Growing Gardens

Typically what happens with school garden spaces is that a group of adults coordinate and plan out the plants that will fill the garden classroom space. This year the hope grew that students could take an active role in the process. Thanks to Blandford’s collaboration with  area schools, we had two willing second grades that were eager to pilot a “Growing Garden” Blandford Nature Center Farm Program.

Teaming up with Blandford Farm’s educator, Liz Visser, we created an educational experience to engage students and teachers in the garden planning process. Now, basically any school that has garden space can incorporate interdisciplinary student learning outcomes, create a garden space plan and produce an order for wholesale garden plant starts all through an hour and a half learning activity.

The designed lesson addresses the following big questions that align to the Next Generation Science Standards, and Common Core Mathematics & ELA/ Literacy:

1. What do garden plants need to grow?
2. How can we design a garden space to help plants survive based on their unique structures and functions?
3. How can we use mathematics to find real-world solutions?

4. What’s your opinion on the work that farmers do to grow our food?

We arrived at the two area schools equipped with the resources needed to engage the students in designing a garden plan, through measuring,  mapping out garden beds and learning more about the unique structures (parts) and functions (jobs) of the plants that produce their food.

The students really enjoyed the opportunity to “dig into” the garden planning process as they became the farmers for their school. Farmers use this winter season to plan out their garden goals and plan for their needed plants. That’s exactly what the students did as we walked them through the garden planning process.

From the beginning to end students became actively involved in the entire garden planning process. The students measured out the perimeter of their garden bed or garden model.

Once the model took shape, the students worked in plant family teams to create their plan and answer the question, “Based on our plant’s structures and size, how many plants can we fit into this area?” ( In common core language, “The students used the mathematical model as well as their mathematical understanding of their plant’s size to then reason abstractly and quantitatively as they planned out their school’s garden space.”)
 Some plants needed twelve inches of space others needed three feet. Using their bodies and counters (as model seeds) the students came up with the total amounts of tomatoes, beans, peppers, cucumbers, summer squash, zucchini, Swiss chard, carrots and kale that will be needed for the upcoming growing season.
I wish these photos could talk, you would have heard students using words like, perimeter, area, repeated addition and multiplication. The students’ mental math skills were put to good use. One second grader shared, “I did not know that a farmer had to plan how they were going to set up their field.” Another chimed in, “We sure did use our math brains today. Farmers really use math to help them plan how they will grow the food.”
Godfrey lee garden

Even though it will be months before their garden grows. Their plants – the exact number of plants they calculated – are off to a great start, growing in Blandford’s Greenhouse.

A special thanks goes out to Godfrey Lee Early Childhood Center 2nd grade teacher, Heather Vernon, and West Side Christian School 2nd grade teachers, Ellen Koster and Lori Pott, for their willingness to offer their insights and collaborate with us on this project.

“The gardener does not create the garden. The garden creates the gardener.” Master Gardener Alan Chadwick

Has the idea of a school garden been tossed around in your school halls and in conversations. Have you started asking yourself a few questions? Why am I interested in gardening with my students? Why does my school have a garden? Or, why is my school considering having a garden? How can I use a garden as an outdoor classroom?  Don’t let these questions intimidate you, It’s easy to dig in, I shared more detailed advice in a previous growing a garden classroom blog post.

Does your school already have a garden space? Do you have an interest in engaging your students in the garden planning process? This “Growing Garden” lesson was designed with you in mind. Blandford staff would briefly consult with you prior to our visit to determine goals and garden dimensions. Then we would arrive with the resources needed to have your students take an active leadership role, planning and mapping out the plants for the upcoming growing season.

If your school has a grassy wasteland, you could be sitting on a gold mine of potential for making real-life connections to students’ content learning.  Yet, for one person the work needed to launch a project of this magnitude could seem overwhelming. Collaboration is the key.  Contact Janet Staal (, Blandford Nature Center Environmental Consultant, to see how  Blandford Nature Center unlocks the powerful learning experiences that exist just beyond the classroom door.


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