The most important thing for which we can prepare a child is the experience of freedom, at the right moment in life, through the understanding of one's own being.


Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)

Teaching Practice > Horticulture
Gardening, environment, plants, sensory experience, animals, agriculture,
By: Peter Lange, January 2015,

Educational Horticulture: Arguments for and against and how you can do it anyway

Everyone is connected to the cultivation of edible plants, be it as producer or as consumer. We cannot live without plants. Peter Lange shows the importance of school gardens with a humorous and down-to-earth approach. His list of arguments is an encouragement for all those who are already looking after a school garden, but also for those who are still dreaming of one.

Fifteen arguments in favour of Educational Horticulture

  • Everyone's life, everywhere in the world, is connected to the care for the environment, the cultivation of edible plants and the keeping of domestic animals. Everybody should have some understanding of these central aspects of life.
  • Real life enters our school when we establish a garden. Gardens are connected to all aspects of life. They are places of beauty and we are all in need of such places.

  • In gardens, relationships with the earth, with plants, animals and people can grow. We can only understand and love the things we have a relationship to.

  • Heads, hearts and hands are needed in gardens. Today, the head is very big. A garden encourages the education and the harmonizing of all three areas.

  • Children and teens need a variety of sensory experience and they need the direct encounter with the sun, rain, warmth, cold, smell, taste, touch, beauty, deterioration, transformation, growth and decay.

  • Gardening offers a tremendous opportunity for us to connect to real life. There are still many possibilities to be discovered within this kind of work.

  • Gardening fosters skills. It nurtures the personal qualities crucial to a fulfilling career.

  • Social skills cannot be learned from books. Cooperatively establishing and caring for a garden is social competence put into practice. The school garden is thus transformed from a “biotope” into a “sociotope”.

  • How much is someone's work worth? We can find the answer by being actively involved in real work. The children experience how much knowledge, effort and how many resources are needed to cultivate even a few lettuce.

  • A school garden establishes the connection between the ecological, scientific and cultural lesson topics and actual reality. It literally brings those connections down to earth. A garden relates to and connects the various school subjects.

  • A garden enables us to actively do something in a world where, more often than not, something is being done to us. Many small deeds together lead to large results.

  • A garden is a place of much needed beauty, balance, rest, activity, idleness, usefulness, play and joy.

  • Reality itself is the teacher. In no other school subject is the result of either activity or idleness so obvious. The pupils are always directly involved and are held responsible.

  • The practical involvement in relationships becomes a part of everyday life; this is an excellent opportunity for a lasting effect with societal consequences.

  • And what did Rudolf Steiner say about this? “People who have been taught educational horticulture will be able to decide whether a particular agricultural method or action is right or wrong; not because they have studied it, but based on their intuition. Moral strength is also practiced in this kind of education. The effects of such teaching will only appear in the social attitude of the adult.” (

19 factors which may hamper the creation of a school garden

  • The old- fashioned view of a “school garden for hard work” and the “education of the will”: The children should at last learn to work properly!

  • The educational opportunities of a school garden are not known.

  • Horticulture is often neglected in teacher training.

  • Horticulture is not an exam subject; it is not part of the German “Abitur” or the Swiss “Matura”. It should therefore be cancelled or should only be taught in the lower school. (Editor's note: There are a number of UK schools which offer Horticulture or Agriculture as GCSE subjects.)

  • The “main school subjects” suffer from a lack of teaching hours anyway.

  • Children already spend too much time at school. If we introduce a new school subject, they will have even less leisure time.

  • Which teacher is willing to give up some of his or her lessons in favour of horticulture?

  • “We have always done it that way!” Existing structures can prevent new ideas from being put into practice.

  • Establishing a school garden might upset the orderliness around the school building.

  • A teacher needs to take on responsibility for the garden and care for it. The pupils cannot do it alone.

  • A garden depends on the climate and the seasons and observes its own laws which are often conflicting with normal school routine. The gardening year follows a different pattern than the academic year. Timetable planners are therefore challenged to find good solutions.

  • A garden demands attention and care even out of routine school hours such as weekends, holidays or in winter. It might be difficult to account for these extra hours within the usual frameworks, timetables and routine contact hours.

  • After gardening, the pupils will soil the corridors and classrooms. This requires more cleaning.

  • It is in any case very difficult to teach outside and will only lead to more problems.

  • There will be additional costs for equipment, buildings, materials and salaries.

  • You might not find a suitable patch of land.

  • The garden might be on a patch of land where sooner or later some building development will happen.

  • It will be complicated to obtain permits; you need to have quite some stamina to find your way through the various legal complications, not to mention the school board, the management and the college of teachers.

  • And what did Rudolf Steiner say about this? Not a word!

19 Encouragements for how to establish a school garden anyway

  • Every garden is unique. They depend on the size of the plot, the location, the climate and the creativity of the teacher. No two school gardens are alike!

  • The garden should be large enough so that there is always plenty to do. Pupils understand very quickly whether their work is meaningful or not. If you have less land, you need more imagination.

  • The children and teenagers should be in touch with the soil, the plants and the animals. This should happen with hands, feet, soul and spirit, with all the senses: this is the essential point.

  • The school garden is the biggest classroom, it is open to the sky and all directions. Please consider the consequences.

  • You need some form of shelter which offers protection from heat, cold and rain as you need to be able to work, in all weathers.

  • You need some simple tools. Further, you need boots, aprons and outdoor clothing and a storeroom for all the equipment.

  • Depending on your location you need a greenhouse or some cold frames to grow seedlings. And you need a water supply, of course.

  • Actually, a school garden doesn't need much.

  • A school garden is a room for learning, just like a classroom. It is your task to design and embellish it. The hedges surrounding the garden are the walls, the vegetable beds are desks as well as lesson material, the paths provide some structure.

  • Teaching outdoors is not easy. The pupils need some guidelines, they have to know what is allowed and what is not allowed. The better you achieve this, the less behavioural problems you will encounter.

  • A school garden must never be boring. It should provide plenty of interesting things to discover. It should be a place of beauty. Nature will gladly help you – but you have to tell her what you want from her!

  • The school garden might be a cross between an English garden (where nature is only a little restricted) and a Baroque garden (where everything is tidy, orderly and well cut back), however, a garden should never be neglected or unkempt.

  • The children will return to the garden over a few years. They will carry the habits they develop and the images of the school for the rest of their lives. It is worthwhile to make this picture as beautiful as possible. This is part of our responsibility.

  • Something you should also know: fastidiousness and pettiness will harm the children's joy in gardening.

  • As a teacher you should have three qualities and constantly develop them: 1. Love for the children and wanting to be at their side. 2. Being a master of your school subject. 3. Having enormous enthusiasm for your work.

  • There are many teachers of horticulture with a wealth of experience; speak to them or visit them. It is well worth it!

  • You can find good publications which cover the basics and offer methodological help. Have a look at! (Only in German. Ed.)

  • Beware: As a teacher of horticulture, the gardener in you will suffer quite a bit! The pupils will never do the tasks in the correct “gardener's” way. And the holidays are definitely at the wrong time of year. And the cancellations of lessons... and the weather... Now, at last you realize that your task is an educational one. Deal with it. But do not give up!

  • And what did Steiner say about this? “Become a dancer!”

Peter Lange is a teacher of Horticulture at Rudolf Steiner School Zürcher Oberland, Switzerland and a lecturer for Educational Horticulture at AfAP (Waldorf Teacher Training Course in Dornach, Switzerland)

Translated by Karin Smith


Forum group on the topic "Horticulture" see here



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