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How to start building a school garden

When I was 16, I was introduced to the world of project management. Over the next 20-plus years I went on to work on projects from building a new raised garden bed in my own back garden to retrofitting a power station in South Africa. Regardless of the size of the project, the fundamental reason for success (or failure) was people. And it’s the people aspect that you need to think about first and foremost when putting a garden into a school.

I now head up OKE, a charity I founded that’s raising support for gardens in schools in south Auckland.

If OKE has learnt one thing over the last couple of years of putting fruit and vegetable gardens into schools, it’s that the building of the garden is the easy part. There are plenty of plans on the interweb for a garden and you can binge watch YouTube videos on how to build a raised bed.

What you don’t find so easily is how to get people on board with the garden. Well before a nail is hammered into a piece of wood, the discussion needs to be had with the teachers at the school to understand who is going to take responsibility for the garden. There needs to be a team of at least six enthusiastic people (be they teachers, parents, board members etc.) who are going to be dedicated to making the garden a success.

Do you really need so many people involved? Well, is the garden purely for growing a few veggies or do you want to help the kids to establish a sustainable garden enterprise, which will see future generations of budding gardeners?

Depending on your answers to this, there are then a number of elements to a garden which need to be considered. There is composting, seed raising, planting, maintenance, etc. If you’re planning on your garden having all this, it is way too much for one person to manage along with all their other commitments. Oh and just to give you an idea, to have that sustainable garden enterprise can cost around $10,000.

Once you’ve thought about the scale of the garden your school wants, there needs to be a design for the garden. Then you start the sourcing all the materials, planning of the working bee, recruiting of volunteers, so you might feel a little daunted. But don’t be, this is a lot easier than it seems. It just takes time and as mentioned, the right people. If you’ve got the right folks on board at the beginning, when you’re first talking about a school garden, then there will be a greater chance of success and the garden will be pumping out fruit and veggies until the bees come home. Talking of bees, it’s good to think of future projects for the garden when planning the design, so things such as beehives can be built in, if for no other reason than not running out of space in a couple of years.

Putting a garden into your school is possibly one of the best learning tools you can provide your kids. A garden provides an opportunity for all kids and doesn’t pigeonhole like a lot of other activities – think stuff for the sporty kids, the geeky kids, the shy kids.

Everyone can garden and develop the amazing life skills a garden can grow. Just remember that seeds don’t grow into something special overnight, it takes preparation and time. Use these two things to develop your school garden and you’ll have something amazing for generations.