A Hero's Garden

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Nurture a class of enthusiastic school gardeners by challenging them to design a garden for their favorite superhero.


  • graph paper and blank paper
  • pencils, colored pencils, crayons
  • seed and plant catalogs
  • old gardening magazines or garden books


Steps for Designing a Youth Garden

Laying the Groundwork

Ask students the following questions to begin the design process:
- What is a garden? What common things do gardens include? A garden is a space created by people that imitates a natural setting. Common garden elements include plants, ponds, stepping stones, arbors or trellises, birdbaths and feeders, statues and sculptures.

- How big is a garden? Gardens can be any size. A container garden may be as small as a 6-inch clay pot on a patio, while a large public garden may occupy hundreds of acres of land.

- What influences garden design? When designing a school garden, consider who will use it and how they will use it. Also, review the existing site conditions and consider environmental conditions.


1. Lead a class discussion on gardens using the questions above. Make sure the students understand that [school] gardens can be any size and shape, and include both plant and non-plant elements. Then explain that each student or group of students will design a garden for a very special person: their favorite superhero.

2. Have students identify a superhero and list of some of the things they think that hero would want in his or her garden. This is called a client analysis.

3. Provide time for students to look through garden magazines and books for garden ideas. They can also look through old seed or nursery catalogs.

4. With ideas in hand, the students are ready to design their garden. Older students can create an aerial-view landscape design on a piece of graph paper. Explain how to use the blocks on the graph paper to scale ideas. Have them refer to catalogs for inspiration, and pay attention to the size of plants in the catalog descriptions.

Younger students can use colored pencils or crayons to draw their garden plan on a piece of blank paper. Have them draw from a two-dimensional, front-view perspective. In addition to plants, encourage students to incorporate pathways, water features, seating, and other items (e.g., fences, sheds, compost bins) into their plan. As they work, ask them to think about why their superhero will enjoy their design.

5. When the plans are done, have each student or group present their plan to the class, describing the components and explaining what special features they included for their superhero. Display the completed designs for all to enjoy.

Making Connections

Borrow a site plan from a local landscape designer and show it to the students after they have finished their own sketches. Ask, What is significant about each element in this plan? What role does it play in the creation of a garden? How does the professional plan differ from student plans? Discuss the fact that landscapers use plans as blueprints to build gardens, whereas student designs may be more decorative, imaginative, and freeform, which is just fine! (Most landscape designers started out making the same sorts of drawings.)

Branching Out

- Ask students to create a 3-D model of the garden they designed for their superhero using natural materials.

- Complete a site analysis of your schoolyard and determine the best location for a new garden.  Design a garden for this space.

- Instead of a garden for a superhero, ask students to design a garden for a favorite book character.

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