When most of us think of community or school gardens, we might think of a small patch near the playground, perhaps a raised bed or two with rows of easy-to-grow vegetables. This client had something different in mind and knew Scott Byron and Company could pull it off.

“He wanted to do something for the community that was educational, interactive, and sustainable,” says Scott Byron, founder and CEO of Scott Byron and Company, landscape architecture design, build, and maintenance company. The local parent decided to fund a project at Indian Trail School in Highland Park that would not only teach the students the whole cycle of growth, from what to plant and the need for proper irrigation, but also the importance of sustainability. It was also to be a resource for the community as a whole.

Healthy food is an essential building block for a healthy life but many students lack the knowledge, skills, and resources to make healthier food choices, which can negatively affect their long-term health outcomes. The client wanted to help children and the community learn how to grow and harvest their own vegetables since research shows they are more likely to eat what they harvest and more willing to try new foods, which can help develop healthier eating patterns.

Byron worked with a horticulturist, landscape architects, a project manager and a field crew from his company to work on building a community and school garden like no other. The team collaborated with Tom Shafer of Thomas Shafer Architects, an architect based in Evanston, and Jeannie Nolan, a Northbrook resident and founder of The Organic Gardener, to design and build a 32-feet by 50-feet greenhouse that would include a small classroom and an outdoor garden.

“We worked closely with the landscape architect, the architect, and the donor, to help create a space that will engage kids in what is called edible education,” says Nolan in a video created to highlight the greenhouse opening a year ago. Nolan worked with the team and educators to develop the educational curriculum to determine what they’d grow, which included everything for lettuce to tomatoes so the kids could enjoy that full growing experience, from seed to table.

Why Size and Shapes Matters in This School and Community Garden

Byron enjoyed working with Shafer and Nolan because they were each able to bring different ideas to the table that really helped the structure of the program come together and made the final product that much stronger.

“We had to make sure the garden was accessible,” explains Byron. “We had to make sure there were places so that the kids can be outside in the shade to learn. That there were places for storage but also that there were places that were just interactive and fun.”

The team intentionally designed and installed details like round shapes and big steppers, for example, so when the kids would inevitably lose focus and interest, they could still just have fun. “It’s also a play area as well as the learning area,” adds Byron. “That was interesting to me, how important that became in the learning process.”

Another important consideration was scale, but not in the sense most of us might think. Byron and his company are used to designing and installing both larger gardens and outdoor landscape projects but this garden had to be sized in a different way: to accommodate younger kids. “It was kind of a garden in miniature,” Byron laughs. “And then you add the challenge of making it beautiful for the community and functional for the kids.”

Byron knew the final product couldn’t look like it was just rows of a vegetable garden. This one had to have year-round appeal which translated to adding fruit trees so they could produce fruit and also intertwining them to make a fence. The hoops have gourds on them so visitors can walk through the gourds in the fall. “Little cool things you don’t normally do in a garden,” Byron admits, “but that you could to make the garden look ornamental but also be sustainable.”

A year later and thanks to the team at Scott Byron and Company, and its partners, the Indian Trail School Garden Learning Center has become a beloved community fixture that brings joy to both students and the community at large.