Botanic Gardens Conservation International
BGCI provides a global voice for all botanic gardens, championing and celebrating their inspiring work. We are the world's largest plant conservation network, open to all. Join us in helping to save the world's threatened plants.

The Outdoor Classroom

Volume 1 Number 8 - October 1993

Bill Lucas

Three years ago an organisation called Learning through Landscapes (LTL) was launched in the United Kingdom.  Its aim is to improve the quality of school grounds and to promote a wide range of educational activities in school landscapes.  In the short time since its inception, LTL has gained a substantial following in Britain and attracted interest from all over the world.

The Challenge

There are 30,000 schools in the UK and they have grounds which extend to more than 60,000 hectares of land.  In many cases, these are the bleakest, most sterile and inappropriate landscapes for children to grow up in.  Often all asphalt, frequently without trees or plants, it is this situation that LTL is trying to change.  We believe that children's' first experience of a public outdoor environment is important in the formation of positive attitudes towards the natural world.  Our programme of activities seeks to promote widespread improvements to the school estate.  To achieve this LTL provides information and advice, carries out research, organises projects and runs training events.

Although our primary aim is to improve the quality of school grounds, we deal with a considerable number and variety of organisations outside schools, both in the UK and throughout the world.  For example, we have recently collaborated with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew on the production and launch of a book "Trees in the School Grounds" by Sir David Attenborough.  We hope to develop this successful relationship further as it is our belief that the sustainable development of landscape is a multi-professional activity. 

LTL Projects

There are three areas of LTL's work which might be of particular interest.  The first is a piece of research which we have just completed for the World Wide Fund for Nature.  We asked children to tell us what they thought and felt about landscape in general and their school grounds in particular.  We set out to see if there were links between the design of school landscape and the behaviour of the young people who use it.  It became clear that there are powerful connections and that children read messages in their environment.  They dislike tarmac.  They like flowers and grass and trees which can be climbed.  They see the presence of living creatures, wild or domestic, at school as an indication that the adults at school care for them.  

This research makes many detailed observations about young people and the natural world which it is not possible to summarise here.

The second area of possible interest is  Esso Schoolwatch.  This is a long-term survey and monitoring project currently being undertaken by 2600 schools in the UK.  It is currently being piloted in Sweden and Greece.  Pupils undertake a detailed survey of their grounds with the clear intention that they and their teachers will be spurred into action to develop them further.  Data is stored centrally by LTL and made available to all participating schools.  It is our hope that this will become a Europe-wide project and that centres of expertise such as Botanic Gardens might become involved with local schools.

Thirdly, LTL is currently developing a book on world ecology which aims to promote the use of plants and development of school grounds in a multi-cultural society.

Why Design Gardens For Children?

Not surprisingly, whether by amateur parent-gardeners or by eminent botanists, LTL is often asked to explain the reasons for designing educational gardens for children.

There are many answers to this and many further questions to ask.  In the UK there is a long tradition of gardening at school stretching back to the early 1900s.  Unfortunately it has, from time to time, been associated with convalescence or low academic ability.  This is not the kind of gardening we are advocating although we are aware of wonderful work being dome with horticultural therapy.  Perhaps we need to ponder the word garden for a moment.  It conjures up different images to different people.  Is it the formality of Villandry in the Loire, France, the "naturalness" of Rousham in Oxfordshire, UK, the variety of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK, the formal bedding of a public park?  Or is it the small garden of a town-house, the rectangular allotment or a wilder natural area?

In LTL's view, it is only when you start to ask some of these fundamental questions that the true educational benefits begin to occur.  It is our experience that people only look after what they value and use and it is therefore initially important that school gardens are designed and managed participatively.  There is a bigger question too.  Is the garden to be a little 'green module' in the school's 'natural curriculum' or is it going to embrace holistically all of the school's land?

There are no simple answers.  We have seen ponds and pergolas, mazes and checkerboards, formal bedding and conservation areas, herb and maths gardens, sheep and duck-pens, orchards and copses and much more in school grounds.  The important thing is that they are designed with specific formal and informal educational uses in mind, not simply as a horticultural shopping list.

How Can a Botanic Garden Get Involved?

There are many ways in which Botanic Gardens can help schools.  They are repositories of wonderful outdoor classrooms of their own and can share these in a planned way so that schools can benefit.  Through the provision of advice and, in some cases, training courses, they can help under-confident adults to learn how to develop their school's grounds.  They can undertake research projects with local schools and act as centres for the dissemination of materials of all kinds.  Those Botanic Gardens with education offices can establish a network of active schools in their region.  LTL is keen to learn of good practice in this area and put schools in touch with those Botanic Gardens wishing to develop their work in education.

Although already in touch with a number of Botanic Gardens throughout the world, LTL would very much welcome further contact.

Bill Lucas is Director of Learning through Landscapes (LTL).  More information about the work of LTL or the projects described in this article can be obtained from Learning through Landscapes. Third Floor, Soughside Offices, The Law Courst, Winchester, SO23 9DL.  Telephone 0962 846258


"Apprendre par les paysages" (LTL, "Learning Through Landscapes") a été lance il y a trois ans en Grande Bretagne. Son but est d'améliorer la qualité des préaux des écoles et de promouvoir une large palette d'activités d'éducation dans le paysage scolaire.
LTL croit que la première expérience des enfants dans une environnement public extérieur est important dans la formation d'une attitude positive vis-…-vis de la nature. L'article décrit plusieurs projets dans lesquels LTL est implique et en suggère un en particulier auquel des jardins botaniques pourraient être intéresses.
 Bill Lucas, directeur de LTL, pense que les jardins botaniques ont un rôle important a jouer dans l'aide aux écoles. Par exemple en proposant des conseils et des cours de formation pour adultes afin de les aider … apprendre comment développer les préaux d'école de leurs enfants.
Plus d'informations sur LTL peuvent être obtenues en écrivant a l'adresse ci-dessus.


Hace tres anos empezó en el Reino Unido el programa "Enseñar por medio del paisaje" (LTL). Su objetivo es mejorar la calidad de los jardines de las escuelas y promover una serie de actividades educativas para trabajar el paisajismo de las mismas.

El LTL cree que la primera experiencia del niño en un medio ambiente público, es importante en la formación de actitudes positivas hacia la naturaleza. El artículo describe varios proyectos en los que el LTL esta implicada y sugiere uno en particular con el que los jardines botánicos podrían estar implicados.

El director de la LTL, Bill Lucas, cree que los jardines botánicos tienen un papel importante en la ayuda a los colegios. Por ejemplo, dando consejos y haciendo cursos de formación para adultos lo cual les ayudar  a aprender el cómo desarrollar los jardines de la escuela.

Puede obtenerse m s información sobre el LTL escribiendo  a la dirección arriba.