School Gardens

HORT 6004

School Gardens

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The love of gardening is a seed that once sown never dies
~ Gertrude Jekyll

School gardens come in all shapes and sizes. Some schools have enough space to give each child their own plot or row and others have little or no space and instead use buckets for container gardens. Gardens may have a theme (like a butterfly garden) or be used to teach a specific subject (like environmental studies). They may be created and maintained by one grade level or used by multiple grade levels. Hopefully from this diversity you can see that gardens are extremely flexible teaching tools. Be creative with your resources and build on the imagination of your students when beginning a gardening project. The following information will give you a more in-depth view of where school gardens originated and how to get started.

History of Youth Gardens

Youth Garden Research

Starting a School Garden

History of Youth Gardens

Gardening with children is not a new concept. Children have probably been gardening for food/survival for thousands of years. However, school gardens are about more than gardening for food, they are about using the garden as an instrument to teach. The following timeline provides you with a brief history of school gardens.

1525 - Botanical garden planted at an Italian University for educational purposes.

16th Century - Quote by Comenius: "A school garden should be connected with every school where children can have opportunities for leisurely gazing upon trees, flowers and herbs and are taught to enjoy them."

17th Century- School gardens spread throughout Europe.

1869 - Austrian mandate that all schools must have school garden (followed by similar measures in Germany, Sweden, Belgium, France, Russia and England).

1890 - First official US school garden at George Putnam School of Roxbury, Massachusetts for wildflowers and vegetables.

1897 - Boy's Garden established by the National Cash Register Company to instill good work ethic.

Early 20th Century - Large US cities incorporated school gardens including Philadelphia, Cleveland and Washington D.C.

World War I and World War II - Gardens popular as a sign of patriotism.

20th Century - School gardens continue to grow!

Greene, M.L. 1910. Among School Gardens. Russell Sage Foundation, New York.

Miller, L.K. 1904. Children's Gardens. D. Appleton and Company, New York.

Waliczek, T.M. 1997. The effect of school gardens on self-esteem, on interpersonal relationships, attitude toward school, and environmental attitude in populations of children. PhD dissertation, Texas A&M University.

Youth Garden Research

Research has shown that gardening positively impacts:

Environmental attitudes
Nutritional attitudes
Achievement test scores
Attitudes toward school
Interpersonal skills
Social concerns
Student behavior

The following information contains brief summaries of youth gardening research findings. Please keep in mind that these results relate to specific programs/curricula and findings can not be generalized to apply to other situations.

  • Virginia Tech, Virginia (1996): In a survey of teachers that garden in the classroom, 75% of teachers reported that student behavior often or always improves when a garden is the learning environment. When asked if school gardens were a successful teaching tool, 35.2% said gardens were somewhat successful and 60.6% said they were very successful.
    More information: Click here
  • Virginia Tech, Virginia (1995): A 1995 survey of teachers in Virginia found that 88% of the respondents were interested in incorporating horticulture/gardening into the classroom; 785 of the respondents said that additional training was needed; 86% said that volunteer support for gardening programs was important.
    More information: Dobbs, K., D. Relf & A. McDaniel. (1998). Survey on the needs of elementary education teachers to enhance the use of horticulture or gardening in the classroom. HortTechnology. 8(3), 370-373.
  • Virginia Tech, Virginia (1998): A study of six juvenile offenders' responses to a vocational horticulture curriculum indicated that vocational horticulture curricula may be a tool to strengthen a delinquent individual's bonds with society and, subsequently, evoke changes in attitudes about personal success and perceptions of personal job preparedness. The youth in this study increased their social bonds in all six categories addressed by the pre and posttests, and were motivated to think more practically about their careers.
    More information: McGuinn, C. & P.D. Relf. (2001). A Profile of Juvenile Offenders in a Vocational Horticulture Curriculum. HortTechnology. Accepted for publication.
  • Texas A&M University, Texas (1997): Study found school garden curriculum improved environmental attitudes especially in younger students.
    More information: Click here
  • Texas A&M University, Texas (1998): Study found that implemented school garden curriculum improved interpersonal skills and environmental attitudes.
    More information: Click here
  • Texas A&M University, Texas (1998): A research study found that a horticulture program for juvenile delinquents resulted in improvement in horticulture knowledge and environmental attitudes.
    More information: Click here
  • UC Davis, California (2000): Study found that their school gardening program and nutrition curriculum changed children's appreciation for vegetables.
    More information: Click here
  • Texas A&M University, Texas (1999): A study found that school gardening and nutrition curriculum improved students' attitude towards vegetables and fruit and vegetable snacks.
    More information: Click here
  • Tucson, Arizona (1987): A study indicated that children that participated in their school garden improved attitudes towards healthy foods and that the vegetables grown by students had a high intrinsic value.
    More information: Cavaliere, D. (1987). How zucchini won fifth-grade hearts. Children Today, 16(3), 18-21.
  • National Gardening Association (1992): In 1992, the National Gardening Association conducted a study of third and fifth grade classrooms using the GrowLab curriculum. GrowLab classrooms scored higher than control classrooms in students' understanding of life science concepts and science inquiry skills. Students in fifth grade classrooms in the same study scored higher than control classes on attitude scales measuring "concern for the environment" and "confidence in ability to do science."
    More information: Click here
  • Columbia, South Carolina (1992): A garden-based language arts program found that participants had an increase in positive attitudes toward school, an increase in achievement test scores and an increase in self-esteem.
    More information: Click here
  • Bexar County, Texas (1998): A study in Bexar County indicated that their school garden program resulted in increased self-esteem, development of a sense of ownership and responsibility and helped foster family relationships and increased parental involvement.
    More information: Alexander, J. & D. Hendren. (1998). Bexar County Master Gardener Classroom Garden Research Project: Final Report. San Antonio, Texas.
  • Manhattan, Kansas (1988): Children that participated in a summer community garden program displayed an increase in horticultural knowledge.
    More information: Williams, P.N. & R.H. Mattson. (1988). Horticultural activities and demographic factors influence children's self-esteem. Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture. 3: 39-54.
  • Columbus, Ohio (1986): Children that participated in horticultural activities demonstrated more group cohesiveness and more knowledge of plant anatomy than those did not participate in the activities.
    More information: Bunn, D.E. (1986). Group cohesiveness is enhanced as children engage in plant stimulated discovery activities. Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture. 1: 37- 43.

Starting a School Garden

Gardeners, like plants, invariably grow from small beginnings
~ Geraldene Holt

You do not have to cultivate an acre garden to incorporate horticulture activities in your classroom. Gardens can consist of one small plot, a collection of containers, a shelf with fluorescent lights or even a window with sunlight. Start out small and design the garden to fit with your classroom's needs and resources. The following sites provide information on starting a school garden:

For more information contact the Virginia Tech Horticulture Department at:
Office of Environmental Horticulture, Virginia Tech
407 Saunders Hall, 0327
Blacksburg, VA 24061-0327
(540) 231-2714 or

Equal Opportunity/ Affirmative Action Statement of Virginia Tech

Created Spring 2001, Last Modified April 8, 2002