Eco Schools: gardens

Creating and maintaining gardens helps students to develop knowledge and skills for sustainable living. Garden activities can be linked to many areas of the curriculum.

Creating and maintaining gardens helps students learn how to live sustainably, and is a starting point for studying how we can meet human needs while preserving the environment for future generations. Practical activities in garden design, planting and harvesting, can be linked to a range of curriculum areas including science, arts, literacy, and numeracy.

Food gardens

Food gardens promote sustainable living and healthy eating. Students can research which fruit, vegetables and herbs are suited to their local area, how to manage and maintain worm farms and composting, and how to maintain soil health.

Food gardens are an ideal way for children to develop knowledge and practical skills in garden maintenance, environmental monitoring, organic recycling and food production. Activities can include learning about food production, growing crops from different countries, keeping chickens and aquaponics.

Planning and preparation is the key to a successful food garden. You will need to research which crops are suited to your area, how to correctly manage worm farms and compost bins, and how to maintain soil health. The result will be a productive garden that will actively engage students in outdoor learning for many years to come.

Native gardens

A native garden can provide habitat for wildlife. Students can use the garden to investigate biodiversity and take actions to improve it on school grounds and in the local area.

Bush tucker gardens

Bush tucker gardens and studies of Aboriginal culture are an excellent way for students to learn about the environment and traditional ways of caring for Country. Aboriginal cultural project activities can also include art, dance, language, totems, and dreamtime stories, and through these students can learn about the importance of the environment in Aboriginal life.

Sensory gardens

Sensory gardens let students explore the environment through colour, sound, touch, taste and smell, while learning about environmental sustainability.

Project tips

  • Involve students in the planning and research of garden design, plants, and water requirements.
  • Consider external training for interested teachers, or getting a horticultural expert in to help with the initial set-up and design phase. Teachers may also need training to help students learn about environmental issues.
  • If you are including Indigenous studies in your project, speak with Aboriginal community members or your regional Aboriginal education consultant before starting. They can help you connect with suitable elders or Aboriginal educators within your community.
  • Seek donations of materials from local businesses to help with the costs of soil, mulch or timber
  • Organise a group of volunteers from the school community who can assist with maintenance, working bees or supporting lessons in the garden
  • Consider the maintenance requirements of worm farms and chicken coops. These can add value to kitchen gardens but you need to make sure someone can look after them during school holidays.

Link your project to the curriculum

Learn how you can link environmental projects with the curriculum in key learning areas for student outcomes at all stages.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures

  • daily changes, seasons
  • bush tucker
  • sense of place
  • land links; non-verbal

Sustainability

  • use sustainable practices in garden management
  • grow own food as a sustainable practice
  • species interdependence

Literacy

  • research, analyse, evaluate, communicate
  • read informative texts e.g. seed labels
  • create garden journals
  • compose procedures

Critical and creative thinking

  • use reason and imagination
  • think deeply and creatively
  • evaluate knowledge
  • consider alternatives
  • solve problems

Personal and social capability

  • question, solve problems, explore and display curiosity
  • make informed choices
  • take responsibility
  • work effectively individually and in teams

Ethical understanding

  • be a responsible citizen
  • apply ethical guidelines in garden management
  • create a stance on right and wrong conduct

Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia

  • origins of plants
  • vegetables used in Asian cooking
  • cultural garden practices

Information and communication technology capability

  • web research
  • digital photography
  • spreadsheets and charts

Numeracy

  • measure, calculate
  • construct tables and graphs
  • analyse numerical information

Civics and citizenship

  • participate in decision making
  • be an active citizen
  • foster involvement

Difference and diversity

  • engage with others’ opinions
  • identify and empathise with varying perspectives

Intercultural understanding

  • respect cultural diversity

Work and enterprise

  • work individually and collaboratively
  • use communication skills
  • potential sale of vegetables

Science and technology

Working scientifically
  • questioning and predicting
  • planning
  • investigating
  • processing and analysing
  • communicating
Working technologically
  • exploring and defining
  • generating and developing ideas
  • producing solutions
  • evaluating
Earth and space
  • use of Earth’s resources sustainably
  • use of science knowledge
Living world
  • features of living things
  • identification and classification
  • stages of growth
  • needs of plants
  • use of science knowledge

