Outdoor Art at School

Nature-based art is an idea that dates back thousands of years. From cave drawings to larger-than-life outdoor sculptures, humans have long used nature as both an inspiration and a setting for creative ideas. The garden, then, is a natural (pun intended) location for art to emerge and flourish in school. 

The thing I love the most about art in the garden is how inclusive it is. The garden can be a setting, model, or place of inspiration. Garden-based art can be big or small, permanent or ephemeral, and can involve students as individuals, or as part of a long-term, collective effort that involves the entire community. 

Much like gardening, there is something about art that connects people. Creating something beautiful, that has no limits on age, background, or ability is a powerful way to participate in - and feel pride in - a place.  Much like starting a garden, our advice about garden art is to dream big, and start small. Involve the resources and people close at hand - upcycled and found objects, PTO members and volunteers, paint store mis-tints, student-inspired ideas, dried seeds and flowers, and so much more. The enthusiasm for your garden is sure to grow as art blossoms along with plants each year!

Below, we've included some images of WIsconsin garden art projects that we hope will be an inspiration for ever more outdoor art in schools across the state! Check out our Art in the Garden Pinterest Board for more ideas.


All About Farm to School Month 2015 
Interested in Farm to School Month, but not sure where to begin? This fact sheet from the National Farm to School Network offers a quick overview of how individuals, schools, and other organizations can get involved! The National Farm to School Network also offers a Communications Toolkit to help you tell the world about the impact of Farm to School in your community! 
Art in the Garden Lessons
This collection of lessons, from the Art in the Garden Project highlighted in our story section, has ideas for teaching outdoor art through a variety of projects. Some involve students in outdoor creativity or installations, while others help students connect with the garden all year long, as they prepare multi-step garden art projects in the winter months!
New School Garden Briefs from WSGI 
With back to school season in full swing and fall gardens in bloom, it's a great time to peruse the new additions to our collection of WSGI Briefs. Topics include: Connecting Garden Curricula to Standards, Funding Your Garden Program, Favorite Garden Lessons & Activities, Composting in School, Gardens for Young Learners, Water Conservation and Education, and more!

Events ... visit our Events page for more

Great Lakes Great Apple Crunch!
October 22, 2015 

Sign up to participate in the Great Lakes Great Apple Crunch! It's a simple way to feature your farm to school work in a loud way. At noon on October 22, we'll all Crunch into a healthy, delicious local or regional apple to show our support for National Farm to School Month and Food Day. When you sign up, you'll receive a Crunch Guide full of ideas for planning, promoting, sharing, and education around your Crunch!  

Sign Up to Crunch!
Crunch Facebook Page



Food Day: Mid-West Menu
October 22, 2015

Are you interested in doing something special with your whole lunch try to celebrate Food Day during Farm to School Month? The Midwest Menu might be for you!  In the spirit of collective celebration, all schools across the Midwest are invited to serve a coordinated lunch try featuring local and regional foods on Food Day - Thursday, October 22. This can be a great addition to the Great Lake Great Apple Crunch!

Learn more about the Midwest Menu here - we suggest the webinar recording!



MEEC: Registration deadline this month!
October 21-24 - Madison, WI

The Midwest Environmental Education Conference is coming to Madison this fall! You may register for one, two, or three full days of the conference. Students can register for just $15. 

Tracks include Sustainable Foods, Education on Climate Change, Reaching Underserved Audiences, and Celebrating EE Success Stories. WSGI will present and, as always, be available with garden resources. Don't miss out on this great conference! 



Art in the Garden Project Exhibition
September 5 - October 25
Overture Center for the Arts - Madison, WI

The Art in the Garden Project helped ten Madison-area schools create lasting outdoor works of art in their school gardens. Join us in celebrating the unique and inquiring results of this project, told through photos, objects, and stories from participating schools at the Overture Center for the Arts from September 5-October 25. Reception with garden snacks and activities: October 4, 2pm-4pm.


Tasty Tidbits ... of wisdom, fun, and information

Garden Joke of the Month: 
What did one chickpea say to the other? 
Click here for answer.

School Gardens in the News:
WSGI was excited to see this news article about the University Child Learning Care Center garden in the news! Look for more school garden news articles in our Special Edition newsletter in late October!

Support the National Farm to School Act of 2015:
Thank you to everyone who advocated for the Wisconsin Farm to School Act of 2015! Now it's time for the national stage, as the House and Senate work to finalize the Child Nutrition Act of 2015, which will - hopefully! - include Farm to School legislation for this year. Here's how you can lend your voice:
  • Sign on to endorse National Farm to School legislation: You can sign on as an organization (including school districts, farmer groups, etc) or as an individual.
  • Raise awareness about this bill by sharing the infographic at left on your facebook, newsletter, etc!

Success Story: Art in the Garden Project

Mini-stories Celebrate Art in the Garden Success

This year, ten Madison-area school gardens were blooming with artistic inspiration. The Art in the Garden Project, coordinated by WSGI's parent organization, Community GroundWorks, helped students, faculty and families from each school to collectively create inspiring works of art in their outdoor learning spaces. The Art in the Garden project was made possible thanks to generous funding from the Madison Community Foundation and the American Girl ‘s Fund for Children.
Each school formed an Art in the Garden team made up of teachers and parent volunteers to coordinate the project. Most projects were collaborative, creating lasting works of art that involved dozens of students, or even the entire school over the course of the year.  

Each school submitted a mini-story to be displayed along with photos of their art project at a special Art in the Garden Exhibition at Madison's Overture Center for the Arts. We've included the stories and photos from the exhibit below in celebration of all the schools' success!

