School Gardens

Grown from the Past Exhibit Images

With smokestacks in the background, children water their plots at DeWitt Clinton Park in New York City, c. 1906. 

While adults’ use of vacant lot gardens began to fade, many urban reformers began to create school gardens for children, particularly those of immigrants and lower-income residents. Educators feared urban life would have negative effect on children. Gardens, they hoped, would be a way to connect youth to nature, teach them responsibility, and improve their physical health.  

The very orderly design of these spaces was intended to promote efficiency and individual responsibility.

During the early twentieth century, one of the most well know advocates of children’s gardening was Fannie Griscom Parsons. She created a large educational garden at DeWitt Clinton Park in New York City.

Grown from the Past Exhibit Images

Plans for a school garden in Chicago, c. 1911. The orderly design of children’s gardens was intended to promote efficiency and individual responsibility. From Among School Gardens, 1911. 

Parsons wrote that she did not start her children’s garden, “simply to grow a few vegetables and flowers.” Rather, she wanted the garden to be “used as a means to show how willing and anxious children are to work, and to teach them in their work some necessary civic virtues; private care of public property, economy, honesty, application concentration, self-government, civic pride, justice, the dignity of labor, and the love of nature by opening to their minds the little we know of her mysteries, more wonderful than any fairy tale.”

School garden projects were also a part of civic improvement efforts to clean up the appearance of American cities.

Today, teachers also embrace gardens as a learning tool, although their motivations are different. In schoolyards across the country, teachers have made gardens an important part the curriculum to promote nutrition, environmental stewardship, and teach topics in many subjects such as science art, literature, and history. The school garden continues to be a tool for engaging students with hands-on experience.

Grown from the Past Exhibit Images

Girls work in the Wainwright Garden in Philadelphia, c. 1911. From Among School Gardens, 1911.