HSIE: Geography and history

Geography
Features of places
  • natural and human features
  • caring for places
Weather and seasons
  • daily and seasonal weather patterns
How places are organised
  • location and organisation of food gardens
Geographical concepts
  • place
  • environment
  • interconnection
History
The past in the present
  • daily lives in the past e.g. local and home-grown produce
Historical concepts
  • continuity and change
  • cause and effect
  • significance

Mathematics

Working mathematically
  • problem-solving
  • representation of mathematical ideas
Addition and subtraction
  • mental and written strategies, estimation
Multiplication and division
  • solve multiplication problems
  • problem-solving strategies
Fractions and decimals
  • represent fractions
Length
  • estimate and measure length and distance
  • perimeters
Area
  • measure area
Volume, capacity, mass
  • measure volume and mass
Position
  • interpret and draw maps and plans
Data
  • collect and classify data e.g. vegetable harvest

English

Speaking and listening
  • use persuasive language
Writing and representing
  • informative and persuasive texts
  • text structures and language features
  • audience and purpose
  • publish in different modes and media
Reading and viewing
  • comprehension strategies
  • author intent
  • sequencing
  • visual elements
  • fact and opinion

Personal development, health and physical education (PDHPE)

Communicating
  • active listening
Decision making
  • making safe choices
Interacting
  • cooperating in group activities
Problem solving
  • analysing
  • planning
  • problem-solving
Active lifestyle
  • daily activity
Interpersonal relationships
  • cooperating with others
  • caring for others
  • communication skills
Personal health choices
  • environmental health

Creative arts

Visual arts
Making
  • details of living things
  • properties of art media and tools
Appreciating
  • representations in artworks

Science and technology

Working scientifically
  • questioning and predicting
  • planning
  • investigating
  • processing and analysing
  • communicating
Working technologically
  • exploring and defining
  • generating and developing ideas
  • producing solutions
  • evaluating
Earth and space
  • record data about natural conditions
Living world
  • features of living things
  • life cycles
  • factors needed for survival
  • relationships between plants and animals
Built environments
  • design and construction to meet the needs of users

HSIE: Geography and history

Geography
The Earth’s environment
Perception of environments
  • ways people value environments
Protection of environments
  • sustainable practices to protect environments
Geographical concepts
  • place
  • space
  • environment
  • interconnection
  • sustainability
History
Community and remembrance
  • change and continuity in daily life
  • a group’s contribution to local community
Historical concepts
  • continuity and change
  • cause and effect
  • empathetic understanding

Mathematics

Working mathematically
  • problem-solving
  • representation of mathematical ideas
Addition and subtraction
  • mental and written strategies, estimation
Multiplication and division
  • solve multiplication problems
  • problem-solving strategies
Fractions and decimals
  • represent fractions
  • percentages
Length and area
  • estimate and measure length and distance
  • perimeters and area
Volume, capacity, mass
  • measure volume and mass
  • use scaled instruments
Time
  • calendars
Position
  • draw maps and plans

English

Speaking and listening
  • use persuasive language
Writing and representing
  • informative and persuasive texts
  • language features
  • evaluative language
  • audience and purpose
  • express a point of view
Reading and viewing
  • skimming and scanning
  • comprehension strategies
  • summarising paragraphs
  • audience, purpose, context
  • visual elements
  • language choices and devices

Personal development, health and physical education (PDHPE)

Communicating
  • communicating within groups
Decision making
  • making safe choices
Interacting
  • contributing in group activities
Problem solving
  • analysing
  • planning
  • problem-solving
Active lifestyle
  • daily activity
  • nutrition
Interpersonal relationships
  • group participation
  • communication skills
Personal health choices
  • nutrition
  • balanced eating habits
  • environmental health

Creative arts

Visual arts
Making
  • focusing on details
  • creating particular effects e.g. for marketing
  • 3D work e.g. sculpture, scarecrows
Appreciating
  • representations in artworks