Lincoln Elementary

We worked with local woodworkers to build a giant weaving loom in our garden. This fall, students will harvest natural materials in and around the garden to create group weavings.  This will provide the opportunity for all four hundred students at our school to participate in interactive outdoor art that also pulls in lessons in social studies and science! Next spring, we will begin growing specific plants in our garden to use in the loom, and will also experiment with growing plants for natural dyes.  

Crestwood Elementary

We installed an outdoor stage at our school. Over one hundred fourth and fifth grade students decorated small chalkboards with mosaic tiles that will serve as announcement boards as the stage is used. A space was left for building a ramp entrance to the stage to make it wheelchair accessible. We plan to plant shade-friendly clematis vines to climb up the old baseball fence that forms the back of the stage. While we wait for the clematis to establish itself, we will yarn bomb the fence and plant flowers along the retaining wall.

Lapham Elementary

"It All Begins with a Seed,” offered K-2 students the opportunity to contribute to two permanent art installations in our garden: a Welcome Sign and a Living Stage. First, students created their own ceramic "stamps" with nature-based themes. The stamps were fired and used by students to design the terra-cotta tiles that now hang in our garden. Students enjoyed the creation process, and the chance to contribute to something that will last for years to come. One young boy, when asked what he thought of seeing his tile on display in the garden, said: "Before I was sad I couldn’t take my tile home but now it’s in something bigger and it makes me happy to see them all together.”

Toki Middle School

We collaborated with local sculptors to create a sculpture with an eighth grade class for our garden. Students worked with the sculptors to create the design and learn about the artists’ welding process. Students who saw their “piece” out in the garden were excited, and instantly asked to take photos to share with friends and family.  Many parents, teachers, and students have responded positively to the sculpture in our garden space, and are visiting our garden to see it. We are continuing to expand our garden, and the sculptures set the theme!

Orchard Ridge Elementary

We created an outdoor performance space in our garden, decorated with a student-made mosaic. After viewing images of other mosaics from around the world, students drew maps of where they wanted the space to be and what they wanted it to look like. We compiled student ideas and presented them to our garden committee and principal. During the winter, students created ceramic tiles to place in the mosaic. This spring, we all worked together to assemble the mosaic on our new stage!  In future years, this space will be used for students to create their own stories, music and movement either in organized performances, or spontaneously at play.

Marshall Early Learning Center

We used our Art in the Garden grant funds for several different projects. First, each classroom designed and painted a Peace Pole to display along the garden entrance. We also created an Up-cycled Bottle Tree. Students painted and cut old plastic bottles to look like flowers, and then attached bottles to “branches” created by the high school woods class. The finished “tree” was mounted on an existing pole from the old playground in the center of our garden. One child drew the bottle tree on the cover of his take home folder and said the tree makes him feel peace. Under the tree after he printed his name he wrote, “I LOVE SCHOOL!!!”

Van Hise Elementary

We designed and painted a mural on a wall near our garden, in an area  we are developing for thoughtful reflection.  The process began with children drawing pictures in art class to come up with the design. We also began a tradition with our Art in the Garden mural this year by having our fifth graders paint a rock with their name and a symbol that represents them.  These rocks were weatherproofed and there was a ceremony where students placed their rock in the space by the mural. We are excited to watch our “rock collection” grow and evolve as students reflect on their time as students at Van Hise!

Spring Harbor Middle School

Every year our eighth grade class gives a ‘class gift’ back to Spring Harbor.  This year all 88 students collaboratively decided to use our Art in the Garden grant funds to design a memorial arbor for Vickie Woodward, our former 7th grade teacher who passed away two years ago due to cancer. After measuring the dimensions of the garden, students created blueprints for the memorial arbor in Google Sketchup. The winning design was selected on the criteria of form and function. 

Prairie Elementary

Students at Prairie created a variety of Art in the Garden projects, including: Recycled bird houses with ceramic “totem poles”, mosaic stepping and sitting stones, and beaded wind chimes. Classrooms worked collaboratively to create the different projects. Students enjoyed working on group projects, and were excited to envision the final results in the garden. Our projects involved over six hundred students, as well as dozens of parents, teachers, custodians, and local business owners from the community around our school.

Lake View Elementary

Working with local artist Henry Hawkins, we created a mural that reflects our students, staff, families and neighbors. The mural tells Lake View’s story, and includes images of children planting milkweed, monarchs dotting our gardens, Earth Day at Warner Park, faces of the neighborhood, laughing children running in the woods, bees pollinating apple blossoms, teachers and students working together on outdoor projects, and more.  Over 275 students and 150 parents were involved in generating ideas for the mural. The eco-artistic design sends a clear message about the diversity of our community and its commitment to academic excellence, the arts, health and wellness, and the environment - while honoring our culture, history, and future. 

Share your garden story #wischoolgardens

Tell the world what is going on in your school garden. Stories help build support for school gardens, and can help sustain your program via community engagement and school pride!  

Share your story.

For those new to WSGI, we couldn't leave out these amazing resources. "Got Dirt?" will walk you through starting a school garden, while "Got Veggies?" will help you implement a garden-based nutrition curriculum.  "Cultivating Childhood Wellness through Gardening" is an online training that will help you establish and utilize a school garden.  You can watch the entire training or select specific chapters.

Find them all here.

Want to see the Wisconsin School Garden Newsletter each month?   Subscribing is a great first step to supporting the Initiative. If you're already involved, don't worry - you can't  double-book yourself on the network list.
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