Poetry in the Garden

Poetry in the Garden

poetry in the garden

April is Kids Garden Month AND National Poetry Month. We’ve received some really fantastic poems as entries into our Dream Big contest, and I cannot resist sharing a few. (The blog header, above, is a Kids Garden Month entry from Ethan, Adelaide and Julia from Chalker Elementary School in Georgia.)

My Dream Garden Poem
Zoey, Arcola Elementary, 2nd grade

If I love gardens
Then I love animals too
I would put animals ,plants ,and tree’s too
And I love gardens forever
I would add things everyday
And I am happy with my gardens!

my dream garden poem
Sameet, Arcola Elementary

the flowers are whispering
the trees are talking
the garden is yawning
the moon is yelling
the animals are understanding
the bushes are shivering




By: Mrs. Morgan’s 1st Grade Class

Plants dance like ants in the sun.
Flowers have powers to tower to the sky.
Soil is loyal and royal, so our plants grow tall.
Rain will drain on the plants and help them sprout.

Care is important to get rid of weeds.
Wind can bend the trees and send love.
Seeds have needs and they look like beads.
Eating kale in the garden with friends is to sail through the waters of life.

By LK, Raven’s Wood Outdoor School for Renegades

Lavender and lupine,
sunflowers and mint.
Roses covering an arbor, with chairs underneath
and sweet-smelling sage.

Unicorns play and
Fairies dance,
around an enchanted fountain,
made out of shining stones.

The garden’s perfectly round,
with the fountain in the middle.
Cobblestone paths,
with strawberries growing all around.

There are strawberries and fountain water,
It’s safe and comfortable.
There are birds singing and bees buzzing.
But it’s enchanted, so the human eye can’t see it.

The Garden Rap
By Evan and Greg, Loudenslager School

Look at my garden so
Big and bright. When the
Sun’s out it has light.
When it becomes night
It gives people a fright,
Then they get a nightlight.
I got a fountain and it
Looks like a mountain
Then people started pouting.
In our garden was a gnome
Next to our home
And our dog found
A bone. We found a
Watering can next to
A man named Stan.
We found a rock on the
Shed’s lock. I hope you liked
Our garden rap but now it is
Time to take a nap!

Are you looking for some ideas to incorporate poetry in the garden? We have a lesson plan for that! Growing Poems is geared for grades 2-8, and is designed to cultivate creativity and communication skills through garden-inspired poetry.


Prickly Palace: Growing Cactus from Seed

Prickly Palace: Growing Cactus from Seed

Growing cacti from seed

While we here are KidsGardening are still dreaming big for Kids Garden Month, we’re also dreaming tiny when it comes to our indoor staff garden.

Let me back up a bit.

Back in February, our staff embarked on a growing project. We decided to try something none of us in the office had any experience starting from seed – cactuses! Succulents and cactuses are all the rage right now for good reason – they’re adorable, are available in such interesting shapes and colors, and their tiny size make them appealing to collect.

Most of us here at KidsGardening have started seedlings for an annual vegetable or flower garden before, but the cactuses have been an entirely new experience for all of us. Honestly, that’s been one of the best parts – no one really knows what they’re doing, so we have all gotten the opportunity to learn together.

One of the first bits of research we did about growing cactuses taught us that we would need to be patient. It will take about a year before they’ll be big enough to transplant to their own pots!

If you’re interested in growing your own cactuses, here’s what we have done so far for our cactus babies, affectionately called the Prickly Palace.


  • Packet of mixed cactus seeds
  • Plastic growing flat and cover
  • Seed starting soil mix
  • Bonsai soil mix, or other gritty soil
  • Heat mat (this was necessary for our drafty winter window, but your climate may vary)


starting cactus from seed
Pour seed starting soil mix into your plastic growing flat. Moisten with water, and mix so the water is evenly distributed.
growing cactus from seed
Evenly distribute the cactus seeds on the soil.
starting cactus from seed
Cover with a light coating of bonsai soil mix.
growing cactus from seed
Place on top of a heat mat to ensure the proper seed germination temperature. Cover with the plastic cover in order to maintain moisture. Your cactuses should be exposed to some sunlight, but not direct sun all day.
growing cactus from seed
After a few weeks, the cactuses will sprout!
growing cactus from seed
Once they have spines, ventilate your plants by taking the plastic cover off for several hours each day. We let ours dry out a bit, but still water 1-2 times a week. (Dime for scale)

Once the cactuses are the size of marbles, they will be ready to transplant into their own pots. At that point, we’ll use a cactus / succulent soil mix to repot them into individual clay pots. Only 10 more months to go!

This would be a GREAT project for patient kids or adults! What about you? Have you grown cactus from seed? Do you have any advice for us?


Kids Are Dreaming Big

dreaming big

We have been BLOWN AWAY by the creativity of the kids dreaming big for Kids Garden Month. From cheese sandwich plants to unicorn poop fertilizer, here are just a few of the amazing entries we’ve received so far. Look for more inspiration on our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter feeds!

We received a stack of lovely poems from a class of second graders at Arcola Elementary School. I wish I could share them all, but here’s just one:


A garden a garden a beautiful garden full, of flowers, lavenders, and roses.
I have to water the flowers to help them survive otherwise they’ll die
The butterfly’s fly, the bees buzz and the birds sing
My garden will have very beautiful trees, flowers, and plants
My garden will be the beautiful most of all
In my garden it will have a delightful smell

The Little Bears group from Raven’s Wood Outdoor School for Renegades worked together to create a story board and illustration of their dream garden. Here’s an excerpt from the story:

Once upon a time, there was a fairy family. This family created a beautiful, magical garden. They decided to plant magical plants and flowers.

