Maintaining a Community Garden

Setting up a community garden, getting green and opening up a new area of community usecan be very inspiring for those involved. However, it is also very rewarding to try to breathe new life into an existing project that is dwindling and becoming a bit unkempt. This has been the case with Leaf St community garden in recent years

“Leaf Street has seen huge improvements and the estate generally looks better”
resident survey response

There may be a number of reasons why a community garden project has stalled. People may have lost interest, the key players may have moved away, or become unable to play the same part in getting others involved. Newcomers may not know how to get involved, or even understand what the  community garden project was – if it is not obvious or if  communication has not been good within the community.

Important steps

Find out about the history of the garden including plants and people If your garden has a history it is good to find out more up before starting a new period of organising. This can happen in different ways:

Walk-arounds’ with someone that knows the garden well.
This can be a good way to transfer knowledge from people who used to be gardeners but who have moved on. We did this and made an audio recording and took pictures. When these two elements were combined, they made a useful resource to put on the community website. There are a few examples on this website.

Radio recordings.
It is relatively easy to make voice recordings and upload them to the internet. You don‟t need a professional studio; you can even record a discussion about your community garden in the comfort of your own home. It can be a way of finding out some of the more in-depth issues. There is an example of this here.

Using Woodchip paths to zone the garden

Find existing plans and maps of the garden.
It may be that there are existing maps and plans of the garden that are gathering dust somewhere. Try to get a copy from people that used to be involved in the garden. You can make copies and give them out to current gardeners to check what has and hasn’t worked in the past. You can take photos of these maps and put them on a community website. Come up with a new plan You can use what you have learnt about the successes and failures of different parts of the garden over the years to make a new plan. Keep the parts that have worked and come up  with a new strategy for the bits that do not work.

Having a new plan that is easy to access can really help new volunteers to understand and get involved in the project.

Find out what invasive plants you have that are taking over areas of the garden
Turning the area into a garden means it is more difficult and time consuming to maintain. There have been quite a few years where a lot of weeds have gone to seed and the ground is now full of weed seeds. In a herbicide free garden like Leaf Street this means that a lot of the time can be spent “fire fighting‟ these invasive weeds, which include creeping buttercup, clevis, bind weed, mare’s tail, ground elder and raspberries. The best tip is to get out there and deal with the weeds in the spring and early summer before they go to seed or spread underground. Our scythe has become a quick way of doing this.

Zoning the garden
Paths are very good to help zone the garden. They can be created quite easily by digging up the top of the soil, compacting it and putting down a layer of wood chip. This can be helpful to stop the spread of invasive weeds and creates zones help mapping and make it easier for volunteers to take ownership of a particular part of the garden.

Maintaining the Willow Dome

Balance work and Learning
Leaf Street has some simply made woodchip paths There may be a particular part of the garden that is working very well and that is well loved. You could organise a workshop or training session on that particular aspect. We have some well loved apples trees that are very special as they are ‘own root’ trees rather than grafted ones. All of the workshops we organised to share knowledge about the trees were really well attended.

Workshop ideas

For the Green Zone project in Leaf St, the following workshops were run with Hulme Community Garden Centre and other experts

  • Summer Pruning and fruit tree care
  • Winter pruning
  • Apple tree grafting
  • Potatoes in bags and in plots
  • Crop rotation
  • Fruit bush pruning and propagation
  • Air laying of bushes and trees
  • Herb spiral workshop

Increasing community awareness and ownership

There’s obviously a lot more involvement from people on Leaf Street, you can see that beds are really being well tended, and the pruning’s been done and the willow dome has been sorted out. In terms of Leaf St it looks a lot better. Cath, resident

Beyond organising open work days some of the following ways have been used to get people interested in the Leaf St Community Garden and to make them feel a part of the project even if they do not garden there.

  • Events to come see maps and proposed changes to garden with tea and cakes
  • Videos to celebrate the history of the project on the community website
  • Flyers through doors and posters on doors (see examples)
  • An announcement email list and a day to day discussion list
  • Harvest events including crushing apples with an apple press
  • Events with food and music from local musicians and DJs

Lessons learned along the way

  • It’s important to work on good communication and decision making tools
  • Be sensitive to possible friction between external groups, new volunteers and established gardeners
  • Choose uncontroversial work to begin with, and agree work for new volunteers and external groups
  • Add knowledge sharing and skills workshops to work days so that it is not just hard work
  • Avoid planting raspberries and other invasive plants (try tayberries or sunberries instead)
  • Try to remove practical and psychological barriers that may be preventing people from taking part in the garden
  • Foster a team of people to take turns to organise regular open to all work days
  • Make sure volunteers can get access to community gardening tools

Work with existing networks and partner groups to help you publicise and attend workdays and workshops. Good networks and possible partners include: Permaculture Network

o other residents of the housing association

o University gardening groups

o local garden centre etc