Landscaping the front of a SCHOOL!

esther_bFebruary 11, 2012

My principal just greenlighted my science research class to landscape the south-facing front of our high school. Right now, there is NOTHING there except for a few scraggly evergreen shrubs and a few scattered trees. Along the base of the building, it's just grass. I would like to put in some annuals and perennials, in a low-maintenance setup. Does anyone have a suggestion as to a landscaping scheme? Of course, the costs must be kept low as we must look to grant money to buy plants and materials.

It's a very large school building and so there is plenty of area which needs beautifying. My science research class hopes to make it a big research project by comparing 2 brands of fertilizer on plant growth.

Thanks for any advice.

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Esther, your request sounds simple enough, but don't be surprised to discover that "annuals and perennials," by their nature, are going to require more maintenance than woody plants like trees & shrubs. I'd speculate, also, that for a building the size of a school, perennials and annuals, alone, won't do as good of a job of creating a landscape, as will using some material that is capable of developing into larger size. That said, I'd begin by posting some pictures of the area to be landscaped, and its context. Show a little of the surroundings and the building. (Post the pictures by pasting their html code--obtained from your photo-hosting site, usually under the link, "sharing"--here in your message.)

    Bookmark   February 12, 2012 at 8:28AM
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I can't wait to see a picture.

My initial thought is that it is really important to improve the soil, by adding compost and other nutrients. A soil test is important to know what should go into it.

Our local elementary school has a beautiful mixed garden in front of it. There are small trees and shrubs which provide year round structure and interest. There are also flowering perennials and perennial bulbs (tulips, daffodils) which provide three season bloom. I think the garden brings a lot of happiness to the school, and especially the school secretary who views it just outside her window. The local garden club assumes all the maintenance of the garden - perhaps there is a garden club in your area who would do the same. If not, you might be able to find a landscape maintenance company who would be willing to donate a few hours a year to keep it up.

Unless someone wants to donate them, annuals would probably not be the best choice because they would need to be replaced each year. But if somebody wants to give you some - put them in!

    Bookmark   February 12, 2012 at 10:45AM
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If it's for a science research class, I'd suggest perhaps looking into native plants that are highly specific to the area. A huge opportunity for learning can be found in the research that goes into the planning, even before the first shovel hits the ground. (Of course, getting the hands dirty is definitely something that the kids will find satisfying... perhaps more so than the drier research part). Look into what native plant communities are found within the area, which resemble the conditions of your available site, what sort of modifications would be necessary to the conditions (i.e. soil, moisture, etc) that could make the area more conducive for native plants, etc.

- Audric

    Bookmark   February 12, 2012 at 9:47PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Hopefully what's there now is not the extent of what the situation will allow. That situation includes any possible theft, vandalism or indifferent usage including trampling. This needs to be determined before much is put into a new planting of small comparatively delicate plants, if disappointment, even exasperation is not to be the outcome.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2012 at 1:19AM
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I absolutely agree with the suggestion to go with small trees and shrubs and maybe a few perennials that are low maintenance and don't need dividing. Also bulbs which are so easy to plant and could naturalize, and ornamental grasses. As I get older, I am placing more shrubs which are so easy to care for. The native plant suggestion is superb also. Think about butterfly host plants and nectar plants, hummingbird attractors and just plain old bird attractors (seedheads, berries, shrubs for nesting). Therefore, this garden could be used for many future science projects (bird counts, lifecycle of butterfly, etc). A garden club could even be created to maintain it!
Sounds awesome.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2012 at 9:43AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

If it's a class project, it seems like an ideal opportunity for the students to learn a bit about landscape design principles and apply them to the site. I could see asking an internet forum to assist that process, but not to leapfrog over it.

You've had some good input as to what the design parameters might be. There will be more that are specific to the site and how it is used in the community. For example, our school yard is the local dog run, so a fenced area was crucial so the kids would not be working in dog poop.

Then there will also be the desired outcomes in terms of maintenance, for example. Annuals and food crops are good if you want each successive year of students to have an opportunity to plan and plant, but unfortunately the harvest, of food or flowers, comes in summer when school is not in session.

Are you the teacher or a student?

Karin L

    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 3:51PM
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Pictures!!!!! Want pictures!!!

    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 6:43PM
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daisychain01(zone 3)

We've just put in an outdoor classroom at our school. It's great fun and the possibilities are endless - but a huge amount of work. You probably know there are lots of grants available for schools that want to put in green space. One of the most known is Evergreen. I think Heinz also does grants for schools, but you probably have local grants as well. Grant writing is time consuming, but can be worth it.

I contacted a local greenhouse supply company in our area and they donate about $500 worth of supplies to us each year (we do a lot of planting so we get pots and soil from them, but they also give us garden tools and wheelbarrows, etc.). They get a tax receipt and we're all happy.

I'd also consider some raised beds as they are easier to maintain (especially for students). Water consumption can be higher, but my experience is that unless there is a parent or teacher who is willing to put hours and hours into maintenance, the in ground beds quickly turn into a weedy eyesore.

As others have said above, use low maintenance shrubs, etc. to give it good structure so that when you and your group are out of the picture, it will still look decent. I've seen many school garden spaces come and go over the years and know that the successful ones have to have at least one person willing to completely dedicate themselves to it whether it is teacher, student or parent.

I don't want to scare you off from this - I think it's wonderful. I just want you to be aware of what you could be taking on and to have a good plan that you can implement in small steps. I'm sure you will some great planning advice here.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 9:59PM
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daisychain01(zone 3)

Also, re: your plan to compare two brands of fertilizer. Are you thinking of comparing 2 commercial brands of fertilizer? What about comparing a commercial brand to a homemade fertilizer or a fish based fertilizer (my students hate it when I haul this smelly stuff out).

    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 11:36PM
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