This Magical Garden had mammoth sunflowers that could touch the moon, and the roses could be smelled from five miles away. The garden had trees that guarded it, and rainbows that made wishes come true. There were magical cats that climbed the guard trees. They helped the trees to see. When there was an intruder, the cats told the guard trees to scare them away. 

Unicorn poop was used as fertilizer to make the plants magical. The fairies grew medicine plants, carrots, and strawberries. 

By Sadie, Reijo, Eli, Ian, Emmett, and James

Paula, a 9th grader, created this outstanding drawing that incorporates the many benefits of community gardens.

dreaming big

Kyla’s dream garden incorporates an insect hotel that will help pollinators survive in the city. Brilliant idea, Kyla!

Dreaming big


Dream Gardens

Dream Gardens

dream gardens

Dream Gardens

It’s Kids Garden Month! Are you as excited as we are? This year, we’re asking gardeners age 0-18 to Dream Big! When children dream big, they can have a powerful and meaningful impact on their community. KidsGardening’s Dream Big contest is about using the garden as a place for creative expression, community engagement, and as a tool for empowering kids to realize their dreams.

While the contest is for kids, KidsGardening staff couldn’t help but get in on the fun. Here are a few of OUR dream gardens.

dream garden

Beth: My art skills are minimal at best, but my dream garden has LOTS of color from flowers, vegetables and fruits. It’s a space where my kids can dig and play in the mud, where very few weeds grow (because of magic, not pesticides) and where we have abundant food and flowers to share with friends and community.

dream gardens

Christine: Inspired by the production garden and orchard from a small family farm in rural mid-coast Maine where I used to work, my Dream Garden would include apple, pear and peach trees, a high tunnel overflowing with hot and sweet peppers, plenty of garlic, greens and pickling cucumbers, flowers galore, and handful of berry bushes.

dream gardens

Kristen: My dream garden is centered around a community space where people from diverse backgrounds can come together to learn about growing and eating healthy food, do yoga, enjoy music, and make friends! My raised beds have a mix of vegetables, herbs, and flowers that are used in community classes about preserving the harvest, fermentation, herbalism, and more. On the north side of the garden is a line of big beautiful sunflowers. Also poking around are some chickens, my yellow lab Rigby, and some raspberry and blueberry bushes.

dream garden

Sarah: Although I enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, blooming plants are my favorites which is why they are front and center in my dream garden. I love to surround myself with bright colors and sweet smells. Flowering plants feed your soul which I think is just as important as nourishing your body.

What about you? What grows in your dream garden? Who visits, and why do you love it? Are your kids or students ready to enter? See the Kids Garden Month 2018 page for complete contest rules and prize details (spoiler alert: the prizes are fantastic).


Victory Gardens: Growing Food for the Common Good

Victory Gardens: Growing Food for the Common Good

victory gardensDownload: Victory Gardens: Growing Food for the Common Good

Like so many things that cycle in popularity, food gardening is again in vogue. For most Americans, the vegetables and fruits they harvest from their backyard gardens supplement the food they purchase at the supermarket. Gardeners take great pride in their homegrown bounty, but few need to rely on it for basic sustenance.

That wasn’t always the case. During World Wars I and II, food gardening wasn’t merely an enjoyable pastime, it was necessary for survival. And the gardens weren’t limited to family backyards. Businesses and schools dedicated space for growing food, and public parks were cultivated to create hundreds of garden plots. Communities came together to grow, tend, and harvest, and the bounty of these “Victory Gardens,” as they came to be known, was shared by all.

Garden to Give: Inspiring Gardeners to Help Feed the Hungry

That same spirit of community has inspired the “Garden to Give” movement. Spearheaded by Gardener’s Supply Company, Garden to Give encourages gardeners to donate their extra produce to their local food pantries to help feed the hungry in their communities. By one estimate, gardeners could feed 28 million hungry Americans just by donating the extra produce they already grow. Some individuals, community groups and schools are taking it a step further and planting special “giving gardens” so they’ll have even more fresh produce to donate! Some are even referring to these gardens as Victory Gardens. Scroll down to “Start Your Own Victory Garden” for tips on planning a school Victory Garden, including consulting with your local food pantry for their recommendations on what to grow and the best times to drop off donations.

The Story of Victory Gardens

The values inherent in the wartime Victory Garden movement are making a comeback, including thriftiness, self-reliance, an awareness of where one’s food originates, and the potential for gardening to bring communities together. The evolution of the Victory Garden concept is a fascinating story and yields important lessons about the impact individuals and groups can have in ensuring all of us have access to the fresh fruits and vegetables that support good health. The story is also a wake-up call that the skills of food growing, the conservation of land suitable for cultivation, and the willingness of communities to work together for the common good are all vital to practice, and to pass on from generation to generation.

The Migration from Rural to Urban

Until the early 1900s, a majority of Americans lived in the countryside and were relatively self-sufficient. Most households had large food gardens, and the vegetables, fruits, and herbs grown in them supplied much of each family’s dietary needs.

The early 1900s brought rapid advancements in technology that led to a shift in manufacturing from small, home-based “cottage industries” to mass production at large factories. Many Americans migrated from rural areas to cities, lured by the notion that year-round manufacturing jobs would bring better wages than seasonal farm labor. Long work hours and crowded urban dwellings left little time or space for food gardens. By 1920, only fifty percent of Americans lived in rural areas. For the most part, growing food was left to farmers.

