watch where water sits longest after it rains and you’ll know where you don’t want to build your garden.  If the low spot is the only place where you can make your garden, modify the
site by bringing in gravel to raise the ground level and use raised beds.
6. Soil:  You can build a garden on asphalt by using raised beds.  If you are going to use soil that is already on campus, it is important to have it tested by a reputable company.  Some vegetables can
become unhealthy to eat if they are grown in contaminated soil. Testing will cost about $35-$50.
7. Access:  The garden needs to be close enough to classrooms that it can be used regularly. A garden that is out of sight is hard to monitor, maintain, and enjoy! However, it is important to note that an nfenced garden requires more community involvement to avoid vandalism and theft that can occur when people feel jealous because they are outside of the garden community.
8. Tool Storage:  Choose a location to store and secure tools close to the garden so that transporting tools isn’t a chore.
9. Community Work Day: There are many times that you may need to have many hands to make light work. When you build raised beds, preparing for Spring planting, or catching up with weed pulling in the summer, are times that need to assemble all of the gardeners to work together. It is important to have refreshments and plenty of drinking water available on work days. Getting ready for the workday requires a lot of planning. You will need to publicize the day to the gardeners, assemble the tools (shovels, trowels, garbage bags, wheel barrels, rakes, etc). If you are building raised beds, the construction supplies are needed as well. Have a crew manager and ask the other members to follow his/her guidance. Rotate the manager position so that others will have the opportunity for the leadership role.
10. Training of your garden club and other volunteers. Club members should be available during the school day or after school for a few hours every week to learn about gardening and practice in the garden. Present basic gardening information at club meetings, so that the members will be more skilled as the school year progresses.
By Master Gardener Rita Fullick

For additional information from UGA see:

Building School Gardens for Longevity

It is easy to be ambitious in the planning stage of building a garden-but programs change over time. Parents and teachers come and go. The once flourishing garden can turn into a mass of weeds. Start small, build a team, make a plan with clear priorities, and find resources.

Garden Maintenance:        

Plan convenient work times to build, maintain, plant, etc.

Plan the work to accomplish.

Know how many are coming so you can have needed tools there.

Give assignments or list the tasks for folks to self- assign.

Program Changes:

Anticipate change

Plan for back- ups

Plan for transition of the garden

Plan to repurpose space or phase out as interest declines

You want the work to be rewarding not a nightmare.

Keys to longevity of the garden

Strong initial plan

Plan for change

Build to sustain interest, rather than overwhelm

Integrate garden into the infrastructure of school.

Involve stakeholders

Team approach

Evaluate (what is working and what is not working)