For as long as I can remember, my mother has had a garden of some type—something like fifteen at last count. My siblings and I have been employed in the upkeep of all of them. As a kid, I rarely had a good attitude about being sent out to weed and mulch, but as it turned out, gardening became one of the most important life experiences of my childhood. Looking back, I can see how that experience has influenced me both as a student and as a person. My exposure to horticulture led me to a growing passion for plant science. I discovered in my teens that I very much enjoyed working with plants, and I decided to focus on plants in my undergraduate and graduate studies. With that in mind, I want to share with you some instruction and encouragement about taking advantage of gardening as a homeschool resource.

Developing Unit Studies

As you begin to think about developing unit studies around garden work, don’t limit your options to basic horticulture and botany—dig a little deeper (pun intended); gardening can lead to the study of a wide variety of disciplines. When you start thinking about planting a garden, the first thing you will need to figure out will be what area of your yard you will use, taking into consideration the kind of sunlight that filters into the area and the quality of the soil, among other things.

Studying soil science, nutrient requirements, climate, and environmental science will be useful at this stage. Consider these questions, for example: What makes certain soil types unsuitable for gardening? What kinds of nutrients are required for plants to thrive? Where do those nutrients come from naturally? What is the best means of replenishing such nutrients, given environmental considerations? How does climate determine plant selection? Also, if you have any kids with an aptitude for design and construction, you could put them in charge of planning and/or building any structures that might prove useful in your new garden—a tool shed, a trellis, an arbor, or a raised bed, for example.

Choosing the Right Spot

Have no fear, you urbanites—you don’t need acres of land to have a garden. My mother had a garden when we lived on a postage-stamp lot in the inner city. If you have access to any land at all, you can put in a garden—even if that garden is just a few tomato plants alongside the foundation of your house. If the soil is incredibly poor, you can design and build a raised bed and import some good soil. If you don’t have any land at all, you might be able to get involved in a community or church gardening program. And, while it would be ideal to have a full garden in a natural ecosystem, even maintaining a few houseplants or window boxes can give you a springboard to related academic pursuits.

Planting Considerations

Now that your garden site has been chosen, you will need to decide what kinds of plants you will have in your garden and how you will manage it. This would be a good time to visit the library and check out some books about genetics, entomology, and meteorology, for starters. What factors determine how a plant appears (flower or fruit color, physical size or shape, etc.)? What is a cultivar? What about when insects start to munch on the fruit of your labors? Take some time to identify the particular species present in your garden and research them to figure out whether they are beneficial or harmful. What are some ways that you can control bad insects without harming friendly ones?

You must also take weather patterns into consideration as you plan your work outside—a good opportunity to incorporate a study of meteorology. Keep in mind, especially during this phase of your gardening experience, that mandated physical activity can be a great component of your Physical Education curriculum. Hauling soil, weeds, compost, and mulch in a wheelbarrow encourages physical fitness and productivity—a great package deal.