It is highly recommended that a school garden team use an “inclusive design process” to collect input from all members of the school and incorporate the collective ideas into a design for the school garden that represents everyone who will be using it.

What is the Inclusive Design Process?
The inclusive design process invites teachers and students to contribute creative ideas and provide input in the final design before garden installation. It emphasizes consideration of how the garden will be used, rather than its appearance, and puts the creative power in the hands of the school team, including the students.

The inclusive design process can aid in developing the appropriate adaptations to the garden to meet the needs of individuals with special needs or disabilities. If you include in your design conversations an individual with disabilities, someone who can share first-hand knowledge of the importance of having the appropriate containers, access, and tools for all to enjoy and fully participate in the garden, then you can be sure to design with universal access in mind. For ideas to design a garden that includes children with disabilities, read "Kids with Disabilities Don’t Like Radishes Either" by Gene Rothert from the Chicago Botanic Garden. If such an individual is not available to contribute to the design process, educate your development team about the concept of universal access so that you can embed it in your overall garden design.

Hold a Design Workshop
Organize a Design Workshop that relies on the inclusive design process whereby all participants can openly discuss ideas. A well-run Design Workshop generally results in strong feelings of ownership and pride in the garden and the school.

Tip: A Design Workshop is slightly different than a Vision Meeting, something we recommend you hold prior to holding a Design Workshop. The Vision Meeting is about the overarching goals and the character of the garden, its primary uses, and the school’s priorities for the space. The Design Workshop is more about garden design, a plan for building it, and plant selection. The outcomes of the Design Workshop should be guided by the outcomes of the Vision Meeting.

Begin by deciding who will participate. The simplest way is to have the garden team invite representatives from the student body, faculty, neighboring community, and local businesses to meet for one or more half-day workshops or two hours after school or in the evening to brainstorm ideas. In some cases, it might be more appropriate to have several different sessions that could accommodate the availability of participants.

Another approach would be to involve the entire school by having each classroom spend class sessions generating ideas and then having a representative from each classroom participate in the brainstorming session.

Logistics of a Design Workshop

Select a date, time, and location that suits everyone. Assemble the following materials for the workshop:
  • several large copies of the base map of your school garden
  • tracing paper or black overhead transparency
  • pencils, markers, colored pencils
  • flip-chart with paper, or a large chalkboard or dry-erase board

What goes on at a Design Workshop?
  • Brainstorm ideas - Give everyone a chance to contribute ideas to the garden design - write everything down; no ideas are "wrong" at this point.
  • Formulate a design concept - Sift through the brainstorm session and solidify everyone’s ideas
  • Create and approve a final design - Work closely on the drawings and design plans and reach a consensus to approve the final garden design. This may evolve in the workshop, or between workshops and next meeting.

Get some professional help if you need it!
During the design process many school garden teams find it helpful to have professional advice. Developing a master plan for the space will ensure that all components of the garden design work together, even if the garden is to be built in stages over time.

A local landscape architect or designer might offer services to a school garden project at little or no cost. A Master Gardener or an experienced gardener in the neighborhood might be delighted to help with the design and plant selection.

Tip: Just make sure the “Design Facilitator” is an individual who will truly listen to your ideas, and not just tell you theirs. A landscape design for children (and lots of them!) will be different from traditional landscapes, and the designer should keep this in mind throughout the process. Many professional in the landscape industry have little or no experience designing interactive spaces for children, so ask about this special experience.