Planning the Garden Infrastructure

Fruit-VegsGoal:Design general layout of the garden.

Objectives: Students will…

  • Brainstorm garden design ideas
  • Listen to other students’ ideas
  • Compromise with group members to generate collective design
  • Estimate length of reach
  • Estimate material size
  • Make scale drawing of design

Materials:graph paper and pencils, scale drawings from previous lesson, rulers, clipboards if going outside, large graph paper, colored pencils or markers

Advance Preparation: have photos ready to share via projector or printed copies

*Adapted from copyrighted material by The Food Project. Used with permission.

Time Estimate:1 class or more
10 min introduce goal, class brainstorm and slides
30 min group designing
10 min presentations and decision making

Planning the Garden Infrastructure*

Now that you have selected a general garden concept (on the ground vs. in containers) and have a spot to work with, you will need to develop a plan for how the garden will be organized. During this lesson you will determine:

  • How many beds/containers and what size should they be?
  • How should the beds be built (stone, brick, wood, other or no edging materials)?


The students will work in groups to come up with different designs, present those designs to the class and the class will choose a design with which to move forward. If you have multiple classes working on this project, figure out how to do this in a way that gives students a sense of being heard. You could spend as much time as you like on this process, depending on how much effort you would like students to put into their designs and presentations. This class could be conducted outside if the weather cooperates. The instructional plan below describes a pared down approach upon which you can expand.

Instructional Plan

Introduce the goal of the day: to come up with a design for the garden space. Students will be working in small groups to generate designs, present the designs to their peers and select a final design (or combination of designs). Brainstorm or introduce some ideas that might be helpful during the design process:

  • It is best not to step on the garden soil so beds will need to have pathways that allow people to reach into all parts of the garden from one side or another (have students figure out how far they can reach).
  • Beds can just be mounds of soil, or can be framed in by a number of materials: wood, stone, bricks, any other ideas? Make sure to account for width of materials in drawings. Show photos of different garden design ideas for inspiration (see photo collection).
  • Take into account the need to mow grass around or between beds. Should paths/perimeter be a material other than grass?

Designing in Small Groups
Divide students into design groups. They should make initial sketches on their scale drawings. Final designs should be drawn to scale on a large piece of paper (poster size graph paper is ideal). While the goal of this element is not to show what to plant, if having some flower beds and some vegetable beds is part of their design idea, they can certainly include those on their sketch.

If your class is planning a container garden, have students indicate what kinds of containers they would like to use (shape, material, etc) and whether the outsides would have any decorative elements.

Peer Presentations
Ask each group to briefly explain their design to the rest of the class, highlighting key features, materials, etc. Students and teacher can ask each group clarifying questions, which may help illuminate any particular challenges with the design (can someone realistically walk on a one foot wide path, etc). Ask the students how they should go about selecting a final design. Talk about the merits of the different ideas and see if a clear consensus emerges. If not, you could vote or ask an outside resource to weigh in on the options. The goal should be to come up with one design that most or all students feel good about moving forward.

Calculating Material Costs
pic_costOne factor that may influence your students’ design selection is the cost of materials used to construct the garden. It may make sense to incorporate cost estimates into the design process so students are able to compare costs along with designs. However, you may not want to limit their creative brainstorming with cost calculations. That being said, you could either have each group conduct a cost analysis after developing a design or have the class calculate the cost of the design selected at the end. Either way, here are some numbers that will help with that process.

For one 4’x8′ bed estimate 1.25 cubic yards of soil, approx $40/cy.
Soil Blend: Topsoil 30% / 35% Manure Compost / 35% Leaf-Mushroom Compost from Hafner
For container gardens, 5 gal buckets can be obtained for free but if your students envision using plastic storage crates or building containers, they will need to price the materials for that. You will need access to a drill and small saw to construct sub-irrigated planters (see how to instructions). They should calculate the volume of soil needed to fill the containers.

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