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School Gardens

School Garden Checklist

Whether you're looking for a new way to capture your students' interest as the weather breaks or you simply need to add some life to your classroom or school, planting a school garden will do the trick! School gardens offer opportunities for fun and physical activity while serving as an important educational tool to help students understand how healthy food is produced. Before you start a garden of your own, read this step-by-step guide, which offers important information about how to safely grow your own fruits and vegetables with your students.

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1.  Site Selection 
Finding the best location for your garden project will require some investigation. Tarmac, dry earth, mud, and empty fields can be turned into green grounds, outdoor laboratories, vegetable plots, herb gardens, play spaces and study areas. Use these questions to guide your thinking, and then decide on the garden location accordingly.   


  • Is the site easy and safe for both students and teachers to access?

  • Is there a nearby and dependable water source?

  • Is the site protected from vandals, rodents or other potential threats?

  • Is the area big enough to allow for future growth?

  • Is the site exposed to sunlight at least 6 hours a day, if planting flowers, herbs and vegetables?

  • Is the soil contaminated with lead or other heavy metals?

Parking lots, courtyards, rooftops, greenhouses, and schoolyards can all be potential sites. If it is not possible to have a garden at the school, consider options within the community like city parks or vacant lots, places of worship, nature centers, retirement centers, and community gardens. You will want to avoid locations that are exposed to nearby pollutants like highways, airports, industry smokestacks, or areas referred to as brownfields. If space is very limited, consider gardening in containers. You might even find that the ideal spot is indoors instead of outside.

2.  Soil Health

Soil is the foundation on which gardens are built. Good soil is an essential ingredient in a healthy school garden. It’s important to collect soil samples to identify the soil quality of the proposed garden site. Have your soil tested for pH, nutrients, and lead contamination by a soil testing laboratory. If your site is contaminated, the simplest solution may be to find another site or try container gardening with different soil. Contact your nearest Cooperative Extension office to learn how to take a soil sample and where to send it for analysis. 

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3.  Designing for Students
Engage the entire school community including parents, students at every grade level, teachers, administrators, food service staff, and local partners in the design of the garden. Hold a brainstorming session where everyone gets to share ideas and design concepts. Develop a design plan that students will find interesting and exciting. The school grounds can be:

  • a source of food for improving children’s diet and nutrition

  • a source of healthy influences -- physical activity, ingredients for school meals

  • an area of learning -- about nature, agriculture, nutrition, math, and other subjects

  • a place of pleasure and recreation -- flowers and shrubs, play areas, shade, eating areas

  • a continuing lesson in respecting the environment and taking pride in one’s school

  • a gathering spot for your community to socialize

4.  Plant Palette 

Have older students survey younger students about what plants to grow. Choose a palette of plants that are safe (no poisonous fruits, large thorns or weak limbs), healthy (resistant to disease or pests), low maintenance, desirable in size and shape, and suitable to your climate. You can select plants based on a theme, such as a storybook or science lesson, to connect with what is being taught in the classroom. Selecting appropriate plants requires knowledge of what plants will survive and grow year after year in your region of the United States. Do you know your growing zone? Use the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to find out. Springfield is in Zone 5b and 6a. See list below for plants that grow best here.

Plant hardiness map.png


  • Asparagus

  • Beans

  • Beets

  • Bell Peppers

  • Broccoli

  • Brussel Sprouts

  • Cabbage

  • Carrots

  • Onions

  • Parsnips

  • Peas

  • Potatoes

  • Pumpkins

  • Radishes

  • Spinach

  • Tomatoes


  • Apples

  • Blackberries

  • Blueberries

  • Cantaloupe

  • Cherries

  • Grapes

  • Peaches

  • Pears

  • Celery

  • Chives

  • Corn

  • Cucumbers

  • Eggplant

  • Garlic

  • Lettuce

  • Raspberries

  • Strawberries


  • Rosemary

  • Thyme

  • Sage

  • Mint

  • Cilantro


  • Asters              

  • Astilbe             

  • Blackeyed Susans        

  • Butterfly Bush

  • Coneflowers   

  • Crocuses         

  • Daffodils         

  • Daisies            

  • Delphiniums

  • Gladiolus          

  • Hyacinths

  • Hydrangeas

  • Irises               

  • Lillies               

  • Pansies

  • Peonies            

  • Phylox

  • Rhododendron

  • Sedum

4.  Plant Palette 
Have older students survey younger students about what plants to grow. Choose a palette of plants that are safe (no poisonous fruits, large thorns or weak limbs), healthy (resistant to disease or pests), low maintenance, desirable in size and shape, and suitable to your climate. You can select plants based on a theme, such as a storybook or science lesson, to connect with what is being taught in the classroom. Selecting appropriate plants requires knowledge of what plants will survive and grow year after year in your region of the United States. Do you know your growing zone? Use the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to find out. Springfield is in Zone 5b and 6a. See list below for plants that grow best here.

