Family Life


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How To Get Started with a School Garden



ACROSS CANADA, more and more schools are helping kids connect with nature and food by planting gardens. While sowing seeds and nurturing young plants leads to a harvest of crunchy carrots, cobs of corn, plump pumpkins and much more, it also brings students together and creates a deeper sense of community. In Victoria, B.C., West-Mont Montessori School’s vegetable garden has captivated students. “The class went to the garden,” said one student. “We smashed pumpkins and got the seeds out and planted them. We dug up potatoes. I got dirty because of digging the potatoes up and mucky because we smashed pumpkins. It was fun!” Another said, “The garden at our school is pretty big. It has lots of fruit and vegetables like strawberries, chives, potatoes and tomatoes. It’s amazing!” The garden has been a lifechanging project, says Stacey Scharf, one of the school’s adult garden organizers. “Last year all 150 students chose the plants each class wanted to grow. The kids planted the seeds, watched them grow in the halls under heat lamps, took them to their garden plots, planted their seedlings, then harvested and ate what they had grown. “We had a fantastic group of hard-working parent volunteers – we even had a super mom selling the extra at the farmer’s market. Our herb garden has been well loved by all for the textures, smells and tastes.” If your child’s school does not have a garden yet, contact your daycare, school principal or parent advisory group to organize one.

Any time is a perfect time to start the planning and fundraising process. For many city kids, it might be their first hands-on connection to nature. Yet gardens are so much more than that. These ‘outdoor classrooms’ enhance the school curriculum by teaching students about math, science, art and nutrition. The first stop for schools interested in starting a garden is Evergreen (, a non-profit organization that provides funding and support to schools across Canada wishing to green their schoolyards through its Toyota Evergreen Learning Grounds program. “A necessary component is creating a sense of adventure while bringing nature into students’ education,” says Cam Collyer, director of Toyota Evergreen Learning Grounds. “As the project develops, strong community involvement will ensure the project’s continued growth and it can make a valuable contribution to students’ lives.”

An Award-Winning School Garden
Edmonton Riverdale School transformed its schoolyard into an award-winning garden that earned it the Emerald Foundation’s Environmental Excellence Award and a visit from the federal minister of the environment. The garden program culminates in an annual community fall gathering – a harvest vegetable soup event – where parents, teachers and students gather to celebrate the success of the year’s plantings. They now have native plants, birdhouses, a rain barrel, composters and more in the gardens. And there may be spin-offs, including a possible solar energy project. The project began with the declaration of a Naturescape Day, when they welcomed guest speakers who outlined possibilities for students, teachers, and the community and the children sang nature songs. The school suggests choosing some plants that mature quickly so children can get instant gratifi cation. Radishes and lettuce, for example, mature early. Sunfl owers and pumpkins grow with large, colourful observable results. Choose three or four main plants to begin with so as not to overwhelm your young budding gardeners.




  • Establish a greening committee.
  • Get approval from the principal and school board.
  • Research and visit other schools to see their projects.
  • Develop a collective vision for the site.
  • Make a site map of your school ground.
  • Develop and present the design to school staff, parents and the community.
  • Create a budget.
  • Fundraise.


  • Establish a maintenance strategy.


  • Plant indoors: Suggestions: lettuce, broccoli, caulifl ower, peppers and herbs.
  • Prepare outdoors: Build raised beds and compost bin, weather permitting.


  • Plant cool-loving seeds or bedding plants such as lettuce, peas, radishes, spinach.
  • Visit the project often to observe, learn and maintain it. A watering plan is crucial.
  • Plant something new every year, even if it’s only a few seeds.
  • Check out The Evergreen website
    for help and ideas. Plants and different areas of the country have
    varying growing seasons. In milder geographic areas you may be able to
    plant outdoors in March or April, but in cooler areas you may have to
    plant in May.


  • Plant other seeds and/ or bedding plants such as carrots, beans, squash and tomatoes.
  • Weed, water and begin to harvest early plantings.
  • Establish a garden maintenance plan with students, staff and parent involvement.


  • Arrange for volunteers to continue maintenance program of weeding and watering.


  • Have a harvest celebration.
  • Make plans for next year!


Published in August 2010. 

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