The Outbreak of War

victory gardensIn early 1917, prior to the U.S. entering what was then called The Great War (“the war to end all wars,” later known as World War I), multi-millionaire Charles Lathrop Pack launched the “War Garden” campaign. The conflict was causing devastating food shortages in Europe, and Pack realized that American farm-produced food was desperately needed overseas to feed both Allied troops and starving civilians. In response, Pack sought to support the war effort and stave off food shortages at home by encouraging all Americans — not just farmers — to start growing food. This would free up commercially grown food to be shipped overseas. The National War Garden Commission was established in March 1917. Just a month later, the U.S. entered the war.

The War Garden Commission launched an all-out public relations campaign to promote food gardening at private residences and public lands — every patch of soil was a potential garden site. They distributed a wealth of colorful posters exalting citizens to “Sow the Seeds of Victory” and created educational materials for new gardeners. Local governments and community groups rallied in support of the cause. Growing a War Garden became a sign of patriotism, and it boosted morale by giving civilians a tangible way to contribute to the war effort.

Food gardens sprouted up everywhere — backyards, municipal parks, empty lots, city rooftops. Private companies set aside land for employee gardens. Urban dwellers sowed seeds in planters and window boxes.

victory gardensThe federal Bureau of Education launched the United States School Garden Army (USSGA) to enlist schoolchildren in the cause, dubbing them “soil soldiers” in the “home garden army.”

School grounds were tilled, planted, tended, and harvested by students and their teachers. The USSGA motto — “A garden for every child, every child in a garden” — drove home the point that every American, of every age, could make an important contribution to the country’s wellbeing.

More than five million War Gardens were cultivated in 1918, producing vegetables and fruits worth over a half-billion dollars. With further encouragement and how-to advice from the government, much of that food was canned, pickled, or dried for future use.

Even after the 1918 Armistice that signaled the end of the war, the government still encouraged citizens to cultivate food gardens. Farm-grown food could be shipped overseas to help feed the millions of people there who faced starvation due to the loss of so many farmers-turned-soldiers, as well as the devastation of farmland that was ravaged by the violent battles fought there. These post-War gardens became known as “Victory Gardens.” Eventually, the fervor of the War Garden campaign waned, and America’s enthusiasm for home food gardening waned as well.

The Second World War

victory gardensIn 1941, just 24 years after the signing of the Armistice, the U.S. was drawn back into war. Once again there was a strain on domestic food supplies as the country was faced with shipping large quantities of food overseas to feed troops. Based on the success of the earlier War Garden campaign, the U.S. government began a similar but even more fervent propaganda campaign, dubbing it “Food for Victory.”

The new public relations campaign was overt in its message: Growing food was a patriotic duty. The more food that was grown in Victory Gardens, the closer America would be to winning the war. Eleanor Roosevelt set an example by planting a Victory Garden on the White House grounds. And when food rationing began in 1942, Americans had even more incentive to start growing their own vegetables and fruits.

Once again the government produced posters and other materials exhorting all citizens to do their duty in support of the war effort. Local governments gave workshops and distributed how-to information to new gardeners. Detailed guidelines showed gardeners how to plan for the maximum harvest — which crops had the highest yields, had the most nutrients, and were the easiest to grow. Among the recommended crops were kohlrabi and Swiss chard — both of which were unfamiliar to most American gardeners at the time. Succession planting was recommended so that gardens could be productive from spring into late fall.

Americans rallied. Front lawns were tilled; flower gardens replanted with vegetables. Urban parks, including Golden Gate Park and Boston Commons, became home to hundreds of food garden plots tended by both individuals and local groups. New gardening tools were hard to come by because steel was being diverted to munitions manufacturers, so families and neighbors shared shovels and hoes. Gardening in public spaces brought communities together for a common cause.

By 1944, there were more than 20 million Victory Gardens that produced more than a third of all the fresh vegetables grown in the U.S. Homegrown food not only provided much-needed sustenance during food rationing, it also meant that less food had to be trucked long distances from farms to markets, reducing fuel consumption and conserving the rubber needed for tires — both important commodities in the war effort.

Victory Gardens in the Post-War Years

Once again, after the war ended the fervor and support of government and community groups declined, and for many Americans, so did the passion for growing food. Inexpensive, easy-to-make packaged foods became attractive alternatives to time spent toiling in the garden and preparing meals from scratch.  That said, gardening continually ranks high in the list of most popular hobbies. And the value we place on fresh, homegrown and locally produced food is continuing to rise. Community gardens have long waiting lists for plots. Farmer’s markets sprout on urban and suburban street corners.

Start your Own Victory Garden

By cultivating home, school, and community gardens, parents and educators are helping kids understand where fruits and vegetables come from — before supermarkets wrap them in plastic or package them onto Styrofoam trays. Kids get to experience the satisfying crunch of a freshly pulled carrot and the excitement of picking the first vine-ripened tomato. These experiences can have lasting effects by inspiring youth to understand and pursue healthy eating habits. For some youth, a lifelong hobby of food gardening will take root in these early experiences!

Before you begin expanding your garden to grow more than you need, first locate a local food shelf or food pantry that can help you find a good home for any extra fruits and vegetables. AmpleHarvest.org is a good place to begin your search.  There are a wide variety of community organizations that provide food assistance, but sometimes it takes a little big of digging to find an organization able to distribute perishable food items like fruits and vegetables.