5.  Build and Use the Garden
Encourage students to share their ideas and include them in the building and planting of the garden – get their hands in the soil every step of the way. Their participation will instill a sense of ownership, pride, and responsibility among students. Teachers and garden leaders should provide activities that keep all kids engaged. Use the garden to connect students to the source of their food. Plant herbs, fruits, and vegetables that are easy to grow, pick, and cook and you’ll succeed at introducing a greater variety of fruits and vegetables to youth.


Steps to Getting Started at Your School
1.  Work with your school’s leadership team for approval and support
2.  Contact the garden coordinator , John Alphin, at the Parks Department to discuss possibilities and gain approval from the School Committee  413-886-5116.
3.  Consider establishing a gardening team including:

Principal/Assistant Principals
Custodial staff
School Nurse
District Dietitian
Food service provider

Neighborhood groups
Local Businesses
Gardening Clubs


Having a strong gardening team is vital to planning, implementation, and ongoing success of your gardening program and can help address such as issues as:

  • The gardening maintenance schedule

  • Tending the garden during school breaks

  • Funding and resources to sustain the garden

When considering your garden, you will need to decide:

  1. What is your goal for this project?

  2. What type of garden do you want?

    1. Indoor vs outdoor

    2. If outdoor, raised beds, in-ground, or cement planters

    3. How much room do you have?  (ideally you want good south-facing sun)

  3. What will you grow? (veggies, fruits, herbs, flowers)

  4. What equipment and supplies do you need to get started?

  5. How much will it cost?

  6. How will it be funded?

  7. What will you do with the product grown? 

    1. Distribute to students

    2. Hold taste tests

    3. Use in school lunches (requires special circumstances)

    4. Hold a farmer’s market

    5. Sell as a healthy fundraiser

  8. How to best integrate the gardening curriculum into current studies?

Plotting Your Outdoor School Garden
The following is a great method that will allow you to visualize your garden space as it is now and will help you to envision 
what you, your students, and your colleagues want it to look like in the future.

1) 3 people to measure the lot and write down measurements
2) 50 – 100 foot tape measure
3) 4 pieces of 8" x 11” graph paper
4) Pencils
5) Ruler
6) Compass
7) String
8) Stakes (large moderately straight sticks can be used as a substitute)
9) Hammer


1)   Tape the 4 sheets of graph paper together.
2a) If your lot has a building beside it, use the edge of the building as a guideline and place stakes at either end,
measure the length. 
2b) If your lot is in the open, make your own guideline with string.
Place stakes on the border from one end of the garden to the other.
3) Repeat the above step for the entire perimeter. Once you have the dimensions of the plot, use one square on your graph paper for each foot (or a different ratio if you like) and draw your lot on the graph paper.
4) Place a compass directly on level ground inside the garden.
Note which direction is north and double-check this by turning the compass slightly in either direction.
Note north, south, east, and west on the margins of the graph paper. 
5) Starting at the top left corner of your lot map, note the permanent structures, plants, bodies of water, planting beds, etc. Place a stake next to the item and a stake where the top of your map is and measure the distance, do the same for the distance from the left side of the map.
6) Measure the size of the item you wish to add and, using the distances from step 5, count the appropriate number of spaces down and across from the top left corner of your map. Once you’re sure of its corresponding location on the map draw the item and label it. ​

Essential items for your map should include:
a) adjacent buildings
b) shrubs and trees
c) water hydrants or spigots
d) sidewalks and streets
e) pathways/walkways
f) fences or walls
h) rubble heaps or rocks
j) large holes you want filled
Once you have your lot map you can make copies and begin to draw in future projects and plans. The above exercise can be used in lessons, especially math and history classes where geometry and geography are topics covered.

Local Resources

Sheriff’s Office  413-732-5772
Putnam Vocational High School  413-787-7424
Gardening the Community  413-693-5340
Local Farmers (see directory at
Local stores with garden centers:  Lowe’s, Home Depot, Walmart, Sixteen Acres Garden Center

Collins Compost

Home Depot
Sixteen Acres Garden Center

(Check with your Parks Department, Administrators, and District Dietitian for the availability of existing funds and for assistance with grant writing)
Home Depot 
USDA Farm to School Grants 
Whole Kids Foundation 
Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation Grants
The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation, 
Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom,  
Action for Healthy Kids

How-To Resources for Getting Started

Forming local partnerships is an excellent way to leverage resources and gain access to needed materials, tools, funding, volunteers, and technical assistance. USDA’s People’s Garden website has how-to videos and databases filled with garden-based learning curricula, free seed and funding sources, and healthy gardening practices. You can call on an Extension
Master Gardener volunteer in your area to help with your garden. The long-term success of your school garden will depend a great deal on relationships with partners. Many hands make light work!

