There’s something truly special about tending a garden with others. Whether it’s family, friends or folk from the wider community, growing together takes on a whole new dimension to solitary gardening. It’s sociable, fun and full of laughter. And all those intimidating jobs (you know the type: digging, weeding, and anything involving a shovel) seem less overwhelming when there are more of you to tackle them.
The number of community gardens has soared over the past decade. You can pick any one of a number of reasons behind this: more of us living without a garden of our own, a response to the financial crisis, or a revolt against endless screen time? Who knows! Either way, the rise of the community garden can only be a force for good.
Benefits of a Community Garden
The benefits of being outside in nature are well proven. Gentle exercise, with the sun on your back and sound of birds chirping in your ears, makes us both physically and mentally healthier. Growing your own food can save money and provide instant access to ultra-fresh, chemical-free food. It’s good for the planet and encourages a more ecologically aware attitude among those who do it. And then there’s the opportunity to set an example to the next generation, showing them where their food comes from and why it matters.
Community gardens offer all of this, plus the powerful added ingredient of social cohesion. Shared experiences and goals work wonders to promote understanding between volunteers taking part. Gardeners are, by and large, lovely people. And when you bring lovely people together, you’re on to a really good thing!
Food-growing projects are a great way to get participants speaking the same language: the language of plants. With plenty of jobs on hand there’s bound to be something to suit every ability or skill, so it’s an exceptionally inclusive way of bringing people together. Where else but a community garden can you come for an hour or two, enjoy a lively natter and leave with a bag or two of seasonal goodies?
How to Start a Community Garden
Any project starts with the seed of an idea. Perhaps you and a group of similar-minded gardeners want to bring the joy of gardening to others? Maybe you want to restore a sense of community spirit? Or perhaps you just want to brighten up your neighbourhood? Whatever your motivation, the first task is to gauge how much interest there is and the likely level of support. You might do this through word of mouth or a formal public meeting, but work hard to spread the word and drum up support.
With enough interested parties involved, it’s time to secure some land. Whether the land you have identified is public or privately owned, you’ll need to put the case to the landowner that your involvement will improve the land and that it won’t cost them unnecessary inconvenience, time or money. You may need to take out liability insurance to protect the landowner. Ideally the site will have easy access, parking and amenities such as running water.
Lay ground rules from the start. Far from being dictatorial or overly bureaucratic, rules ensure everyone knows what’s expected of them, removing potential sources of conflict. Have a single vision for your community garden. Is it ‘just’ a space for people to grow their own or could it be more than that, outreaching to the local community to promote healthy living or serving as an educational resource for nearby schools? Broaden the remit of the garden and you may find it attracts grants and other external sources of funding that help to get it off the ground.
Growing Your Community Garden
The biggest challenge/opportunity (depending on your outlook!) is working with other people. Depending on the size of your community garden you will want lots of volunteers to help share the work and keep the garden as productive as possible.
Helpers at my local community orchard run hugely popular apple days, complete with folk music, apple pressing and all-round merriment. It’s a great recruitment vehicle and it demonstrates to the wider public what an asset community projects like this can be. Other projects are very public indeed, with communal beds and tubs of produce next to walkways or within train stations, for example. These offer daily encouragement to would-be participants to get involved and give it a grow!