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Growing Art in School Gardens

Originally appears in the Winter 2007 issue.

Something is growing in school gardens in North America, and it’s not just the plants. Supporters of schoolyard naturalization have found an unusual way of capturing and sustaining enthusiasm for the garden by having students “plant” art in their school gardens in the form of murals, sculptures, mosaics and mazes. This innovative approach to naturalization has teachers and students using their schoolyards as sources of natural materials and inspiration for their artworks, as well as exhibition sites. As a teacher educator and parent volunteer involved in the blossoming of an artistic garden at a Toronto elementary school, my aim is inspire you to take a fresh look at your schoolyard and “grow” some art in the garden to cultivate a unique set of benefits for your school and community.

The relationship between art and gardens is not new, as artists have long been involved in designing gardens as well as recording their beauty through drawings, paintings, prints, and photographs. Those who have taken a trip to the gardens of Versailles or to Monet’s garden at Giverny have a deep appreciation of the benefits of these artistic interventions in nature. Yet until recently few educators have considered fostering a relationship between student artists and their school gardens. Fortunately, the growing trend toward schoolyard naturalization has planted ideas, as well as trees, in the minds of many educators. For those of us in art education, school gardens are inspiring environments in which to nurture our art programs. By using the garden as a source of images and materials, as well as a site for artistic intervention, we are helping our students develop artistic skills and aesthetic sensibilities, while creating an intriguing space for curriculum integration. Most importantly, we are deepening our students’ sense of place, an important step in developing their ecological literacy.

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Hilary Inwood teaches art education in the Initial Teacher Education program at the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on using art education to develop ecological literacy.