Once you locate an organization to work with, ask them for a wish list of fruits and vegetables, and also what days are best for them to accept donations.  Some facilities may have limitations in storage (especially cold or cool storage). They also may only distribute food on certain days of the week and so you will want to harvest your produce as close to those dates as possible.  Ask them what fruits and vegetables they think their clients are most likely to use and enjoy.  Unusual fruits and vegetables may be fun to grow, but they may also be intimidating to those not use to cooking with them. Ask if there any other food handling guidelines you should follow when harvesting.


Growing Guide: Red Poppies

Growing Guide: Red Poppies

red poppies growing guideDownload: Growing Guide: Red Poppies

  • The red poppy, Papaver rhoeas, belongs to a group of plants sometimes referred to as “true poppies.” All are members of the genus Papaver. Other true poppies include the Oriental poppy (P. orientale) and the Iceland poppy (P. nudicaule).
  • The opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) is also a true poppy. This plant produces the seeds that we find sprinkled atop bagels. Opium poppies are illegal to grow in home gardens, however, because the unripe seed capsules produce a milky latex that can be used to make the narcotic opium.
  • Other plants include “poppy” in their common names but they aren’t true poppies; that is, they aren’t in the genus Papaver. These include sky-blue Himalayan blue poppy (Meconopsis species) and brilliant orange California poppy (Eschscholzia californica).

About Red Poppies

The red poppy is native to much of Europe and Asia. However, having naturalized over much of the U.S., vibrant red poppy blooms are a familiar sight in open meadows and wildflower plantings across the country. Other common names for this plant include Flanders poppy, Shirley poppy, field poppy, corn poppy, and American Legion poppy.

Red poppies are annuals, meaning that each individual plant grows for just one season. The seeds sprout in spring and form mounds of feathery foliage. In early summer you’ll begin to see fuzzy, nodding buds atop wiry gooseneck stems. Before long, the buds burst into vibrant red blooms with delicate, papery petals. Toward the end of the growing season the flowers transform into distinctive capsules filled with an abundance of tiny seeds. When the capsules dry and open, the seeds may drop on the ground or be carried some distance on the wind.

The red poppy flowers’ fragile appearance belies the plants’ resilience: All those tiny seeds can remain dormant for years until conditions are just right. Then, they’ll germinate and form swaths of brilliant red blooms.

Red poppies thrive where soil has been disturbed. Seeds that have been buried are brought to the surface and germinate in the bare soil. Red poppies are a familiar sight on the borders of farm fields where the soil has been tilled for planting. The common names “field poppy” and “corn poppy” allude to the plants’ association with agriculture. Despite the beautiful blooms, some consider these prolific plants a weed.

A Symbol of Remembrance

Prior to World War I, red poppies flourished in wildflower meadows across Europe, notably in the Flanders region in western Belgium. Sadly, these fields became the scenes of some of the war’s fiercest battles. The land was trampled, bombed, and burned.

Despite this devastation, patches of poppies sprouted on the disturbed soil, including among the freshly dug graves of fallen soldiers. Inspired by the beautiful blood-red flowers blooming near his friend’s grave, John McCrae, a Canadian soldier, wrote the now-famous poem “In Flanders Fields.” Look at the KidsGardening Memorial Day lesson plan for the full poem.

Once the fighting ceased, poppy seeds that had lain dormant for years sprouted in profusion, resulting in stunning fields awash in the red blooms. The red poppy came to represent the blood shed during the war and a symbol of remembrance for those who were killed fighting for their country.

In addition to commemorating the fallen soldiers, the red poppy was adopted by the American Legion as a symbol of support and appreciation for living veterans. Fabric poppies were crafted and sold to raise money for veterans, as well as active-duty military families in need. The tradition continues to this day, and it’s common to see silk or felt poppies pinned to lapels on Memorial Day.

Junior Master Gardeners World War I Poppy Project

The year 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entering World War I. In commemoration, the Junior Master Gardener’s World War I Poppy Project invites youth to sell packets of red poppy seeds. Some of the funds they raise will help finance the building of the National World War I Memorial in Washington, D.C.; the other money they raise will be used to support their school/group garden projects.

Growing Guide: Red Poppies

Getting started: Red poppies grow 14 to 24″ high with 2″ to 4″ wide blooms. Plan to direct-sow the seeds right in the garden or in an outdoor container. The plants don’t do well if started in shallow containers because their long taproots are often damaged during transplanting. If you want to start seeds indoors, choose deep seed-starting pots and handle the plants very gently during transplanting.

Choose the planting site
Red poppies prefer full sun. They adapt to most soils except heavy clay.

Prepare the soil
Begin by clearing the area of all existing plants. Then loosen the soil, pick out large rocks, and break up any clods. Mix in some compost and a bit of balanced, slow-release organic fertilizer. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers, which can inhibit flower development. Rake the soil so it’s flat and smooth.

Sow the seeds
Prior to sowing, mix the tiny seeds with sand. This will make it easier to distribute the seeds evenly. Also, the sand will give a visual cue as to where you’ve sown the seeds. Tip: Poke small holes in the bottom of a coffee can, pour the sand-and-seed mix in it, and shake it evenly over the soil.

Press seeds onto the soil surface
For small areas you can use your hands to firm the soil or press a brick or board onto the soil surface. Don’t bury the seeds. For larger areas you can rent a seed roller. A gently spray of water will also settle the seeds into the soil. This ensures that the seeds have contact with the soil. Tip: Birds like to dine on newly planted seeds. If this is a problem, cover the planting area with a thin row cover until the plants are a few inches high.

