Here you will gather a basic understanding of expenses, which will require knowing what you need and getting estimates from your sources. This will make garden planning easier and will help you raise the funds you may require.

You should know:
  • Area: Approximate square foot area the garden will cover
  • Teachers: # of participating teachers
  • Contributions: Financial and in-kind contributions you know are available to support the project

What’s in a garden?

The basics
  • Flowers
  • Herbs
  • Vegetables
  • Access to water

These items can be arranged thematically depending on your goals.

Larger elements
  • shrubs, perennials, and annuals
  • some built elements such as a trellis entrance and raised beds
  • wood chip paths to enable students to work in their garden
  • possibly some small sculptural elements or signage to identify and individualize the garden

Some schools have elected to incorporate a wetland or marsh, which provides great aquatic biodiversity without standing water. Others incorporate ponds or other smaller of water features.

Tip: Water needs to be handled very carefully. In addition to being expensive to build and maintain, a pond adds a liability to the school and may increase insurance costs and electrical work.

Calculating square footage
Finding the square footage of a garden is relatively simple if the space is a basic square. Simply calculate the area of the space using this formula:

What if I have an odd-shaped space?
Here’s an idea that is simple and fun for students to experiment with when working with an uneven edge or a swirl:

Take a length of twine or rope and use it to outline the odd-shaped bed. Mark the point on the rope at which it meets the starting point. Then, remove the rope from the garden bed, and re-place it on a lawn or cement area in a more traditional square or rectangular shape. Have your students measure the shape using a formula for area that they are learning in class.

The area of the shape you calculate is equal to the area of the odd-shaped garden bed.

Example: Your string measures 5 feet long and 6 feet wide in a rectangular shape.

5 feet x 6 feet = 30 square feet

Your total area is 30 square feet.

Tip: As long as no length is added to the rope, the area will remain the same no matter what shape the rope is in. Have students experiment with this concept by re-shaping the rope in several different sizes of squares, rectangles, triangles, or circles (whichever shapes for which they have learned area formulas) and then calculating the area—they should all be the same. This is a great way for students to review and master the basic concept that a defined area can take many different forms without increasing or decreasing in area.

Basis for calculating costs

Putting it all in perspective…
The suggestions below will give you some ideas of what you accomplish with a given amount of funds. Please keep in mind that these are suggested ideas, and that prices vary greatly depending on the area of the country you are in. Be resourceful! With specially-arranged school discounts, wholesale purchasing, or in-kind gifts, your available funds will stretch a lot further!

For $100, you can purchase:
  • enough produce for a wonderful “plant parts” lab (seeds, fruits, veggies—all foods that come directly from plant parts!)
  • several gardening references, environmental/outdoor education curricular resources, or a small collection of plant/environmental-related children’s literature for your classroom
  • a small group of window box containers (probably 3-5, depending on individual cost) with seeds or plants, soil, and fertilizer to maintain them, or a few larger planters (2-3) to create a courtyard garden with container plantings
  • a few shrubs (2-3), a tree, or a grouping of perennials to enhance a pre-existing garden area
  • a wagon or small garden cart

For $250-300, you can purchase:
  • materials for a classroom terrarium, or a small grow light system so that your students can start their own seeds or establish an indoor garden of tropical houseplants
  • books such as gardening references, environmental/outdoor education curricular resources, or a collection of plant/environmental-related children’s literature for your classroom
  • materials to create 1-2 small garden plots (or one longer bed along the edge of a path or wall) with landscape timbers, topsoil, fertilizer, compost, seeds, and plants
  • a classroom set of child-sized garden tools
  • a heavy-duty garden cart

For $500-1,000, you can purchase:
  • a school garden library
  • enough materials to create 4-8 garden plots (depending on cost of materials) with landscape timbers, topsoil, fertilizer, compost, seeds, and plants
  • enough bulbs for a school-wide bulb planting event
  • a small landscape area with several shrubs or small trees that define an outdoor reading nook—might be phase one of a “starter garden” to be added to as resources allow
  • garden plants to support a specific theme or focus, such as native plants, a colonial herb garden, a butterfly garden, or a wildlife garden (especially perennials and grasses that live longer than single-year annual flowers)
  • a landscape element such as an arbor, fountain, rock grouping, or a couple of benches to enhance an existing garden landscape

For $2,500-5,000, you can purchase:
  • a basic garden landscape with planting beds for an entire grade level as well as trees and shrubs to create a defined sense of space with an entryway—an outdoor classroom!
  • contracting services for a local landscaper to provide labor for some of the more difficult aspects of garden installation such as sod stripping, irrigation installation, or bulldozer work, if needed (try to negotiate a discounted rate—remember, it’s a tax write-off for the company)
  • registration and travel for 2-3 teachers or parent volunteers to attend a school gardening conference

For $5,000-10,000 (and up), you can purchase:
  • additional landscape elements that enhance the garden but are more costly, such as brick paths, fencing, water features, irrigation systems, or electrical work
  • contracting services for a local landscaper to provide labor for overall garden construction and installation, or for portions of it—some of the more difficult pieces such as sod stripping, laying irrigation, or bulldozer work
Tip: It may be necessary to obtain an estimate from a retailer, landscape architect, or contractor to determine how much money a certain feature will add to your expense list.

You will also need to purchase tools for students to maintain the garden and educational materials that teachers will use to make the garden a learning center. Quantity will depend on the number of teachers and students who will participate in building and maintaining the garden and what materials can be recruited through donation (new or gently used).

Garden elements that inflate costs
  • over 5,000 square feet of area
  • paving (as opposed to using wood chips)
  • any major construction
  • a water feature, such as a pond or fountain
  • hardscape structures, such as paving or arbors

A sample school garden might cover approximately 50’ x 75’ (3,750 sq. ft.) and will not include any buildings, bricks paths, stonewalls, water features, or electrical work. Your total garden area could be smaller or larger, but should be big enough to accommodate the activities of several classroom groups. It is common for the total garden area to be divided between several adjacent zone areas.

For this garden example (which may be more or less than your garden), it costs approximately $2-3 per square foot or $7,500-11,250 to build.

The breakdown is:
2/3 materials
1/3 labor

In this example, we are assuming you will hire a crew to do sod stripping and other work that requires use of heavy equipment.

If you have suggestions to add based on your experience, please e-mail us.

Ready to start crunching some numbers?
Download the Cost Estimate Worksheet to get a rough idea of what your school garden will cost. See the Tool List to estimate your costs for supplies.