Planning an Edible School Garden

School Gardens are taking off in a big way and there’s no better designer in our view than Leonie Shanahan. Yesterday we had the pleasure to start filming with Leonie a new DVD that we are producing next year on planning an effective school garden that really works. The DVD on Edible School Gardens will is a much needed resource that shows permaculture designers and teachers the practical aspects of working with school principals, teachers and more importantly – school kids to help design and build a permaculture garden that delivers fresh fruit and vegetables and teaches kids all about growing food and better nutrition.


School Garden central location site


Leonie has built over 16 school gardens, but what makes this garden unique is the way it has been designed into a central location.

In the past, school gardens were usually assigned a bit of scrap land tucked away behind the sports oval, consequently very few people visited the site. But at this school, Leonie was given a prime location to build her dream garden.

Visiting teachers from the Gold Coast were knocked out by the location, as this garden was built right in the center of the school. You need to walk through the garden to get to the sports oval. Leonie has implemented many permaculture design features into her unique design. Spiral herb gardens and worm towers are tucked away in unusual spots. Climbing beans covered bamboo tripods. Arrowroot plants and bathtub worm farms appear suddenly as you weave your way through the arching pathway. Kids need to walk through an edible archway to enter the garden. Its covered in climbing passionfruit vines.
A scarecrow suddenly appears in the corner. Its use is to scare the neighboring crows and birds that suddenly appear at the school.


Leonie Shanahan in the school garden


A lot of the elements were designed by the kids themselves. Leonie says its very important in the planning stage to give the kids a free rein in designing the shape of the garden. Her role is to tie all the ends together and make sure all the design aspects work.
Because the garden was on a sloping site, Leonie designed the site to harvest rainwater runoff to soak into the slope. She implemented a line of arrowroot plants to suck up and hold nitrogen into the soil.

To prevent easterly winds from scorching the vegetables, shade trees are used as well as a line of fruit trees are cleverly designed into the system to act as windbreaks.



Kids enjoying the vegetables


The garden has been growing now for two years and speaking with the children its clear that they enjoy visiting and picking vegetables from garden. One boy said, “I used to not recognize any of the plant bushes. I used to say – that’s just a bush…that’s another bush and so on. Now I recognize the individual tomato plants, basil plants, onion plants…”

Understanding where food comes from means the kids are more keen to try tasting fresh new vegetables.

Yesterday was Harvest Day at the school. It was the moment when kids pick all the produce and get busy in the kitchen. It was a culmination of two years of hard work for Leonie and a chance to step back and reflect.

Visit Leonie’s website.