Water regularly
Keep the soil moist by watering them with a gentle shower every few days. Once the plants are about 6” high and growing well, you can scale back to weekly watering, taking care to moisten the soil 4” to 6” deep. Mature poppy plants are relatively drought-tolerant but will still benefit from watering during periods of extended dry weather.

Cutting poppies for bouquets
Poppy flowers don’t last long in a vase, sometimes just a day. One way to extend that time is to sear the cut ends of each stem with a match before placing them in a vase of water. In addition to the brilliant flowers, poppy seed capsules are also a striking addition to a vase of fresh flowers, as well as to bouquets of dried flowers.


Garden How-to: Teaching History in the Garden

Garden How-to: Teaching History in the Garden

teaching history in the gardenDownload: Teaching History in the Garden

There are many traditional tools to help you bring history lessons to life for your students, such as primary documents, historical documentaries and field trips. But what could be better than experiencing history through the hands-on activity of cultivating a garden?

Plants are the sustaining force of life on this planet.  Early humans relied on the bounty of nature as hunters and gatherers. As more complex civilizations evolved, agriculture emerged (or, arguably, civilizations grew because agricultural practices evolved).  Agriculture is the science and practice of raising crops, also known as farming.  Growing plants both for survival and for profit is a shared experience across history. Most humans in most parts of the world were directly involved in some aspect of agriculture right up until the Industrial Revolution.

As technology advanced during the Industrial Revolution, and continues to advance up to the present day, the amount of food farmers can produce from their fields has increased, so that a smaller percentage of the population must be directly involved in the production of food crops.  One positive result of this shift has been time dedicated to the development of other technologies, as well as the cultivation of other pursuits (art, music, literature, etc). However, one of the drawbacks is a lack of understanding of how our food is produced, and a decreasing appreciation for the interwoven cycles of nature. School gardens give students the opportunity to participate in an important historical activity, and to experience the emotions of success and failure of growing their own crops on a small scale.

There are many ways to integrate history lessons into your school garden.  In this article we present some ways to use the garden as a tool to:

  • discuss a particular era in history.
  • introduce life in a different culture.
  • explore an event.
  • research the historical value and travels of a particular plant.
  • study important people in history.

Discuss an Era

Gardens and farms evolved throughout history as people adopted new practices and grew different crops to match needs and available resources. Due to this evolution, agricultural practices can serve as a way to define different eras by exploring their unique planting patterns. Here are a few examples of time periods you could study using a garden:

The Age of Discovery
The 15th and 16th centuries were times of world exploration. European sailors set sail to find new trade routes to the Far East in hopes of finding precious metals and spices such as pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves.  During this time, explorers found several plant crops, including potatoes, beans, peppers, tomatoes and squash, that they later brought back to Europe.  Grow some of these crops in your school garden, to bring their explorations to life. Research the many ways new food options changed our diets.

World War II
During World War II, there was a strain on the food supply. The United States was faced with shipping large quantities of food overseas to feed the troops, while at the same time many farmers and farm workers were part of the military deployment, decreasing the country’s food production.  As a way to increase the availability of fresh produce, the government encouraged citizens to cultivate food gardens, dubbed Victory Gardens.  Growing food at home meant that more farm-produced food could be sent overseas to support the troops.  It was publicized as fulfilling your patriotic duty to help win the war. Plant your own school Victory Garden as a way to explore this important era in our nation’s history.

Colonial Times
Gardens were very important to the survival of new colonists in the Americas, and not only for the food they provided. Many colonists also brought favorite plants with them from their homes overseas, and the familiarity of these plants offered comfort during difficult times. Learning how to adapt to American soils and climates was often a challenge for early colonists, but over time they developed skills and identified crops for consumption and for trade.  Research the crops grown by American colonists and discuss the importance of having successful gardens to their health and survival.

Introduce a Culture

In addition to changes in gardening and farming over time, each culture also developed unique agricultural practices and traditional crops.  By learning about the common plants and foods of a culture, students begin to increase their understanding and appreciation for the culture as a whole.  Students can grow traditional crops of the culture being studied ,and then harvest, prepare and enjoy special cultural meals.

Three Sister Garden
Many Native American cultures planted corn, beans and squash (referred to as the “three sisters”) in mounds.  The growth habitat and nutritional content of these three plants complemented each other, creating a successful garden design. Learn how to create your own Three Sisters Garden.

Aztec Floating Gardens
The Aztecs of Central America had the challenge of growing crops in poorly drained, swamp-like land.  They overcame this agricultural disadvantage by creating gardens that floated on the water.  Studying their unique gardens is a great way to launch into your own exploration of hydroponic garden systems.

Bonsai is an ancient art form originating in the Orient. It involves careful and diligent pruning of a tree’s roots and stems to mimic its natural growth habit, resulting in a miniature tree that resembles its full-size counterpart. The practice is associated with expressions of nature, religion and meditation, with many symbolic aspects reflecting culturally significant ideals. Bonsai is an interesting blend of art and science; check to see if there is a bonsai society in your area and ask a local expert to come share his or her work.

Explore an Event

There are many famous events throughout history in which plants were a major player. Cultivating these plants helps the event come alive to students.  Some examples include:

Tulips were a spotlight in an early consumer economic craze in Holland known as Tulipmania.  The popularity and scarcity of the tulip bulb led to a frenzy of speculative trading.  At the peak, people were paying the modern day equivalent of $76,000 for one tulip bulb.  Eventually the market crashed, devastating the economy.

