Neighborhood businesses and organizations, especially those owned by parents of your students, can offer much needed materials for your school garden.

Highlighted below are ten suggestions for obtaining inexpensive or free plant materials in your own neighborhood.

Remember that the acquisition of “stuff” (supplies, soil, etc.) or “services” (produce for garden snacks at a garden event, free printing of a flyer or banner, etc.) is often just as good if not better than money.

Tip: Be prepared to provide a receipt showing the value of a donation or in-kind gift, as many will want to take a tax deduction.

Local Hardware Stores
Get to know the local hardware store owner or the manager of the local garden center at Home Depot or similar building supply stores. They often have bags of potting soil, mulch, stone, or vermiculite that are broken and not in condition to sell. They may sell to you at half price! At the end of the season, such stores typically give away seeds and other seasonal materials that they don’t want to store or that have a short shelf life.

Local Florists
A local florist can often be a supplier of plant material. They don’t have time or space to nurse plants back to health and may gladly contribute them to your classroom “garden hospital.” They will often contribute cut flowers that are not quite fresh enough to sell, but are great for flower studies or flower arranging projects.

Funeral Parlors
A local funeral parlor can also be a source of faded (“past their prime”) flowers. Flowers can be used for flower studies, flower arranging, making potpourri, or pressed flower art works. Plant-based art projects, such as pressed flower book marks, can be made to sell at a fundraising fair.

High School Science Teachers
Borrow materials from your local high school. Most high school science teachers will gladly let you borrow materials from them that they aren’t using. Make sure to return things in a timely fashion and in good condition.

Neighborhood Residents
Don’t dismiss the goodwill of the neighbors around your school. They have a vested interest in keeping the school in good condition because it affects the value of their property.

School Librarians
Work with the school librarian to identify books for the library that will be useful in the development and maintenance of your garden. Don’t forget resources for teachers as well as books for students. This might include curriculum guides and general gardening books.

Interiorscape/Plant Rental Companies
Get to know the manager of the local interiorscape company. In Chicago, one of the largest is Rentokil (a nation-wide chain). When their very large plants are no longer suitable for high price rental, they will give them away. These can make great additions to an indoor atrium for tropical/rainforest curricula integration and are often sizable plants that would normally be quite expensive.

National Association for the Exchange of Industrial Resources
Find out from your school business manager if your school or school district is a member of the National Association for the Exchange of Industrial Resources. If you are, they are often a source of wonderful free materials that can be used in the garden. Ask your school or district agent if you could look at the catalog or go along to one of the "Grab Bags."

Some schools send out a parent survey to ask parents directly (but carefully worded) what services, products, or volunteer assistance of time they could contribute. At one school in Massachusetts, a parent was a landscape contractor and donated some fill soil and the use of a bulldozer for a day. This was a hugely helpful in-kind gift, but wasn’t something that the parent would have thought of giving to the school had the school not asked.

Don’t forget, as a school, you are a non-profit organization and are entitled to buy from wholesale sources. You will need a copy of your school’s Tax ID Form and may need to set up an account with the wholesaler. “Shopping wholesale” usually lends you over 50% off retail price. What a deal! This makes your limited, precious funds go twice as far.

Also, local nurseries often allow you to buy “through them” at “cost.” This allows them to help you access gardening products from wholesale suppliers that you may not be aware of and allows them to help you out without depleting their own resources.