Planning a Garden, Creatively

Finally, finally, it is gardening time in Michigan. After the long cold winter, I love seeing things become green again. On one side of our back yard, too tree-covered for anything but shade-loving plants, perennial hostas and ferns appear like springtime magic. Behind the house is a small woodlot, created by the city as a buffer between residential and commercial spaces. It is wonderful to see, but ensures that even living in a city, our yard is a virtual wild kingdom. There are new baby rabbits chasing around the yard, squirrels of all varieties, and a hungry woodchuck as big as a beaver. As a consequence, vegetables are on the other side of the yard, all in raised beds three feet off the ground. There are herbs in pots and flowers hanging in baskets. This year we’ve even planted potatoes in our potato bag—only a few of which have already been consumed by hungry critters.

As I was planting this week, it occurred to me how much critical thinking, problem solving, and math go into garden planning. As you think about activities that might engage students as warm weather evolves, what about having them plan a garden? The complexity of the plan and the types of problems to be solved can vary enormously depending on students’ age and garden experience. Think about the types of information available—and necessary—on seed packets. Map reading is essential to determine when seeds can be planted in your area. Reading tables and charts tells you how deeply seeds should be planted and how far apart. They clarify how tall plants will grow, when flowers will bloom, and when vegetables will be ready for harvest. Consider the kinds of activities that could be developed from a collection of seed packets, real or virtual. They could range from simple to quite complex. Here are a few examples. The simplest tasks could be plain calculation, with more complex tasks requiring mathematical thinking and/or creativity.

  • Imagine you are planning a garden with several kinds of plants. When should each plant go in the ground?
  • If your garden row is X feet long, how many seeds would you sow per row? How many plants would you have after thinning?
  • Your garden bed is 8 feet by 10 feet. Divide it into beds for your three types of plants. Calculate the area of each bed. Describe why you decided to divide the beds that way.
  • You want to harvest vegetables from your garden for as long a time as possible. Which vegetables would you plant and when? Explain your harvest plans.
  • Plan a flower garden that will show blooms all summer. Diagram your garden. Be sure that the taller plants are in the back and the colors will be interesting all summer. Explain your thinking.

 Of course, questions could become increasingly complex, for example, planning gardens with curved beds, calculating the area of each and the number of plants required. You might enjoy looking at the sample garden beds proposed by the Old Farmer’s  Almanac. And, not surprisingly, technology has evolved to allow students (or you!) you use virtual garden planners  online. Here is a link describing a few of the best free options.

If you design some garden-planning activities for your students, I’d love to hear about them.

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