Lewis and Clark Expedition
Commissioned by Thomas Jefferson in 1803, the Lewis and Clark Expedition gathered important information about the western United States, including the collection and identification of hundreds of native plants.  Introduce your students to this important mission by planting some of their finds, or practice collecting and cataloging plant material in your school garden.

Irish Potato Famine
Potatoes originated in Peru, but became an important source of food in Europe because they are easy to grow and high in nutrients. In fact, people became too dependent on the potato, resulting in the devastating Irish Potato Famine. Beginning in 1845, the potatoes in Ireland were destroyed by a blight caused by an imported fungus. The loss of the potato as a food source led to a multi-year famine resulting in widespread death by starvation, mass migration to other countries and financial ruin. This event in history not only highlights the importance of diversified agricultural practices, but also demonstrates the potential devastation of foreign diseases on plant species. Read: How the Potato Changed World History

Research History, Uses and Travels of a Plant

Just like people, every plant has its own story: its unique parts, growth habit and growing requirements; country of origin; list of uses by different cultures (the study of the uses of plants is called ethnobotany); and a log of travels as it was moved to different areas of the world. Texas A&M offers a fascinating publication from National Geographic called “Our Vegetable Travelers” that offers engaging historical commentary on many of our most common vegetable plants.

Study Important Historical Figures

Many famous historical figures have contributed to the body of knowledge related to plants.  Some examples include:

Thomas Jefferson
In addition to his great contributions in the founding of the United States and as the third President, Thomas Jefferson was also a farmer and avid collector of plants.  Research continues today through The Thomas Jefferson Center for Historical Plants.

George Washington Carver
George Washington Carver focused his research on sustainable agricultural practices to help benefit small-scale Southern farmers.  In addition to providing information on growing vegetables, he also created recipes for preparing nutritious and economical meals. Learn about some of his early research related to soil conservation and compare it to our current sustainable agricultural practices.

Dr. Norman Borlaug
Dr. Norman Borlaug directed research at the Cooperative Wheat Research and Production Program in Mexico. His focus was to develop more efficient farming practices and to introduce improved varieties of crops through plant breeding experiments with the goal of increasing food production around the world. His work resulted in the development of a wheat variety that was shorter, produced a higher yield and was more disease resistant than traditional varieties.  The new seed varieties were planted around the world to help increase food availability for an increasing world population.  In 1970, Dr. Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to decrease world hunger through the development of new plant varieties. He is credited with saving millions of lives by increasing food production in Third World Countries.

We hope these ideas will inspire you to begin thinking about how to incorporate history lessons into your garden program.  The more ties you can make between your school garden and your curriculum, the stronger your garden program will be in terms of sustainability and impact.


Garden to Give Lesson Plan

Garden to Give Lesson Plan

Download: Garden to Give Lesson Plan 

Overview: Growing your own fruits and vegetables is a great way to add fresh, local produce to your diet. Planting just a little bit more than you need also offers opportunities for you to help address hunger issues and to make a difference in your community.

Grade Level/Range: All ages


Students will learn that:

  • Planting a vegetable garden provides access to healthy and nutritious foods.
  • In spite of the wealth in our country, there are many Americans who are food insecure and do not always have access to healthy foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Donating a portion of your vegetable harvest to a local food pantry or other food distribution agency provides an opportunity to help those in need in your community.

Time: Lesson: 1 hour
Growing a Garden to Give: 1+ growing seasons


  • Internet access
  • Space and soil for a vegetable garden (containers, raised beds or in-ground)
  • Vegetable seeds

Background Information

Fresh fruits and vegetables are an important part of our diet, offering a wide variety of important vitamins and nutrients. Unfortunately, not all people have access to an adequate supply of fruits and vegetables. Based on 2016 data, the USDA estimates that 41 million Americans live in food insecure households, which they define as “households that were uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food.” In addition to lack of funds, this number represents households that are located in what are known as “food deserts.” Food deserts are areas that are not within close proximity to a grocery store, which means that residents do not always have easy access to fresh, perishable food items.

Before modern day food systems that allowed for perishable foods to travel longer distances, home and community gardens were an important source of fresh fruits and vegetables. Often referred to as kitchen gardens, these small-scale gardens were designed with utility in mind, producing horticultural food crops such as fruits, vegetables, herbs and edible flowers. They are traditionally located close to the kitchen (and thus the name) to make it as easy as opening the refrigerator or pantry to access fresh supplies needed for preparing a meal.

Successful kitchen gardens were vital for the survival of early American settlers. Kitchen gardens provided fresh fruits and vegetables with essential vitamins and nutrients that were not always available from other sources. Without refrigerated transportation, most fruits and vegetables were too fragile to travel long distances, so local harvest was key. Additionally, most people had very limited surplus funds and producing food was much less expensive than buying it. For more information about the history of kitchen gardens, check out Harvest of Freedom: the History of Kitchen Gardens in America from Mann Library at Cornell University.

In the early 1900’s, as our society became more urban and as technology advanced to expand food transportation and enhance preservation techniques, kitchen gardens began to fade. All types of foods, including fruits and vegetables, became more available, and the cost of purchasing food became more economical in terms of the time it took to produce one’s own. However, kitchen gardens experienced a renewed popularity during World War I and War World II when food supplies became tight. Known as Liberty Gardens (WWI) and Victory Gardens (WWII), kitchen gardens once again became an important source of sustenance and were promoted as a way to help win the war by freeing up farm production for soldiers. In 1917 alone, the National War Garden Commission estimated that home gardeners raised 350 million dollars of crops in yards and vacant lots in 1917 and 525 million dollars in 1918. (Wow! If in a food crunch today, would we find the same success with home gardens?)

