Posts tagged ‘school garden’

Back to School with Community of Gardens

The phrase “back to school” conjures up the crisp scent of falling leaves, the feel of a heavy backpack laden with textbooks . . . and the taste of juicy, late season tomatoes? School gardens have a long history in the United States, from their beginnings in the Progressive era to Victory Gardens during the World Wars, to the raised beds and outdoor classrooms found across schoolyards today. School gardens provide students with access to healthy and fresh food and the space to spend time outside learning about science, history, and everything in between.

glass lantern slides of two students holding baskets of produce and flowers

School garden show hosted by the Summit Garden Club, New Jersey, circa 1900-1920. Hand-colored glass lantern slide, Archives of American Gardens.

As young people across the country head back to the classroom (if they haven’t already), here are a few school garden stories from our Community of Gardens digital archive to inspire teachers and students alike to find time to dig in the dirt and perhaps plant a seed or two this school year:

blooming flowers in the Chewonki garden

The Gardens at Chewonki in Wiscasset, Maine.

The Gardens at Chewonki

High school students, staff, and faculty tend the campus gardens and a saltwater farm with chickens, sheep, and a draft horse at this environmental organization on the coast of Maine. The farm produces 15,000 pounds of organic food each year.

girls hands holding a handful of cherry tomatoes

Thomas Jefferson Middle School Garden in Arlington, Virginia.

The Thomas Jefferson Middle School Garden

This Virginia school garden (right in our own backyard in the Washington, D.C. metro area!) was created by a local Girl Scout troop in 2012. Today it is a community resource, playing host to classes and community events, and a portion of the produce supports the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC).

raised garden beds and picnic tables next to a school

The Spartan Garden at White Station High School in Memphis, Tennessee.

The Spartan Garden at White Station High School

A committed group of high school students in Memphis built their school garden from the ground up, raising money, negotiating with school administrators for space, and building raised beds, an herb garden, and an outdoor seating area.

Teachers, grow your curriculum toolkit with these online resources from Smithsonian Gardens for learning about—and celebrating—gardens this school year:

-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator

September 5, 2017 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

Growing the Next Generation of Gardeners


A few of the gardens around the country that shared their story with Community of Gardens and continue to inspire us, clockwise: Well Fed Community Garden, Please Touch Community Garden, The Gardens at Chewonki, and Sunflower Village at Franklin Square.

When people visit our gardens on the National Mall from all over the country and the world, we hope they find see or learn something new to bring back to their own garden, whether it’s a community garden plot or a backyard or a few pots sitting on a windowsill. When you visit we hope some plant or technique or idea piques your interest and catches your eye. It could be an eco-friendly way to ward off pests, a novel method for trellising, or a unique flower or tree. We love to share the gardens at the Smithsonian Institution with you and hope they inspire you to get outside and get growing!


Pictured, from left to right: Student garden designs at Anacostia High School and the Spartan Garden at White Station High School.

But did you know your gardens inspire us? Through the Community of Gardens project, we find ourselves inspired every day by the stories of gardens being created all across the United States. Anyone can add a story, image, video, or audio clip about a garden or gardener to our digital archive. Some of the most inspiring stories are of teens gardening in their own schools and communities. Every summer high school students apply to work at the Common Good City Farm in Washington, D.C and help run the community garden. Teens at White Station High School in Memphis, Tennessee banded together to create a student-led garden from the ground up. Classes at Paul International High School in D.C. tackled renovation projects in their existing school garden.

Stories like these inspired us to design the Smithsonian Gardens Green Ambassador Challenge. Teens and teachers, if you have ever wanted to bring gardening to your school, but didn’t know where to start, this challenge is for you! We give you the tools to green your school, step-by-step. Learn skills such as design thinking, budgeting, building, project management, and gardening along the way. Rooted in project-based learning, the Green Ambassador Challenge empowers young people to make a real difference in their community. The possibilities are endless, from a few raised beds outside of your building to an outdoor classroom space to a butterfly or wildlife garden.

Teachers can download a packet with all lessons and detailed information on national standards challenge goals, and essential questions. Students can follow along here as they move through the process.

So we ask you: How will you inspire us next? What kind of garden can your school community grow? And by growing a garden could you inspire the next generation of landscape architects, horticulturists, park planners, and arborists?

Contact us at for more details if you would like to get involved!

-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator 


October 21, 2016 at 8:30 am Leave a comment

Healthy Gardens, Healthy Schools

The Rain garden at Grace Episcopal Day School this past fall.

The rain garden at Grace Episcopal Day School.

What can one teacher and a lot of elementary school students do with a big idea and a bunch of dirt? A lot, as it turns out. This inspiring story comes from Christine Comas, an elementary school science teacher at Grace Episcopal Day School in Kensington, Maryland.

As part of a summer Mobile Learning Institute, Smithsonian Gardens, the National Arboretum, and the U.S. Botanic Garden collaborated with EdLab at the Postal Museum on a week-long workshop for teachers on how to integrate mission-based learning into their curriculum. The teachers spent the week completing various missions related to the role of gardens in shaping healthy communities and sharing their findings using a variety of technology platforms.

One teacher, Christine Comas, took the assignment a step further. She decided that when she returned to school in the fall, she would challenge her students to design a garden that would improve the health of their school and their community. Last year the entire school studied the Chesapeake Bay. When Comas asked her students how they would like to help save the bay, her students responded that they wanted to create habitats for animals, keep water clean and make the school beautiful. These three powerful ideas became the guiding principles of the school rain garden.

We look forward to checking back in on the progress of the garden this spring.

We look forward to checking back in on the progress of the garden this spring.

Comas and her classes collaborated with Kara Crissey from Good Earth Gardeners, who provided her expertise with plant selection. All of the plants in the garden are native to the area. Explains Comas, “We chose plants that would provide habitats for birds, butterflies and other insects, that could withstand influxes of water, salt, and pollution, and that could handle pooling of water around the plant’s base. These plants along with the rain garden structure are designed to slow down the storm water runoff and assist in the percolation of the water.”

Not only does the garden provide a beautiful setting for outdoor learning, it prevents runoff into nearby Rock Creek. Every student, from preschoolers to fifth graders, had a chance to participate in the planting. They were eager to get their hands dirty while learning about the effects of rainwater runoff on the bay. For those less in-the-know than the students, signage educates the community at large about the botanical information and the positive effects of the rain garden.

Comas reflects, “I learned from the workshop that student input and ideas should be the catalyst to environmental education projects at schools. The students become deeply invested in their work. The project then becomes more meaningful, satisfying and successful. Years from now, after they have graduated, we hope that they will return and point to the garden and note that they were a part of the solution. It is my hope that they will educate others in the community on the importance of caring for the local and global environment. Together we can make a huge impact.”

Next up? This spring the third graders will be designing and planting a native vegetable garden.

Some of the plants in the garden:
Swamp Weed
Light Blue Aster
Oat Grass
Shenandoah Switch Grass
Blue-Eyed Grass
Purple Coneflower
Cardinal Flower
Purple Woods Aster
Winterthur Viburnum
Eastern Red Cedar
Sweet Bay Magnolia
Pinot Noir Hibiscus
Swamp Sunflower
Swamp Hibiscus
Redosier Dogwood
River Birch
Blue Flag Iris
Northern Bayberry
False Indigo

You can read more about the rain garden and see pictures of the installation process here.

-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator

February 6, 2013 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

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