Where schools are equipped with gardens … opportunities exist for reproducing situations of life, and for acquiring and applying information … Gardening need not be taught either for the sake of preparing future gardeners, or as an agreeable way of passing time … [gardens] are a means for making a study of the facts of growth, the chemistry of soil, the role of light, air, moisture … (Dewey (1916 p. 235)
School gardens are far from new as a pedagogical tool. School gardens (along with outdoor and experiential learning more generally) have a long history in a variety of educational philosophies including those of Rousseau, Montessori, and Dewey (see Desmond, Grieshop, & Subramaniam, 2002; Subramaniam; 2002; Trelsta 1997). John Amos Comenius (1592–1670), the father of modern education, advocated that ‘A garden should be connected with every school, where children can at times gaze upon trees, flowers, and herbs, and be taught to enjoy them’ (Weed & Emerson, 1909 p. 42). Although school gardens were promoted in the late 1800s and early 1900s—both in Britain and in the USA—with aims to address issues of city beautification, public health, and the development of good citizens, with relatively little focus on educational outcomes, prior to that era the initial school garden movement was sparked by the Nature-Study Movement, with the central aim to make learning interactive through the use of nature (Hayden-Smith, 2014; Trelstad, 1997). Dewey endorsed gardening as part of his ‘object teaching’ pedagogy employing hands-on learning rather than rote memorization (Dewey, 1916‘ Trelstad, 1997). School gardens are one way to bring learning outside the walls of the school and to employ engagement with nature as an experiential learning strategy (Desmond et al., 2002; Moore, 1995; Subramaniam, 2002) (see Figure 1; The Brookline Connection, photo 1916). The potential for garden-based learning has, more recently, been described as ‘encompass[ing] programs, activities and projects in which the garden is the foundation for integrated learning, in and across disciplines, through active, engaging, real-world experiences’ (Desmond et al., p. 7). And yet, aside from a brief reappearance as part of World War II victory garden efforts (Hayden-Smith, 2014; Ossian, 2011), the current resurgence of school gardens follows a long period of relative dormancy since World War I (Trelstad, 1997).
Students from Brookline elementary, Brookline Massachusetts work the school garden, 1916 (Source: The Brookline connection)