Objectives: To determine the prevalence and usage of food gardens in primary schools in three distinct climatic regions of north-eastern Australia. Design: Cross-sectional surveys combining quantitative and qualitative data collection. Two separate telephone questionnaires were developed and implemented, according to the presence or absence of a food garden within the school. Main outcome measures were answers to scaled response and open-ended questions related to factors supporting and inhibiting the establishment and sustainability of school food gardens. Setting: All state primary schools in three disparate regions of the north-eastern Australian state of Queensland were asked to participate in the study. Results: A total of 71 % (n 128) of schools agreed to participate. Of these, thirty-seven primary schools had functioning food gardens. The variations in prevalence between regions combined with respondent views indicated climate as a major factor affecting the success of food gardens. Gardens were often used as a tool by schools to teach science, environment or social skills. Gardening activities were generally linked to curriculum studies on plants, fruit and vegetable intake, and healthy eating. The main issues for schools and teachers in establishing food gardens were the time required and the lack of personnel to coordinate garden activities. Of the schools with food gardens, 92 % believed their garden had been a success. Conclusions: The study revealed strong grass-roots support for school-based food gardens. Although climate and location were important factors associated with the presence of a functioning food garden, respondents nominated teacher involvement and sustained motivation as essential factors for successful school food gardens.