Clark County Green News

Current Green Schools news, articles and information

Setting Up a New School Garden and Outdoor Classroom Space

Washington Elementary Garden Opening, 2018

The Lower Columbia Nature Network (LCNN) recently hosted a teacher workshop highlighting the value of outdoor classrooms and gardens in our local schools. This workshop focused on various topics including how to start a new school garden and outdoor learning space, garden organization, summer garden maintenance and resources available for educators.

Starting a New School Garden and Outdoor Classroom Space 

Setting up the school garden at Washington Elementary, 2018

When setting up a new outdoor learning space or school garden, a School Garden Committee can be crucial to success. Members of your School Garden Committee ideally should include students, parents, teachers, school administration, PTA representatives and community volunteers.

Support from administration is critical and can be achieved by tying in gardening to other school subjects. Science, language arts, history, and art standards can all be met by incorporating gardening. Additionally, Project Based Learning can easily be conducted in the garden space. One creative example of this comes from River HomeLink, where a social studies class was able to integrate their garden space into a unit on pioneer-era settlers. Students read historical texts from the 19th century that mentioned various plants and then planted these heirloom vegetable and herb varieties in their school garden. This allowed them to learn first-hand about the pioneer experience, while simultaneously building their gardening knowledge.

Establishing an open outdoor classroom space before setting up a garden is a great way to build excitement about outdoor learning within your school. Providing students with safe outdoor exploration spaces for open work time encourages students to learn into nature while learning. Books, notebooks, and even laptops can be taken into the outdoor classroom space for independent study time. 

Garden Organization and Plant Selection 

Students at Washington Elementary planting seeds, 2018

The layout of the garden should be considered before building the space. Remember that the garden will function primarily as an outdoor learning space, so it should include an area large enough for full class gatherings, as well as seating options, such as picnic tables.

Ideas for what to include in your garden space:

  • Native plant area for low maintenance hearty perennials (plants that come back year after year)
  • Design a fruit forest including perennial fruit bearing trees, shrubs, and vines with companion planted annuals
  • Garden bed space for rotating annual (plants that will not return year after year) veggies and herbs
  • Annual flower bed for easy to grow and harvest seed crops such as sunflowers and marigolds
  • Annual vegetables with a fast harvest, shorter growing season, and high return – some examples include lettuce, greens, radishes, and sugar peas

Summer Maintenance and Watering 

One of the most significant barriers to outdoor classrooms in schools is providing the necessary upkeep, especially over the summer, to properly maintain the garden areas year-round. Vegetable gardens require more daily maintenance than perennial plants; however, perennials require more long-term planning and care for years to come.

Ideas for garden summer care:

  • Establish regularly scheduled volunteer workdays during the summer with the School Garden Committee and community volunteers
  • Create a program for students and their families to adopt a plot for summer which they are responsible for maintaining
  • Simply put the garden to sleep for summer – it's better the gardens contain an empty bed than an overgrown bed!
  • If gardens are put to sleep for the summer, it is simple to restart fall crops in August, so that something is ready for the kids when school starts

Ideas for managing garden watering over the summer can include utilizing drip irrigation with a timer, sprinklers on timers and deep watering methods. Natural gardening techniques like heavy mulching around root base and layered lasagna gardening methods can help plants retain water and prevent evaporation. Incorporating an overhead garden shade cloth into your garden design will also help prevent evaporation.


Learn More about School Gardens 

Funding Resources 

Stay Informed

When you subscribe to the blog, we will send you an e-mail when there are new updates on the site so you wouldn't miss them.

International Women's Day: Paving the Way for Girl...
Join us for the Clark County Virtual Winter Educat...