The above Information was provided courtesy of USDA’s People’s Garden Initiative.
For more gardening resources visit:

American Horticultural Society
   A list of resources for starting a garden with young people.Includes curricula, supplies, grants, and educational materials.

Digging Deeper: Integrating Youth Gardens Into Schools & Communities-A Comprehensive Guide
   Kiefer, Joseph and Martin Kemple, Food Works and the Common Roots Press in Partnership with the American Community 
   Gardening Association (ACGA), 1998.
   A beautifully illustrated step-by-step guide for organizing and constructing children's gardens;  This book is full of seasonal 
   gardening activities and project ideas designed to cultivate high academic performance across the subject areas.

California School Garden Network
   A downloadable comprehensive guidebook that includes step-by-step information, instructions, and resources for anyone 
   looking to enhance learning through the use of gardens in schools. This key reference guide was developed by a team of 
   experienced garden educators, nutritionists, state officials, and other garden experts.

The School Garden Wizard: United States Botanic Garden and Chicago Botanic Garden
   Allows you to download guides in PDF format that will walk you through the process of creating a school garden, from writing 
   a proposal to integrating the garden into your curriculum case”plus sections on every other relevant aspect. 
   It contains easy drop-down menus.

Aggie Horticulture Network: Texas A&M University
   This site provides a good introduction to school gardening, including a step-by-step guide to building a school garden, ideas 
   for themes and curricula, and ways to incorporate nutrition education into gardening. Also includes an outline of a year's 
   worth of weekly gardening lesson plans.

School Garden Program  San Diego County, University of California Cooperative Extension
   Step-by-step information on how to start and sustain a school garden, from the planning and design through supplies and 
   garden management responsibility.

Growing Gardens
   Growing Gardens works to build community gardens throughout Portland, Oregon and involves students in school gardens 
   as well as after-school clubs, summer garden camps, teen service and parent/child workshops. The website includes 
   information on starting a garden, garden-based curricula, and other gardening and farm-related information, primarily links to 
   other great sources.

American Horticultural Society
   Includes links to the National Children & Youth Garden Symposium, the Partnership for Plant-Based Education, a National 
   Database of Children’s Gardens, and an extensive list of resources for all aspects of planning and implementing school 

City Farmer
   This Canadian site links to current and past school gardening projects and contains information on books, organizations, and 
   other resources.

Edible Schoolyard
   The Edible Schoolyard integrates gardening into the curriculum and lunch programs of Martin Luther King Jr Middle School in 
   Berkeley, CA. The website includes curricula, tool kits, supplies, grant information, and technical support.

Kids Gardening,  National Gardening Association
   Includes information on garden design, school greenhouses, hydroponics, and classroom projects, as well as stories about 
   and advice from existing gardens;   The Grow Lab curriculum available through the website is specifically geared toward 
   classroom growing.

Let’s Start a School Garden:  Center for a Livable Future, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg Sch. of Public Health
   An excellent downloadable PDF toolkit for starting a school garden, including justification for gardening, organizing, design 
   considerations, and numerous resources.

The Growing Connection
   The Growing Connection (TGC) is a grassroots project developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United 
   Nations and supported by a progressive coalition of private and public sector partners. It links people and cultures through low
   -cost water-efficient and sustainable food growing innovations, using technology and information exchange. All participants in 
   the program use the EarthBox system, whichcan be used in classrooms as well as outside.

School Sprouts Educational Gardens
   A great resource for designing, implementing, and maintaining a successful garden program.

Get Your Hands Dirty: Growing Schools
   The Growing Schools website, from the UK, has been designed to support teachers in using the “outdoor classroom” as a 
   resource across the curriculum for pupils of all ages. Get Your Hands Dirty helps teachers consider the issues involved in
   growing plants or caring for animals in schools. Free downloadable materials with ideas, practical advice, educational 
   reasons, and case studies.

How to Start a School Garden,  EECoM’s Marin Food System’s Project
   A brief and clear downloadable guide with specific information particularly helpful in choosing and designing a garden site.

