sowing seeds The case for gardening in schools has perhaps never been stronger – it encourages exercise and healthy eating and helps to ensure that children ‘reconnect with nature’ – as discussed in the initial post on school gardening.

Today, in the first of a series of posts on the practical steps to creating a successful School Garden, I’m looking at how to get your project up and running.

Where do you start? How do you build up the momentum that’ll be needed to turn your dreams into  reality? How can you get the resources you need to get it off the ground? Here are 7 steps to help get your school gardening project off the starting blocks.

1. Do your homework- check out the internet for advice and ideas about school garden learning and explore other school gardens in your area. This research will help you to firm up your ideas and think about how you might present them. Talk to those involved in the school gardens you visit – their advice and experience is priceless. And they might even offer to help you get started!

2. Make the Case – so how do you get the key people on your side? If you’re a volunteer, float your idea with one or more teachers who you think might be sympathetic and explore the idea a bit further (if you’re a teacher speak with your colleagues and sound out some parents). Once you’ve firmed up your initial thoughts, it’s time to get the Head teacher on board. You need to have a clear outline of what the project is going to achieve and how it could benefit the school’s approach to learning in general (including curriculum links if possible) and ‘learning outside the classroom’ in particular – so think ‘outdoor classroom’ and use this key phrase in your plans. Your outline should ideally include a suggested location for the garden, rough design,timescale and how the garden will be established and looked after. It might also be an idea to say how you think progress will be monitored and reported. If you are able to convice a number of teachers, governors, parents and friends of the School, so much the better.

Hedge planting- put some natural boundaries around your garden with community effort!

Hedge planting- put some natural boundaries around your garden with community effort!

3. Build a team – you  will not create the garden alone, even less ensure its effective ongoing use. You need to build a team around the project which can do the many things needed. A committee/ steering group/ project team of some sort needs to be set up and at this stage. It will be important to get all the key interests in the project involved; later on your committee structure might be slimmed down as individual roles start to pan out and inevitably some people lose interest. So who should you target? Keep an eye out for parents who can bring particular skills, assets (mini diggers!) or contacts to the project  – these might be builders, gardeners, landscapers, forestry workers, publicists or funding bid writers and so on. Establishing a broad and varied support base at this stage will set the project on a positive course. Hold formal meetings to develop your project but also use the web to communicate. Don’t forget to ask the Head, teachers and governors to be on the committee – their involvement at this stage is important, but may reduce once the project is flying!

4. Think ahead – as the project develops it will become clear what the real goals will be and the main lines of action you’ll need to take to achieve these. Being clear, concise and friendly will help to communicate the project effectively. At the same time, be patient – it’s natural to want to launch right into construction works, but it will take time for your project to evolve and the learning opportunities to be firmed up, which will in turn have a bearing on your design, layout, routine etc. So it’s important to have detailed discussions with the teachers who will make use of their ‘outdoor classroom’. This discussion may take anything from a few months to a year.

picture- RHS

picture- RHS

5. ‘Quick wins’ to promote your cause – whilst it will take time to clarify your overall objectives and start to firm up your design, you can keep up the momentum and start to generate wider interest. Plan activities which will test out some ideas and generate interest ; e.g. can you start to grow things in containers around the school and get children involved in cultivating flowers or food in these? A little project starting with seed sowing in the classroom and eventually seeing mature plants placed outside will demonstrate what can be achieved and get the children on board.

6. Check possible barriers to progress and get permissions – check out whether your outline design has implications for the school’s utilities or the way it operates,  and if you need them get permissions in principle before going much further with your design work. For example, a reliable source of water nearby is an important if not vital consideration – will this be possible from existing outside taps/ rainwater harvesting or do you need to get another connection installed? Will this be acceptable to the school?

7. Secure the start-up resources – once you have a clear, albeit outline, view of your project and the design of the garden, it’s time to firm up what resources you’ll need to get the project established and get commitments for these. Some of these can be ‘promises’ of help from well skilled/equipped parents or friends of the school. But you’ll probably need some start up cash – to purchase materials, tools, seed etc.  Sources internal to the school can be approached – the school budget if possible, but more likely a Parents/ Friends Association. Then you can explore outside sources including local charities as well as national programmes like the Big Lottery.

Once you have a strong team around you, a clear plan with the start up resources you need and a growing awareness and support from the school and wider community, it’s time to get serious! In the next post on School Gardening I share some tips about planning and designing your new space for growing children!

Source: ‘How to grow a School Garden- a Complete Guide for Parents and Teachers’- Arden Bucklin-Sporer and Rachel Kathleen Pringle, Timber Press Books 2010

Useful websites:

Garden Organic support for Schools

RHS Campaign for School Gardening

RHS young gardener of the year 2013

Learning outside the classroom- manifesto

Learning through landscapes

Setting up and running a school garden- UN Food and Agriculture organisation

Morrisons ‘Let’s Grow’

Cawston Primary School Garden following work by a 'Garden Gang' event last Saturday

Cawston Primary School Garden following work by a ‘Garden Gang’ event last Saturday

Old School Gardener

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