Science and technology

Working scientifically
  • questioning and predicting
  • planning
  • investigating
  • processing and analysing
  • communicating
Working technologically
  • exploring and defining
  • generating and developing ideas
  • producing solutions
  • evaluating
Living world
  • conditions needed by a plant to survive
  • testing effects of changing physical conditions on growth and survival

HSIE: Geography and history

Geography
Factors that shape places
  • humans shape places
  • how people influence places
Geographical concepts
  • place
  • space
  • environment
  • interconnection
  • sustainability
History
The Australian colonies
  • post-1800 colonial life
Australia as nation
  • contributions of migrants to Australian society
Historical concepts
  • continuity and change
  • cause and effect
  • empathetic understanding
  • significance

Mathematics

Working mathematically
  • problem-solving
  • representation of mathematical ideas
Addition and subtraction
  • mental and written strategies, estimation
  • simple financial plans
Multiplication and division
  • multiplication problems
  • problem-solving strategies
  • fractions and decimals
  • represent fractions
Patterns and algebra
  • word problems and number sentences
Length and area
  • estimate and measure length and distance
  • perimeters and area
Volume, capacity, mass
  • calculate volume and mass
  • use scaled instruments

English

Speaking and listening
  • deliver presentations
  • discussions
Writing and representing
  • analyse persuasive devices
  • compose informative and persuasive texts
  • research
Reading and viewing
  • text structures and language features for purpose
  • impact of first and third person narration
  • evaluative and emotive language
  • audience, purpose, context
  • comprehension strategies
  • summarise texts
Responding and composing
  • compose for purpose and audience
  • strategies to influence

Personal development, health and physical education (PDHPE)

Communicating
  • communicating in various situations
  • using negotiation skills
Decision making
  • makes healthy choices
Interacting
  • contributing in co-operative situations
  • caring for the environment
Problem solving
  • selecting alternatives
  • planning
  • enlisting support
Active lifestyle
  • leisure time
Interpersonal relationships
  • working relationships
  • communication skills
Personal health choices
  • nutrition
  • food preparation, storage
  • environmental health

Creative arts

Visual arts
Making
  • observing details
  • using artistic concepts
  • audience and purpose
Appreciating
  • reasons for artworks
  • audience responses
  • representations in artworks
  • meaning of artworks

Science

Working scientifically
  • questioning and predicting
  • planning
  • investigating
  • processing and analysing
  • problem-solving
  • communicating
Living world

LW1 Differences within and between groups of organisms, classification Classify a variety of living things

  • simple keys
  • structural features

LW3 Multicellular organisms contain systems of organs that carry out specialised functions for survival and reproduction

  • role of flower, root, stem and leaf

LW5 Science and technology contribute to finding solutions to conserving and managing sustainable ecosystems

  • food chains and webs
  • interactions between organisms
  • human activities affect interactions in food chains and food webs

HSIE: Geography

Place and liveability
Influences and perceptions
  • perceptions of the liveability of places
Access to services and facilities
  • influence of accessibility to services and facilities on liveability
Environmental quality
  • impact of environmental quality on liveability e.g. land degradation
Geographical concepts
  • place
  • space
  • environment
  • interconnection
  • sustainability

Mathematics

Working mathematically
Computation with integers
  • compare, order, add and subtract integers in real-life situations
Fractions, decimals and percentages
  • find percentages of quantities and express one quantity as a percentage of another
Financial mathematics
  • investigate and calculate ‘best buys’
Length
  • find perimeters of parallelograms and solve problems involving perimeters
Area
  • choose appropriate units to measure area
Volume
  • choose appropriate units of measurement for volume and calculate volumes
Data collection and representation
  • collect numerical and categorical data
  • construct and compare a range of data displays

English

EN4–1A Responds to and composes texts for understanding, interpretation, critical analysis, imaginative expression

  • structures and features of informative and persuasive texts
  • language of opinion
  • compose informative and persuasive texts

EN4–4B Makes effective language choices to creatively shape meaning with accuracy, clarity and coherence

