When you've defined the mission and goals for your project, you can begin to design the physical space to best meet the needs of those goals. Most of your garden will be used for planting, but there are many other physical attributes that help to make a successful school garden. Consider your design as more than just a bird's-eye view—what will your garden look like from a distance? How will it respond to a large crowd? Some things to consider when planning your garden:
Physical Needs for Growth
- Soil: One of your first and most important tasks is to take soil samples from the area where the garden will be and send them off to be tested. This will help to ensure that your soil does not have any contaminants, or may help you decide to pursue raised-bed gardening with new soil. A soil test will also determine your soil structure and will help to define which amendments will be most helpful to add. For more information, contact your state's Agricultural Extension Service. They will provide instructions for a soil test as well as information on interpreting the results.
- Water: Easy access to water is crucial, and multiple hose hookups for irrigation may be necessary if you live in a hot or arid climate. At the same time, be sure that the land you're growing on has proper drainage – if the soil is often waterlogged, you may want to consider a raised bed system of planting.
- Sun: Most vegetables need at least six hours of direct sunlight to be successful, and some need many more. Be sure you're not in the shadow of nearby buildings or trees.
Other Potential Garden Needs
- Space to start seeds
- Washing and cleaning space for hands and harvest
Accessibility and Visibility
- Consider your garden as a beautiful sight to passers-by and as a space that children can enjoy exploring when not in an activity.
- Some gardens attached to playgrounds will open for supervised use during recess, allowing children an added relationship with the space.
- Consider that, if your garden isn't next to the school, teachers will be less likely to use it for curriculum.
People of all ages and physical characteristics will visit and use your garden. Make sure that pathways and signage are clear and provide a shady spot for resting or eating lunch for your many visitors.
Where will you keep your tools, seeds, or curriculum materials? Inside the school, in weatherproof storage, or in an outdoor shed?
Compost is a vital part of the garden cycle and an incredible teaching tool. Many types of compost systems are available, but a three-tier system is most popular for school gardens and allows for a wonderful visualization of the decomposition process.
Be sure your compost piles are accessible with a wheelbarrow and in a corner of the garden where the smell of decomposition will not deter any wary visitors.
A space to gather and provide orientation to classes, volunteers, or tour groups before they head into the garden. The meeting area is a good space to share the school garden rules and behavior expectations
Depending on your area, your garden may be in danger of damage by animals or vandalism. Some sort of fence that still allows for visibility may be helpful, and can also help to let visiting students understand the physical boundaries of the space.
Hopes for the Future and Room for Growth
Do you dream of a small greenhouse? Cold frames? Chickens? Fruit trees? A brick oven? Keep these hopes in mind as you plan out your space—a successful garden project can grow quite quickly!
Every garden project will have a different design based on its specific location and mission. If you have the time, go with your planning committee to visit other gardens nearby and get a feel for different layouts. Check out the links at the bottom of this page for more advice on garden design, or work with the following sites to plan out your design online: