Starting a Garden
The UN predicts that over the next twenty-five years nearly all population growth will be in the cities of the developing world. At current rates, sixty percent of the world’s total population will live in cities by 2030.
As the cities grow, so does the number of urban poor. Unemployment, hunger, and malnutrition are commonplace. In the big city, most of any cash income the poor might bring home goes to feeding them selves and staying alive; any food that does not have to be bought is a bonus. As a result, more and more people are attempting to grow at least some of their own food to supplement poor diets and merger incomes. But farming in the city — urban agriculture — is too often seen by municipalities as a problem to be eradicated rather than as a part of the solution to making the city and its environment more sustainable.
Why Start a Community Garden?
Many families living in the city would like to grow some of their own fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Some want to save money on their food bills. Others like the freshness, flavour and wholesomeness of home grown produce. And for many, gardening is a relaxing way to exercise and enjoy being out-of-doors. There are also families from other cultures who would like to grow traditional foods not available in the supermarket.
Community gardens beautify neighbourhoods and help bring neighbours closer together. They have been proven as tools to reduce neighbourhood crime–particularly when vacant, blighted lots are targeted for garden development. Community gardens provide safe, recreational green space in urban areas with little or no park land and can contribute to keeping urban air clean.
Those who are lucky enough to have sunny backyards or balconies can plant a garden whenever they have the time and energy. But what about those who do not have a place to garden? For these people, community gardens may be the answer.
Developing a Vision for Your Garden
Use the first meeting to draw out people’s interest in the garden and what they would like to see from the garden. You can guide the discussion, record the outcomes of the meeting, and share this vision with people who join the garden project later.
To ensure that everyone feels like they were heard during this process, go round the group, and ask for people’s thoughts and input, and then write it down on a large pad of paper for everyone to see.
Many problems and headaches can be avoided in the future by developing a vision of the garden at the very start. It can be reviewed when decisions are being made.
Find Land for the Garden
Look around your neighbourhood for any vacant land or area that may be used:
- It should get plenty of sun: at least six to eight hours each day.
- A garden site should be relatively flat (although slight slopes can be terraced).
- It should be relatively free of large pieces of concrete left behind from demolition of structures. Any rubble or debris should be manageable –that is, it can be removed by volunteers clearing the area with rubbish bags, wheelbarrows.
- Ideally, it should have a fence around it with a gate wide enough for a vehicle to enter.
- It should be within walking, or no more than a short drive from you and the neighbours who have expressed interest in participating.
It is possible to work with a site that is paved with concrete or asphalt by building raised beds that sit on the surface or using containers. You can also remove the asphalt or concrete to create areas for gardens, but such a garden will be much more difficult, expensive, and time-consuming to start.
A site without paving, and soil relatively free of weeds and debris is best. If the area is not already being used, make sure the community supports establishing a garden there.
It’s best to select three potential sites in your neighbourhood and write down their address and nearest landmark to it. If you do not know the address of the vacant area, get the addresses of the properties on both sides of the area. This will give you the ability to make an educated guess on the address of the site. We suggest you identify at least three potential sites because one or more might not be available for you to use for various reasons. You want to end up with at least one that works out!
Be prepared to purchase liability insurance to protect further the property owner (and yourself) should an accident occur at the garden. It is advisable to have the soil at the site tested for fertility, pH.
Also don’t forget that there are already community gardens out there and they may require volunteers to help them with growing and harvesting their produce, you can find some of them here (link to listed community gardens).
Basic Elements of a Community Garden
Although there are exceptions to every rule, community gardens should almost always include:
- Raised bed plots, which are more expensive, should be no more than about 1.5 M. wide (to facilitate access to plants from the sides without stepping into the bed), and between 3 and 4 M. long (it is advisable to construct your raised beds in sizes that are found in readily-available timber,or that can be cut without too much waste).
- Pathways between beds and plots should be least 1 meter wide to allow space for wheelbarrows.
- The soil in both raised bed and in-ground plots should be improved with aged compost or manure to increase its fertility and organic matter content.
- Develop a watering system for the community garden depending upon the resources available. Many gardens use a combination of hoses and water barrels (55 gallon food-grade barrels).
- A hedge or metal fencing around the perimeter: Don’t count on eliminating all acts of vandalism or theft, but fencing will help to keep these to tolerably low levels.
- A tool shed or other structure for storing tools, supplies, and materials.
- A bench or picnic table where gardeners can sit, relax, and take a break, preferably in shade. If there are no trees providing shade on the site, a simple arbour can be constructed from wood or pipe and planted with vines.
- A sign with the garden’s name, address (street location), sponsors, and a contact phone number formore information. If your community is bilingual, include information in both languages.
- A shared composting area for the community gardeners. Wood pallets are easy to come -by and (when stood on-end, attached in an U-shape, and the inside covered with galvanized rabbit-wire) make excellent compost bins.
Other Nice Additions to Your Garden Plan
- A small fruit tree orchard, whose care and harvest can be shared by all the members. The orchard can also create shade for people as well as shade-loving plants.
- Perimeter landscaping, which can focus on native drought tolerant flowers and shrubs, plants which attract butterflies and hummingbirds, or roses and other flowers suitable for cutting bouquets.
- Herbs are also well-suited to perimeter landscaping and help to create barriers to unwanted pest insects who do not like the smell of their essential oils.
- A children’s area, which can include special small plots for children.
- A meeting area, which could range from a semi-circle of hay bales or tree stumps, to a simple amphitheatre built of recycled, broken concrete. Building a shade structure above, would be beneficial as well.
- A community bulletin board where rules, meeting notices, and other important information can be posted.
- A plot for the local soup centre if there is one nearby. Contact your local church to see what items they would like. If not food, then consider donating a bouquet of flowers to an organization that serves the community.
- A simple irrigation system with one hose to water the plots. Hand watering with a hose is the most practical and affordable for individual plots (and it’s almost a necessity when you start plants from seed). Drip and soaker-hose irrigation can be used in all areas of the garden for transplanted and established plants, but especially for deep-rooted fruit trees and ornamentals. If no one in your group is knowledgeable about irrigation, you might need some assistance in designing and maintaining your irrigation system. Seek out a landscape contractor or nursery or garden centre professional to help you develop a basic layout and materials list.
What are you waiting for? Get stuck in!
Find some inspiration :
Top tips on how to grow-your-own for beginners
The 2013 Dublin City Guide to Community Gardening
The 2009 Dublin City Guide to Community Gardening
Dublin Community Growers
Looking for something else?