Community gardens are small plots of land used for growing food which are organised along collective lines, usually for the benefit of the community. They have a huge range of potentially beneficial functions. They can:
- Provide fresh, organic vegetables, fruits and herbs on your doorstep (or down the road) offering health, environmental and social benefits.
- Bring people together to work on something which teaches useful skills, keeps people fit and healthy, and puts them back in touch with natural cycles and seasons.
- Be a positive, practical demonstration of more sustainable living and “doing it ourselves‟.
- Turn around abandoned land and create a beautiful space which increases pride in the neighbourhood.
- Provide a home for birds, insects, newts, frogs and other wildlife as well as a space for humans to enjoy them.
- Lead to increased environmental awareness.
- Benefit people with learning difficulties, the elderly or people with behavioural problems through therapeutic work, positive activities and sensory gardens.
- Preserve local varieties and biodiversity.
- Provide spaces for kids, workshops for arts and crafts, bike repairs, social events or just a nice space to sit and chat.
Dreaming and scheming
A community garden means making lots of collective decisions, so establishing how you will organise is important. As well as deciding what you want to grow (vegetables, flowers, fruit trees) you also need to think about what your main aims are (to produce food, to be educational, a calm place for people to relax) and who the garden is for. Agree on whether all or only some of the produce and tools will be shared as all these decisions affect your design. Come up with a name and think of the things you will need to create the garden (funding, materials to build with, structures) and divide up tasks and responsibilities. Consider logistics such as how can people contact the group, how much money you have got, how much you will need and who will look after the finances.
Ways of getting people involved
Once a garden exists, local residents are likely to stop and ask what it‟s all about, but in order to engage with people Open Days are great ways to entice people.
- Food: Invite people to a picnic or barbecue to be held on the land. It‟s a great way to meet people, use and appreciate the land and build a sense of community.
- Open to all :no experience necessary‟ work days: There will be lots of work clearing overgrown brambles or rubbish, preparing the beds, planting seeds, building sheds, setting up watering systems and a whole host more. Work days are a great way to share skills and get a lot done. Also, try non-work days, where people can nose about without feeling obliged to grab a shovel, such as bug hunts for kids, Halloween parties, etc.
- Give out excess produce: When there is a bumper crop of fresh organic vegetable sharing any excess with people who live nearby is a good way of letting them see what you are doing and getting them on side!
One of the keys to success with gardening is knowing the lay of the land, weather, soil acidity and having a design that makes sense to that place – it‟s important to take the time to do a land observation.
The following is a basic design workshop which is a good way to create a collective vision of what you want to do in a few hours. It could be expanded to fill a whole day or a smaller group could expand on the plans. The designs could be displayed in a public place for comments and to get more people interested in the project.
Design Workshop for Community Garden
1. Introduce the idea and share ideas about all the benefits of a community garden.
2. Ideas-storm the things people would like to see in the garden. Examples include: vegetable patch, sensory garden, wildlife areas/pond, leisure/barbecue area, comfrey/nettle/wildflower patch, kids area, workshop area, seating/shaded area, shed/polytunnel/ greenhouse/indoor area for bad weather, security hedges, raised beds so that elderly and disabled people can also participate in the garden.
3. A design tool frequently used by organic and permaculture gardeners known as OBREDIM helps to plan the design. It stands for Observations, Boundaries, Resources, Evaluation, Design, Implementation and Maintenance. More information on this tool is available online:
Unwelcome guests of the human variety
Whether kids really are worse these days or it just seems that way, it‟s a sad fact that community gardens can be an easy target for bored kids. There‟s no easy answer to the carrot pulling youth, a much maligned and misunderstood part of any community. Remember, people who feel excluded from the garden won‟t respect it.
Try making the garden an obvious community project through signs, lots of open invitations and inclusive design and implementation processes. Find space and offer to co-organise events that are more likely to come to such as DJing or graffiti competitions. Nothing short of razor wire and land mines will keep out a really determined person, short picket fences or chicken wire will keep out dogs. Make fences attractive but thorny by planting fruit bushes such gooseberries or blackberries.
Urban areas have lots of energetic people who, when putting their minds and hearts together, can create beautiful, healthy, living environments. And bear in mind these golden rules: start small, build up gradually, take it easy and enjoy it! Adapted from text written by Alice Cutler and Kim Bryan