Since then, our farming roots have grown even more distance. We have adopted diets even more reliant on cheaper, processed and prepackaged foods and we have centered much of our fruit and vegetable production in pockets around the country such as California, Texas and Florida.

Planting fruit and vegetable gardens are a wonderful tool to reintroduce today’s youth to the importance of locally grown foods. Growing their own food:

  • strengthens their understanding of food origins and production
  • increases enthusiasm and appreciation for fresh fruits and vegetables through the pride and ownership of growing their own
  • provides the produce needed for hands-on cooking and tasting activities
  • gives them the knowledge and skills to supplement their own food supply
  • provides them with opportunities to share extra produce with their community

Renewed efforts to use home and community gardens to help decrease food insecurity began in 1995 with the Garden Writers Association’s program Plant a Row for the Hungry Program. The program encouraged gardeners to plant an extra ‘row’ of produce and then donate it to a local food pantry, shelter, or soup kitchen. In 2018, Gardener’s Supply Company launched their Garden to Give Program to continue to encourage gardeners to donate their extra harvest to those in need.

Laying the Groundwork

Use the following questions to get students to begin thinking about the benefits of growing your own fruits and vegetables and the opportunities for your garden efforts to benefit your community:

  • Why is it important to eat fruits and vegetables every day? (They contain important nutrients to maintain health.)
  • Does everybody eat enough fruits and vegetables every day? (No.) If no, why not? (Some people do not know what they should eat, others do not have access to the right foods because of their location or lack of money.)
  • Could we use our garden to provide fruits and vegetables for us and for people who do not have enough? (Yes.)
  • How would donating part of our harvest contribute to our community? (It would help members of the community secure a more nutritious diet.)


  1. Begin by researching the changes in food production at home over the years. The USDA has compiled data on the amount of money spent on food consumed at home since 1869, including the amount of money spent on food purchased at stores and the value of food grown at home. You can find a table with this information on the The ERS Food Expenditure Series Webpage. Download Table 2: “Food at home: Total expenditures.”
  2. Give each student a copy of the Food Grown at Home table. Ask them to discuss their observations about the data in the table. They should notice that the amount of money spent on food has increased greatly since 1869. Ask them why they think it has increased. (Possible answers: inflation, increase in population.)
  3. Ask them to look at the differences between growth of sales from food stores and value of home production. Is looking at the actual dollars the best way to compare the changes over time? Ask them to think of other ways to compare the numbers. For example, they could determine the percentage of the grand total comprised of the total food sales and home production and then compare the two. (In 1869 food sales represented 65% of the grant total and home food production 35%; in 2014 food sales represented 97% and home food production 3%.) More advanced students may want to discuss inflation and calculate adjustments. Check out MeasuringWorth.com for more information and calculators.
  4. How has our food system changed over the years? Based on this table, ask students to predict what they think will happen in the future.
  5. Introduce your class to the Plant a Row for the Hungry Program and Garden To Give. Discuss the benefits and challenges of using home and community gardens like their school garden to address food security issues in their community.
  6. Find a local food bank or food pantry that accepts donations of garden produce. Check out AmpleHarvest.org for leads. If possible, ask a representative from your local food bank or another hunger-relief agency to come and speak to the class about what they do, who they serve and why their work is important. Give your students time to ask questions about how they could help. Ask the representative for a list of vegetables they accept to distribute to their clients. If a classroom visit is not possible, as a class come up with a list of questions and either email them to the agency or see if you can conduct a phone interview.
  7. If resources allow, use this information to plan your school garden by including space to grow produce specifically designated to donate. If planting a donation garden at your school is not possible due to time, space, school policy or financial restrictions, you can brainstorm other ways to support donation gardening efforts, such as promoting the program or recruiting local gardeners to participate.

Making Connections

Here are some questions you may want to explore for further discussion:

  • How has home food production changed?
  • How much of your food is grown locally?
  • Should we be concerned about the fact that most of our food is not grown locally?
  • Is our current food system sustainable? How important is an inexpensive fuel oil supply to our food system? What will happen as the population grows?
  • Debate this statement: The sovereignty of our nation depends on our ability to produce food.

Branching Out

English: Ask each student to write an opinion paper discussing the benefits and drawbacks of home food production and whether or not they think it is a good way to address community food insecurity issues.

English: Create a recipe book for the fruits and vegetables grown in your school garden. Include instructions for growing each highlighted fruit or vegetable. Your books can be distributed at the food pantry where you donate your produce and/or also sent home with the youth.

Social Studies: The USDA has also compiled information about the amount of money spent on food consumed outside of the home. How has this trend changed over the years? What does this mean for our society? How important of a role do restaurants and other food service organizations play in our diets and in the overall health of our population?

Math: Many times food pantries equate weight of food with a dollar value to quantify the donation. Weigh your harvest before donating it and keep track of your donations throughout the season. Share the value of your donation with your gardeners, other classes, administrators and parents so they can see the impact of the efforts. For additional math practice, use different techniques to express the weight and volume of your donation. Conversion charts can be found at PickYourOwn.org.


