Garden Themes

I think the biggest challenge so far with the seeding and planting has been to plan what to plant where, and together with what.  There were, of course, various factors to consider.  The simplest factor was to figure out which garden plots are in the sun and which ones are in the shade, and placing sun-loving and shade-loving plants in appropriate places.  We also wanted to create some themes for the garden plots that make sense to the kids.  Also, since the new garden is not only a school garden but also a community garden, with a number of local parents involved, the group of moms who is very involved with the garden had a big say in choosing what we are growing, since they will be doing most of the maintenance and harvesting over the summer.  And since it’s an organic garden, companion planting is also very important (planting plants together that help each other out by keeping pests away, using different nutrients from the soil, etc).  I thought planning out the plots would take an hour or two – well, it actually took about 7 or 8 hours!  I ended up with these garden themes: the Three Sisters, the 5 Senses, Around the World, Salsa, Summer Salad, and the Cooperative Community Garden.  Beside our food garden we also have a perennial/pollinator garden, with lots of flowers and some herbs.

The Three Sisters Garden is a pretty popular theme in school gardens and we’d decided it would be important to include it here as well.  The Three Sisters is an Aboriginal method of planting corn, beans and squash.  They help each other grow, are very nutritious to eat together and all of them store well through the winter.  The corn is seeded first and given a head-start.  Then the climbing beans are planted – they need support to climb, so they climb up the corn stalks.  Corn and squash are both heavy feeders, and beans are nitrogen fixers (meaning that they bring nitrogen from the air into the soil, so that the corn and squash can access it).  Squash is planted last – it has large leaves which shade out the weeds and also have prickly stems which (hopefully!) keep animals away from the corn.  A pretty amazing trio!

The Three Sisters Garden is generally planted in mounds.

Some corn in the Three Sisters Garden



The 5 Senses Garden is a great one for younger kids.  It’s mostly the herb bed, but of course the whole garden can be discovered using the five senses – feeling the texture of the oregano and sage, smelling different herbs, tasting whatever is in season, looking at the different colours, listening for birds and insects…

Considering the very diverse neighbourhood around the new school garden, the Around the World Garden was another pretty obvious choice.  For this theme, there are two plots: one has okra, four kinds of eggplant and some hot peppers, along with basil and marigolds as companions.  The other one has zucchini and French radishes (a bit of a stretch for the theme, but I’m going with it…).  It will be interesting to see how many of the kids recognize the plants once they’re ready for harvest, even if they don’t recognize the English names.  It was pretty neat when I told them we were seeding okra and very few had heard of it, but so many recognized it when I showed them the picture.  I hope I can learn some of the names of the different vegetables in some new languages!

The Salsa Gardens consist of LOTS of tomatoes, some hot and sweet peppers and some cilantro.  Last year I had an Heirloom Salad” theme in the Spiderweb garden for the plots with the tomatoes, but I found it hard explaining the concept of “heirlooms” to the younger kids – I think salsa and pizza are things they can relate to more easily.

The Summer Salad Garden has some lettuce and mustard greens, some interplanted radishes and carrots, and cucumbers and sugar snap peas.   These plots are the ones that I’m hoping will provide some harvestable stuff before the end of the school year…

Radishes and carrots: not only tasty in a salad,but the radishes help the carrots grow by loosening up the soil.                                 

That's looking like the beginnings of a tasty salad!

The Cooperative Community Gardens were sort of my default plots, which didn’t fit any of the other themes.  These are the plots where I really am making use of companion planting (spinach and strawberries grow well together, potatoes grow well with bush beans and plants in the cabbage family – rapini in this case, and a couple of the other plots sort of merge into this theme as well).  Despite it being my default, I think it’s relevant for learning about cooperation, the importance of communities, ecosystems and interdependence in nature, and so on.

The Perennial/Pollinator Garden is a plot that’s beside the main food garden.  It was already there and had a variety of flowers growing in it.  I’ve added a few plants to that as well, partially using it as a plot to attract more pollinators and partially as a way to contain some of the plants that like to spread or reseed themselves.  So in addition to the various flowers and mint that were already there, we’ve added borage, callendula, zinnias, oregano, anise and a couple of other herbs and flowers.


Happy growing!


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