Slate School is an independent elementary school in North Haven, CT. Its 25-acre parcel is a beautiful plot of land, with both open meadow lands and forest. When school leaders approached us to design the school building, they expressed their vision of capitalizing on this incredible setting and having nature play a central role in the layout both of the school’s interior spaces and the outdoor play areas.
READ MORE: How to Design a Natural Playscape
Another project where the school requested our assistance was the design of a greenhouse and gardens. Knowing that nature is such an engaging and effective educational tool, teachers came up with the idea of building both outdoor and indoor growing areas so that students can enjoy hands-on, nature-based learning all year long. From the impact of variables like water, sun, and shade, to growing seasons, to helping kids understand where their food comes from, they knew that the educational opportunities with these kinds of resources would be virtually limitless.
Anatomy of an Educational Greenhouse and Gardens
In developing our design for the Slate School greenhouse and gardens, we felt it needed to include multiple areas, each with different attributes and providing unique opportunities for fun and learning. We came up with four growing zones: raised plant beds, a vegetable garden surrounded by a screened fence, a greenhouse, and landscaped beds.
Teachers will use these areas in different ways:
- The raised plant beds enable easy viewing, watering, and gathering.
- The screened garden allows for the growth of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers while keeping deer, rabbits, and other animals at bay.
- The greenhouse accommodates year-round growing.
- The surrounding landscaping with native species provides for a variety of colors, smells, and textures at different times of the year.
Overall, having four growing areas also allows for many children to be involved in learning activities at one time, and the variety of settings will be effective in helping to increase interest and engagement.
The Strategy Behind Our Plan
Nature is very resilient. As Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park famously said, “Life finds a way.” Consequently, it would be easy to believe that any layout for the greenhouse and gardens at Slate School would be acceptable. However, we wanted to maximize the growing potential of these areas.
So, we consulted a landscape architect for insights on the best way to orient the areas with respect to sun, shade, and wind, and also on the sizing of the gardens and greenhouse. For example, we positioned the gardens to maximize sun in some areas while being shaded in others, to allow for the growth of various species.
But, producing healthy plants was only part of the equation. More importantly, the growing areas had to be designed in a way that will benefit generations of gardeners who will make their way through Slate School. For best practices from that perspective, we turned to the teachers, who provided excellent, actionable input.
And, of course, as designers we wanted to ensure that the structures are as aesthetically pleasing as they are functional. To that end, our designs call for the same types of materials already in use in the school building, namely cedar, aluminum, and glass.
Helping Students Stay Rooted in Nature
As the digital universe continues to expand and demand more of our time, it is important that today’s children and future generations don’t take the physical universe for granted. We’re proud to have played a role in helping Slate School teach kids important lessons about the planet they are inheriting.
If you have questions about this project, other projects profiled on our website, or our architecture and design services in general, please contact us at your convenience.