Gardens Feed Students with Knowledge and Kai

| By Otago Enviroschools team

Rongomātāne - associated with garden crops and peace, order, provision and cultivation.

Gardens for educating our future focused learners about feeding themselves and the world around them – the Queenstown Primary School experience.

“I worked on the garden from the start, it makes the school look really interesting. I love working in the garden at lunchtime.” John (aged 8)

Identifying the current situation

Queenstown Primary School (QPS) has had a vegetable garden for a long time, but it was hidden around the back of the school. Students could only go there with a teacher in tow. Lots of the staff and the students didn’t even know the garden existed. The QPS Envirogroup wanted to do something about this. The whole school did a “mapping of our school” which was run by the Envirogroup. This was displayed in the school office for families to see and add their comments.

“Watching the students research and problem solve during this project has made it a special journey. Beginning with the Action Learning Cycle has given the project a well-supported progression of questions and ideas to build on.” – Nicky, Enviroschools Otago facilitator working with QPS.

Exploring Alternatives

Turning the first sods for the new garden.

The students took these ideas and set about finding out about the fruit and vegetables that grow well in the Queenstown climate. QPS is getting new classrooms in the next few years so the students had to think about where the classrooms are going and what areas would be shaded with the new buildings.

According to Nicky – “The planning group has never been short of ideas and enthusiasm. Working with the whole school to find a suitable position was the biggest challenge. It involved a working group and reporting to all areas of the school. The student group learnt a lot about how school communication works and how successful a project can be when everyone is informed.”

The planning group pooled their ideas and decided on the best location. The students then built models of what the garden could look like before taking their proposal to a QPS Garden Panel comprising of the Principal, Caretaker, Deputy Principal, the Project Based Learning curriculum leader, Enviro and student representatives.

“I’m very proud that the school has listened to the students’ plans and aspirations and allowed this garden site on precious ground in the middle of our school.” – Susan McIntrye, the teacher that works with the Envirogroup.

Taking action

Unbelievable! The sword relic discovery. What mischief has led to this curiosity?

Once approval was given the students got busy preparing the ground for the tunnel house and the fruit trees. This involved a lot of digging. A teacher buried a sword and some bones in the area which created a mystery and added layers of story to the garden – and then there was more digging.

Fruit trees, funded through the Honda Tree Fund, were planted, the tunnel house and raised beds were built. The students worked out what needed to be done at each stage to make sure the garden would work. As they were digging, they found that stray balls came flying in from the playground above. They knew this would be a problem in the garden so set about designing, building and decorating a fence above the garden; thanks to Mitre 10 for the fencing materials. Other students created signs to remind everyone what is happening in the garden.




Digging (and measuring) the six very deep post holes.


Nicky said, “the project has needed a variety of skills and expertise and so involved all ages and interests, not just those who love plants. Different groups and classes have been involved in painting fences, wheel barrowing soil and mulch, building frames, digging and sifting soils, decorating glasshouses, labelling painted stones, espaliering fruit branches and many more jobs.”


Susan knew that for the garden to be sustainable it had to be linked to learning. Students at QPS created a Mahi Pai for the garden that reflects the school values of Care, Respect and Integrity.
Care for the whole student garden, our plants, insects and tools.
Respect the structures, tunnel house and the work of the gardeners.
• Always use integrity in the QPS Garden, work, harvest and consider others.


“At QPS we have a very active Enviro Group who are passionate about improving our school site. Students are learning in an authentic context, living and breathing our values of care, respect and integrity. It has been wonderful to see some of the produce from the garden built and prepared by students, donated to ‘Happiness House’ so that families can eat healthily in our community.” – Fiona Cavanagh, the school principal.

The start of the tunnel house construction.

A trailer load of good soil is transferred to the tunnel house by many willing hands.

Reflect on change

Susan has found the Enviroschools programme works best when the process engages everyone in the school community – adults and young people. One of the ways QPS has been able to do this is to explicitly link sustainability and the Enviroschools kaupapa to the school values. She also said that because the school garden has been student driven it has taken a long time, but the learning has been amazing, and they have got buy-in from the whole school.

Susan went on to say, “Our student garden has been a long labour of love but involving the students all the way gives them purpose and ownership. There is unbelievable learning in this outdoor classroom; for example yesterday we looked at our seed potatoes – skip counting them, we used multiplication to estimate how many they could produce. The students have so many plans for their harvest – giving some away to community groups in need, produce for catering on our school camps, selling jam and vegetables at the school fair, tasting and learning eg. fresh peas and learning to cook. Roll on spring and fingers crossed the watering system works in the holidays!”

A sharp eye is required to nail the wires that will hold espaliered fruit trees.

A fence erected beside the new tunnel house will help protect it from flying balls.


Nicky agreed with this and added,  “watching the learning during this project and seeing how the Enviroschools Guiding Principles have supported the outcomes has been very satisfying. The planning team have had to learn perseverance to overcome many obstacles but have had an opportunity to experience many leadership skills that they will be able to use in many other situations in the future”.

Celebrating success – harvesting from the garden.

The final word on this project should go to Flynn (aged 9) – “The tunnel house is awesome, students built it and I feel proud seeing it with plants growing. It changes all the time.”