No Space to Grow Food? Why Not Try Sharing a Garden

, written by Jeremy Dore gb flag

Sunflower

The media image of the vegetable gardener is the typical suburban house in beautiful surroundings with plenty of space to grow things.  In reality, many people who want to grow their own food don’t have a large back garden or convenient access to a plot of land.  Particularly in cities, living in a shared house or an apartment can mean that there is only room for a few pots of salad by the back door.  So what do you do if you want to grow more food but don’t have the space?  One option that is becoming increasingly popular is the idea of sharing someone else’s garden or backyard.

The idea is simple: in any built-up area there are plenty of people who for one reason or another do not want to use the space in their gardens or who are unable to manage them.  People who are often away from their home can’t commit to the regular maintenance a garden would require.  Likewise the elderly or those with disabilities may long for their garden to be used but are not able to physically tend it themselves.  So why not match these gardens to people who need more space?

For the gardener as well as finding somewhere to cultivate this immediately solves another common problem – how far you must travel to get to the vegetable patch.  Gardens need a lot of regular attention and it is much easier to spend 20 minutes on plants which are only a few streets away than it is to travel a few miles to the nearest rentable land.  It doesn’t have to be close to home: some people find garden space in places they have to regularly travel to or on the route back from work.

For the owner, this kind of partnership also brings many benefits.  Rather than asking for rent, the produce is usually split between them so they get fresh fruit and vegetables from their garden area for free.  Having the garden looked after is always a bonus and for many people the fact that they don’t need to employ a professional to look after it is a significant saving.  Plus for those who are unable to get out it can be rewarding to have neighbours (perhaps with their children) visit to garden.

Several schemes have emerged to enable this kind of garden sharing.  Matching people to plots is the tricky bit – there are plenty of people seeking land but usually less offers of gardens to work.  I think this is largely because it is a relatively new concept: many people are asking where they can find land but few home-owners are aware of shared garden schemes as a way to meet their needs.  There are also the legal implications to consider: if the gardener injures themselves or the owner is not happy with how the garden is kept, what is to be done?  Tenancy agreements and insurance may seem to be unnecessarily bureaucratic but they may be preferable to having the relationship turn sour because conditions were not carefully spelled out at the start.

In the UK, a few local services to match gardeners to gardens have been running for several years.  Landfit was one of the first in the London Borough of Lewisham, although this is now being passed to the Capital Growth project.  Due to launch soon is a national scheme called Land Share which is being endorsed by TV station Channel 4 with celebrity chef and campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.  Details are a little sketchy at the moment but already more than 30,000 people have registered on the site.  If you want a more formal approach then Home Grown UK is offering a tenancy agreement, newsletter and support service for an annual subscription.

In North America, Sharing Backyards has a great website which allows you to search a Google map of your area to see who is looking for or offering backyard garden space.  Significantly they aim to work with local partners where possible so it is a great place to find out what is being organised in your area.  Taking an even wider picture is Bright Neighbor, currently available in Portland, Oregon, which is a complete community-sharing and enabling site that includes garden sharing and has plans to launch across many cities.

Shared gardens have a great future and I believe they will become more and more important in urban areas where people want to grow their own food but don’t have access to enough land.  They are only part of the picture of course – there is a real need for politicians and property developers to make space for local garden areas, rather like the ‘Dig for Victory’ gardens of the second world war era or the over-subscribed allotments in Britain.  Schools, community groups and even some hospitals are making great steps towards getting people gardening and taken together, this community approach can be seen as preparation for a more sustainable food system.  Shared gardens offer better use of land, better connection with neighbours and better healthy food – surely a winning combination!

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Comments

 
"I have a plot of about 20 meters x 20- 25 meters is this too small to rent out. The land would be ploughed and powerharrowed yearly if there were no crops in , in early spring if the tennant wanted this, is it worth persuing? "
Michele on Friday 20 March 2009
"Michelle, I would think that this is a very good size for someone to share. You can produce a good amount of edible produce from an area that size."
Jeremy Dore on Friday 20 March 2009
"This is a great article. Keep up the good work. www.organicharvest.co.uk "
Matt on Thursday 26 March 2009
"This has made me think. I have a biggish garden, but mainly devoted to flowers/shrubs and I have three raised beds for veg, but they are not really large enough to grow potatoes or brassicas on. We have a very close friendship with a 90 year old lady one street away, I'm thinking now about asking her if I could "borrow" a small part of her garden. She could have potatoes from the cropI grow (I know she'd eat those), but she has a gardener, and I'm not sure how that would fit in, she only cuts her lawn and tidies the edges, hopefully she wouldn't object. I've never thought of this before, but it could be an answer to my space problems, thankyou"
Jennie on Sunday 12 April 2009
"I have recently taken over part of a friend's back garden to turn into a vegetable patch - suits me as I've a small garden at home with no real room for vegetables and suits him as he's busy with lots of other hobbies and now doesn't need to worry about this part of his garden being kept tidy. We both live in the same village so I can walk there in 10 minutes. I've spent the winter creating (and double digging....) 4 beds 4x3 metres from the existing lawn and have planted onions, garlic and potatoes with a shed full of seedlings growing away as I type. I'm looking forward to sharing the produce with my kind "landlord" and we are both plannning a new potato party for friends in the village....a cunning plan on my part to get some help digging them up...but also a chance to show off the garden as its caused a lot of interest locally! For me this is as good as getting an allotment - probably more of a manageable size for me and would encourage others to look at this idea."
Sandra on Monday 20 April 2009
"Sandra, That sounds like the ideal solution - one where it is local, a friend who knows you and a mutually beneficial arrangement. You should consider contacting the local newspaper when you have some crops for them to photographs - it would make a great story with all the public interest in alternatives to allotments!"
Jeremy Dore on Monday 20 April 2009
"DOES ANYONE GARDEN SHARE IN LEYSDOWN ME12 AREA "
JOSIE on Saturday 13 May 2017
"Sharing a garden. What a brilliant idea. I have a very large garden, half an acre or more, with a polytunnel, and lots of equipment. Would welcome someone who would like to share with me. Lots of tea or coffee, and i can look after your plants while you are on holiday. John 07811927357"
John Whinnom on Wednesday 27 September 2017
"Sharing a garden. What a brilliant idea. I have a very large garden, half an acre or more, with a polytunnel, and lots of equipment. Would welcome someone who would like to share with me. Lots of tea or coffee, and i can look after your plants while you are on holiday. John 07811927357"
John Whinnom on Wednesday 27 September 2017
"Sharing a garden. What a brilliant idea. I have a very large garden, half an acre or more, with a polytunnel, and lots of equipment. Would welcome someone who would like to share with me. Lots of tea or coffee, and i can look after your plants while you are on holiday. John 07811927357"
John Whinnom on Wednesday 27 September 2017
"Sharing a garden. What a brilliant idea. I have a very large garden, half an acre or more, with a polytunnel, and lots of equipment. Would welcome someone who would like to share with me. Lots of tea or coffee, and i can look after your plants while you are on holiday. John 07811927357"
John Whinnom on Wednesday 27 September 2017
"I have a biggish garden that I used to grow veggies in but is now becoming too much for me. I have been considering concreting it over! Wondering if does sharing in larkhall."
Pip on Sunday 21 January 2018
"i like to find a garden to grow food for one is this a problem."
b on Wednesday 18 July 2018

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