School Gardens on Wheels
USDA partnered with The Washington Capitals to bring a People’s Garden to Powell Elementary School in Washington, DC almost 2 years ago. The process began with a garden design session so parents, teachers and students from every grade could put their ideas on paper. Hundreds of ideas were collected – from dinosaurs to avocado trees – for USDA landscape architects to sort through. The People’s Garden team and the Caps returned about a month later to reveal a concept plan that included a habitat garden and food garden. With the help of hundreds of volunteers from USDA’s People’s Garden, The Washington Capitals and the local community, both of these gardens have been brought to life.
The Habitat Garden was built first in the only area of the playground not covered in asphalt. The ground was very compact making the project a challenge for anyone trying to do this, but more so, on a very hot summer day. We got it done and the students now have an outdoor classroom to stomp through and explore. (This video shows a time-lapse of the amazing transformation.)
Over the last year, USDA landscape architect Bob Snieckus and myself have been thinking about designing and building a food garden at Powell that met their needs. The students would be growing vegetables that must have at least 6 hours of full sun to grow and thrive. The soil needed to be healthy to ensure the production of safe, nutritious food and with good structure and drainage. You don’t want your plants drying out too quickly or sitting in standing water.
The green space where the habitat garden was built was not ideal for the food garden because of its size and limited sun exposure. Building the food garden on asphalt was our option. In this process, we learned that it was very important that the garden be mobile so it could be moved to another corner of the playground because of future expansion plans.
Bob and I built a ‘Mobile Planter’ at Powell that met all of their needs, was fun for the older students to build, and produced enough food per planter for each class to make a decent sized salad. If you know a school with limited green space that’s looking for a flexible way to grow food or other types of plants, building this garden on wheels could be the practical solution. Check out the instructional video below to learn how to build one of your own.
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