  • create informative and persuasive texts for issues

EN4–5C Thinks imaginatively, creatively, interpretively and critically to respond to and compose texts

  • express points of view and arguments on sustainability and the environment in speech or writing

EN4–7D How texts can express aspects of their world and their relationship within it

  • analyse how words, sound and images create perspectives of the same issue e.g. sustainability

Creative Arts

Visual Arts
Artmaking – conceptual framework
  • the world as a source of ideas and concepts to make art
  • use their diaries to research and investigate the world, including the environment
Artmaking – frames
  • cultural frame
  • use their cultural and community identities and social perspectives of interest to them in the development of ideas and interests to represent the world in the making of art

Science

Working scientifically
  • questioning and predicting
  • planning
  • investigating
  • processing and analysing
  • problem-solving
  • communicating
Living world

LW1 Multicellular organisms rely on coordinated and interdependent internal systems to respond to changes in their environment

  • examples of how multicellular organisms respond to changes in their environment

HSIE: Geography

Sustainable biomes
Changing biomes
  • human alteration of biomes to produce food, industrial materials and fibres and the environmental effects of these alterations
Biomes produce food
  • environmental, economic and technological factors that influence agricultural yields
Challenges to food production
  • environmental challenges to food production

Mathematics

Working mathematically
5.1 Financial mathematics
  • solve problems involving earning money
5.1 Properties of geometrical figures
  • solve problems using ratio and scale factors such as construct scale drawings
5.3 Bivariate data analysis
  • investigate the use of statistics and associated probabilities in shaping decisions made by governments and companies

English

EN5–1A Responds to and composes increasingly sophisticated and sustained texts

  • analyse ideas, information, perspectives, contexts and ideologies in texts
  • create sustained texts that reflect upon challenging and complex issues

EN5–3B Uses language forms, features and structures of texts

  • present a point of view on a subject
  • use persuasive language and voice effects to argue a point of view or persuade an audience

EN5–7D Understands and evaluates the diverse ways texts can represent personal and public worlds

  • use and analyse increasingly complex language features to present a viewpoint on issues

Creative Arts

Visual arts
Artmaking – conceptual framework
  • artworks using an extended range of material and techniques and various investigations of the world
  • make artworks that build a body of work using an extended range of materials and techniques and various investigations of the world
  • the world as a source of ideas and concepts to make art
  • develop research and investigative skills using their diary
Artmaking – frames
  • cultural frame
  • focus on issues of significance to their school and culture to generate ideas for artmaking and the conceptual interest of works

Stage 1

Students work in the school’s chicken coop. 

Science and technology

ST1–10LW 

  • Observe eggs being kept and hatched in an incubator.
  • Investigate the life stages and needs of chickens.
  • Establish and manage a chicken coop at school that uses food scraps as part of their diet to reduce waste.
  • Record the changes in growth of chickens.

Stage 2

  • Build a vertical herb or salad garden and watering system using recycled PET bottles and recycle rainwater from the roof.

Science and technology

ST2–5WT, ST2–10LW, ST2–16P 

  • Design and construct a vertical herb or salad garden and watering system using PET bottles.
  • Record the life cycle of a plant as it grows in the vertical garden.
  • Identify relationships between plants and animals in the garden e.g. bees and pollinators.

Stage 3

  • Students harvest food from the school vegetable garden.
Science and technology

ST3–16P 

  • Using produce from the vegetable garden, investigate systems to produce a food product e.g. layered salad jars, vegetable kebabs.
  • Manufacture the food product for sale at school.

Stage 4

  • Students establish vegetable garden beds. Use natural pest control methods to control pests.
Science

SC4–15LW 

  • Construct and interpret food chains and food webs in a vegetable garden and identify ‘pest’ species.
  • Investigate Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a holistic approach to identifying, monitoring and curbing pest damage and describe how scientific knowledge influences IPM.

Stage 5

  • Grow vegetables by altering an area of the school for food production.
HSIE – Geography

GE5–17 

  • How do people use and alter biomes for food production?
  • Examine human alterations to the physical characteristics of biomes, assess environmental impacts and discuss sustainability strategies to minimise impacts.
  • Assess impacts of altering an area of the school grounds for food production. Undertake the alteration sustainably to minimise impacts and plant and manage the area sustainably for food production.