Remembering Memorial Day

Remembering Memorial Day

memorial day lesson planDownload:  Remembering Memorial Day lesson plan

Overview: Plants have always played a central role in the Memorial Day activities, when families and civic groups decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers and wreaths. After WWI, the red poppy became an international symbol of reverence and honor for these military heroes. Even now, 100 years after the end of WWI, many people in the U.S. still pin a fabric poppy to their lapel on Memorial Day as a sign of respect and remembrance. Use your school garden program to introduce students to the history and significance of Memorial Day.

Grade Level/Range: 6- 12th grade

Objective: Students will learn:

  • the history that led to the establishment of Memorial Day
  • the many ways plants are used as symbols in our culture
  • how to make seed balls with red poppy seeds (or other types of seeds)

Time: 30 minutes to 1 hour


  • Internet access
  • Copies of the poems “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae and “We Shall Keep the Faith”by Moina Michael
  • Red poppy seeds
  • Clay
  • Compost or potting soil

Background Information

Memorial Day has largely become known as a three-day weekend holiday full of picnics and department store sales. It’s true purpose is often overshadowed by the long weekend of fun events that kicks off the summer season. Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day starting in 1868. It was a special day set aside for Americans to remember the fallen soldiers of the Civil War, and to honor them by placing flowers and flags on their graves. Later the focus expanded and it became a day to remember all those who died while serving in the military. The National Holiday Act of 1971 established Memorial Day as an official federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May.

Although perhaps not as common as it used to be, the sight of a silk or fabric poppy flower pinned to a lapel on Memorial Day is still a meaningful reminder of the true meaning of the holiday. How did this humble wildflower come to be a symbol of remembrance?

In 1915, during WWI, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Allied Army named John McCrae wrote a poem titled “In Flanders Field” about the red poppies blooming in the war-ravaged battlefields. In 1918, an American college professor named Moina Michael was so moved by the poem that she responded with a poem of her own titled “We Shall Keep the Faith.” She began a campaign to adopt the red poppy as a national symbol and started selling silk poppies to raise money for disabled soldiers, and urged Americans to wear red poppy flowers on Memorial Day to show their support. Across the sea in France, Anna Guérin was also advocating to have the poppy recognized by all Allied countries. The History Channel offers a detailed summary of the events.

Laying the Groundwork

As a class or individually, read the two poems that inspired the adoption of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance.

“In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

“We Shall Keep the Faith” by Moina Michael

Oh! You who sleep in Flanders fields,
Sleep sweet – to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died

We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders field

And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that you wrought

In Flanders field

Ask students to discuss the poems. Here are a few questions to help begin the discussion:

  • Why do you think the poppies made such an impression on the authors of these two poems?
  • Why is it so important to remember soldiers who have died in war?
  • How can knowledge of historical events help us in the present?


  1. Research the growing habits of red poppies. They are hardy wildflowers that can grow almost anywhere. Ask students to consider how their characteristics contribute to their value as a symbol of remembrance. Can you grow red poppies in your area? If so, when is the best time to plant them?
  2. Make seed balls as a way to distribute poppy seeds in your community. Seed balls are seeds wrapped in a ball of clay and compost or potting soil so that they are conveniently “packed” for easy distribution. The shell protects the seeds from animals, insects, and too much moisture when they’re sprouting. Seed balls are particularly useful in areas where rainfall is unpredictable. They can be dropped onto the top of a soil-filled container or in a cultivated garden and watered by hand to initiate sprouting, or thrown into an empty lot or field where they will patiently wait for enough rain to begin the germination process. The clay keeps the seeds from blowing or washing away, and protects them from hungry critters. It also keeps the seeds from sprouting until adequate water is available. The compost or potting soil adds a bit of nutrients to help give them a jump start.
    Seed balls were used in ancient times, and were rediscovered in the 1900s as a way to introduce vegetation on a large scale to uncultivated land, such as areas devastated by fire or floods. Seed balls are also being used in the Guerilla Gardening movement as a way to beautify vacant lots and urban common areas.
  3. Gather the supplies of clay, compost or potting soil, and seeds.
  4. Divide your materials so you have:
  • 5 parts air-dry clay
  • 1 part compost/potting soil
  • 1 part seeds
  1. Combine the clay and compost. Add a little water if your mixture is dry. The mixture should be moist but not dripping wet, with the consistency of cookie dough.
  2. Add the seeds to the clay and compost. Thoroughly work the materials together with your hands.
  3. Shape the mixture into a ball the size of a golf ball.
  4. Allow the balls to dry on waxed paper or a cookie sheet.
  5. Once the balls are dry, creatively package them in scraps of cloth or paper bags decorated by the students. Add a small ribbon or a red poppy flower crafted from cloth or paper, along with a note about Memorial Day.

Making Connections

  • Find out about the Memorial Day observations in your area. Discover if there are ways for your gardeners to share their new knowledge about red poppies with the community.
  • Distribute the seed balls in your community. This could be a volunteer project, or you may even consider making it a fundraiser to help support your garden program or to donate in honor of veterans in your community.

Branching Out

History: Learn about other examples where people have used flowers as symbols such as state flowers. Each of the fifty states adopted an official flower to represent the state and its people. Look up your state flower and find out why it was chosen. For example, according to state historian Leon Anderson the purple lilac received the designation as the state flower of New Hampshire because it “is symbolic of that hardy character of the men and women of the Granite State.”

Art: Ask students to draw or create a flower (using whatever media you have available) to be their symbol. They can either choose an existing flower or create a new flower. After they finish their drawings, ask each student to explain to the class why that flower represents them.