Green School Guidelines, Antioch New England Institute
   The guidelines address five key components of Green Schools, which include school-based gardening, including: curriculum 
   integration, school grounds enhancement, community-based integration, school sustainability, and administrative support. A 
   matrix illustrates different levels of guideline implementation.

School Garden Resources,  Nebraska Statewide Arboretum
   This website offers resources to help design, maintain, and utilize an outdoor space for educational purposes.

Boston Schoolyard Initiative
   Describes the inclusive community design process used as part of the Boston Schoolyard Initiative (BSI), a public/private 
   partnership that was formally launched in 1995 and is still in operation.  By the end of 2010, the BSI will have worked with 
   and improved schoolyards at approximately 85 schools for all grade levels across Boston’s many diverse neighborhoods.

Urban Harvest
   A Houston-based non-profit that teaches organic gardening techniques, helps neighborhoods build community gardens, 
   creates outdoor classrooms at schools, and more. Includes specifics about budgeting, construction, and supplies for starting 
   a school or community garden.

Gardening Within Arm's Reach: Gardening and experiencing nature for the visually handicapped. How to set up a garden with 
   this in mind.  Schuman, Hans (1998) Bartimeus, Zeist. The Nether lands.
   Designing a garden specifically for children with visual impairment.

Our Super Garden by Anne Nagro

Evidence-Based Outcomes 

Research & Policy Supporting Garden-Based Learning
   California School Garden Network
   This section of the CSGN website provides access to research articles, reports, and related documents that provide the 
   research base for considering garden-based learning within various educational settings. It features resources to assist in 
   assessing the outcomes and impacts of gardening with children.
A Healthy Nutrition Environment: Linking Education, Activity, and Food through School Gardens
   California Department of Education
   A downloadable summary of the research-based evidence that California’s school gardens have impact on children’s health, 
   nutrition, and academic achievement. School Gardens Measure Up: What Research Tells Us

National Gardening Association
   A compilation of the findings of research on a variety of measures, including literacy skills, self-esteem, environmental 
   attitudes, nutrition, social skills and behaviors, and special needs. Revisiting garden based learning in basic education: 
    Philosophical roots, historical foundations, best practices and products, impacts, outcomes, and future directions

American Horticultural Society
   This summary by Daniel Desmond of a study commissioned by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations' 
   Extension, Education and Communication Service and the UNESCO/International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) 
   describes garden-based learning, relevant literature, principles, best practices, impacts, and outcomes. A complete copy of 
   the report can be downloaded from paper for SD.doc.

School Gardens Plus Nutrition Lessons Equal Science Literacy  National Science Teachers Association
   Summary of findings from recent studies. NSTA Reports--Debra Shapiro, 2/5/2007.
Healthy Gardens Healthy People,  Collective Roots
   Collective Roots works with youth and adults to design and sustain organic gardens and project-based education that is 
   integrated into the core needs of schools, communities, and environments. The website includes references to sources of 
   evidence about the various benefits of gardens and the links between health and school gardens.

A Child’s Garden of Standards,  California Department of Education
   This downloadable guide is designed to show how garden-based education strongly supports the State's academic content 
   standards. Although it is not a curriculum, the guide links specific lessons to specific standards for grades two through six 
   and offers support for the educational value of garden-based learning.


Alexander, Jacquelyn, Mary-Wales North, and Deborah K. Hendren (1995). “Master Gardener Classroom Garden Project: An 
   Evaluation of the Benefits to Children.”Children’s Environments 12(2): 123-133. 
   Retrieved from

Graham, H., D.L. Beall, M. Lussier, P. McLaughlin, and S. Zidenberg-Cherr, (2005). Use of school gardens in academic 
   instruction. J Nutr Educ Behav, 37(3), 147-51.

Graham, H. and Sheri Zidenberg-Cherr (2005). California teachers perceive school gardens as an effective nutritional tool to 
   promote healthful eating habits. J Am Diet Association, 105 (11):1797-800.

McAleese, Jessica D. and Linda L. Rankin (2007). Garden-Based Nutrition Education Affects Fruit and Vegetable Consumption 
   in Sixth-Grade Adolescents. J Am Diet Assoc. 2007;107:662-665. 
   Retrieved from

Ozer, E. J. (2007). The Effects of School Gardens on Students and Schools: Conceptualization and Considerations for 
   Maximizing Health Development. Health Education & Behavior, 34(6), 846-863.

Zaplatosch, Jaime (2006). Do Youth Gardening Experiences Lead To Greater Education Opportunities?, Master of Education 
   thesis, DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois. 

For More Information on Springfield Public Schools’ Gardening Program
​Springfield, Massachusetts
Please contact:
John Alphin, School Garden Coordinator

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