Case studies

The students of Forster Public School are continuing to enjoy the benefits of their 2006 Eco Schools grant, which allowed them to design and a permaculture vegetable garden. The garden includes compost bins, a worm farm and a water tank, so that all the water, fertiliser and mulch needed to maintain the garden are available on the school site.

The project has led to students from all Years learning about the environment, sustainable ecosystems, food production and nutrition through a combination of classroom and garden activities.

Once the produce is harvested, the students enjoy the fruits of their labour by learning how to cook with their vegetables, turning them into nutritious sauces, salads, pastas, and bread. This has helped the students understand the food cycle from production through to consumption.

Students have gained practical skills in seed harvesting, soil maintenance, water conservation, crop rotation and harvesting of produce. They have also learned about organic methods of pest control that use garlic, chilli, soap flakes, coconut oil, coffee grounds and herbal infusions.

The permaculture garden was the NSW winner of the Sustainable Garden Challenge in 2007.

The past 5 years have been an incredible journey. We started with a small vegie patch manned by passionate teachers and dedicated parents and have now established a large working garden and a fully equipped kitchen. Our kitchen and garden programs are now supported with a specialist staff member who prepares and delivers the lessons with the support of class teachers. We have also managed to form positive relationships with parents and community members who volunteer their time to ensure each lesson is supported by 4 adults at a time, a real key to a successful lesson.

Tianne Buderus, Forster Public School, 2013

Top Tip

For garden projects to succeed, teachers need to have the appropriate environmental and horticultural knowledge. Teachers at Forster Public School received training and advice from horticulture experts, local Landcare facilitators and environmental officers from the local council.


The whole of Winmalee Public School came together to create the school’s Dharug Bush Tucker Journey Garden, an outdoor learning resource.

Students learned that Dharug family groups travelled from the Cumberland Plain through Winmalee, and further up the Blue Mountains, collecting and hunting for food in areas that provided shelter and reliable sources of fresh water. ‘Our garden is symbolic of the seasonal journey taken by Dharug people,’ said project co-ordinator Richard Zoglmeyer. ‘These journeys included special gatherings with other family groups for significant annual celebrations and cultural rituals’.

The Journey Garden is located at the interface between the natural bushland and the developed area of the school’s grounds. Every student at the school (380 in total) participated in some way and took part in regular environmental lessons and activities during the garden’s inception year. Students planted, mulched and watered the plants. Plants were carefully researched and selected to ensure students were working with the same kinds of plants that the Dharug people traditionally collected food from in the Blue Mountains.

Students collected photos and data of the flora and fauna in and around the site and their observations were used to develop and enhance classroom lessons in a range of subject areas. They used mobile devices to record and investigate animals and birds found in the school grounds, and to record a plant diary. They painted totems to represent each class and student, and these posts were placed in clusters as sculptural installations along the track, which incorporated parts of a disability ramp so that all students and the school community could be included in developing and learning in the garden. Students constructed an Aboriginal campsite and shelter as a learning feature.

Dharug representatives visited the school and spoke to staff and students about Aboriginal use of local flora and fauna, involving students in tasting, painting and dancing related to the animal and bird species connected to the site. Staff and students also worked with National Parks and Wildlife education officers and staff of Blue Mountains City Council, who provided educational resources and lessons in biodiversity and organics recycling.

The project was linked to a range of Key Learning Areas including Art, Science, Literacy, and Human Society and Its Environment, through units of learning in renewable energy, pollution, biodiversity and climate change. Resources have also been developed to support teaching of cross-curriculum priority areas of the national curriculum: sustainability, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures.

The success of this project was based on strong student participation and multiple curriculum linkages. By tapping into skills and knowledge in the local community, the school added depth to student learning outcomes, and clearly demonstrated how exploring the environment through Aboriginal culture provides an excellent way of learning about the environment and its importance in Aboriginal life.

