Life in a Garden guides teachers through the basics of garden design and maintenance

There is something special about the curiosity of children observing and interacting with the natural environment. That is why it is important our schools, classrooms and educators engage students in the wonder of science – and our own school grounds (or backyards) are brilliant places to start. National Science Week is a timely reminder that science can be a bridge between imagination and information, encouraging students to develop the skills and tools they need to to make sense of the world and their place in it.

Science has been my life’s work. I have always been interested in discovering, and trying to better understand, plants and animals and their interaction with the environment. For about thirty years I was a high school science teacher. During that time I discovered permaculture and I was hooked. It made sense of all the things that I was teaching: living sustainably, building passive solar houses, recycling materials, harvesting rainwater, reusing greywater, growing food, making compost, restoring degraded landscapes and helping others to achieve their goals.

I think a common misconception is that permaculture is only about gardening, but while it is about developing a cultivated ecology it is also about taking a more holistic approach to designing resilient systems in the face of adversity and catastrophe. That idea seems particularly appropriate as we hurtle towards an uncertain future. It is about working with and within the ecosystem we find ourselves in, striving for balance and the welfare of all living things. We do need to better for ourselves and our environment and educating our students is an important step in the right direction.

That is why I developed Life in a garden and Science in a garden: to help primary school teachers and their students discover the living world and engage with science and sustainability practices.

Every school has the space to develop an outside classroom. Both Life in a garden and Science in a garden provide teachers (and parents) with the skills, techniques and know-how to build, maintain and teach using a school garden. The background information provided helps readers grasp the key concepts, have faith in their own ability and showcase good practice. The activities are linked to the science, and design and technology curriculums as well as the cross-curricular priorities of sustainability and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures.

It doesn’t take long to convert a desolate and unused area into a lush, food-producing, edible landscape where students can learn how to grow plants, nourish the soil, observe the world around them and to foster a desire to find out more. As the garden evolves students can interact with nature while observing seasonal changes, predator–prey relationships, pollination, germination and the importance of soil fertility.

Students will engage more deeply with the food they eat, examining different types of fruits and vegetables, identifying which parts of the plants are eaten and cooking recipes to observe how food can be changed, stored and preserved.

Now is the time to be teaching our students to engage with the world around them and sparking a passion for science through the wonders of the garden.