The project provided a wonderful means for implementing the National Curriculum. In the wake of the 2013 bushfire, it also allowed us to take action to provide habitat for birds and animals, providing a resource to support future environmental learning.

Project coordinator, Richard Zoglmeyer

Top Tip

Add quality to learning opportunities by providing hands-on activities for students.


Kororo Public School wanted to create an outdoor learning resource that would explore the environment through Aboriginal culture, and use Indigenous culture and knowledge as a framework for learning about the environment.

The result is a bush tucker garden that includes easy walking access, local bush tucker plant species and a mural and signage within the garden acknowledging the Gumbaynggirr People. The project was student-driven, with students directly involved in all stages. They created a design for the garden, investigated plant species suitable for a bush tucker garden, assisted with landscaping, making paths, creating and maintaining garden beds, and creating the mural and signage.

The project was incorporated into the school curriculum via units of work that were tailored for the school, with strong links to the subject areas of History and Science in particular. The focus of learning promoted the benefits of creating a sustainable garden utilising local endemic species, linking to the cross-curriculum priorities of environmental sustainability and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture.

The curriculum-based activities included taking students outside of the classroom and into the local environment, so they could make connections between their classroom learning and the plants and animals they were learning about. Activities included a local beach excursion with a Gumbaynggirr Elder, who emphasised the importance of sustainability for the future. The Elder shared stories about local animals, plants and the formation of the land, and described the Gumyaynggirr people’s relationship with Country.

The success of the project can be attributed to collaboration. Students, teachers, parents and community groups were actively involved in planning, preparation and implementation, and we engaged people including staff who would normally not take on such a role. The knowledge and skills gained will be kept alive in the school for future teachers and students, so the legacy of the project will be enduring.

Carolyn Burns, Assistant Principal

Top Tip

Involve the local community as much as possible in your project, so that you can access experts who can share their knowledge and add depth and authenticity to learning outcomes.


Chatswood Intensive English Centre caters for 260 migrant, refugee and international students who learn English at the school before studying at other educational institutions. The school used its 2013 grant to transform a grassed area of around 500 square metres into a series of themed garden beds that reflect both the original environment of the site and the diverse food cultures of its students.

The idea of the multipurpose garden came about through a brainstorming session with the students. A day of discussions with celebrity gardener Costa Georgiadis created the first plans for the themed garden beds.

Teacher Graciela Rosales said they began to think about incorporating sustainability into the school curriculum 3 or 4 years ago. Asian and Indigenous themes also feature strongly. Most of our students are from Asia, while Aboriginal culture – the culture of the country’s first inhabitants – is part of the curriculum, and something we highlight for the newly arrived students.

The learning outcomes from the food garden project are spread across many different areas of the curriculum, including:

  • English (reading, researching and interviewing community members)
  • Maths (measuring areas and volumes and estimating costs)
  • Science (plant identification, biology, life cycles, water cycle)
  • Human Society and its Environment (the environment and its original inhabitants, history of the school site, the food garden and its relationship to school surroundings)
  • Technological and Applied Studies (study of different foods and food cultures, healthy eating, recipes, menu planning and cooking)
  • Art (labelling, drawing, painting and photographing the garden).

An oriental pagoda stands at the entrance to the garden. Inside, a pathway meanders through the gardens, beginning with an oriental, Japanese-style garden. Beyond this a fruit-tree orchard and vegetable garden that lets students and members of the school community share in the growing, harvesting and cooking of fresh produce. A Mediterranean garden features plants associated with that area, such as rosemary, bay leaf, pomegranate and figs, while a tropical Asian garden has sun-loving plants such as sugar cane, banana, lemongrass, curry leaf, mango, kaffir lime, sweet potato and ginger.

To explore native habitats and biodiversity we have established a native rainforest garden, a dry native shrub garden and a frog pond.

The new multicultural gardens provide a stimulating environment in which migrant students can learn about sustainability, share cultural knowledge and create networks to help them with community relations and settlement.

Top Tip

A whole-of-school approach is very important. A lot of time is needed to plan and think and it is very important to take this time. Use resources available to you such as people in the school, helpful councils, volunteers or other agencies.