Why You Should Start a Gardening Community Group – and How to Do ItColin Campbell-Preston
In our busy modern lives, it can be hard to fit in time to spend outdoors enjoying nature. For those of us who live in the city, this can be even more of a challenge. Urban gardening communities have started to spring up all over cities in the UK in answer to this problem, giving communities a place to come together and grow things outdoors.
From why you should consider starting a gardening community group to how you can go about setting it up, our definitive guide tells you everything you need to know about getting your community gardening.
Why Start a Community Garden?
You might wonder why you should consider making time for gardening in your already busy life, but spending time growing things in a community garden has many benefits. These are just a couple of the good things that community gardening can offer.
Grow Fresh Food
When you live in the city, getting your hands on fresh produce that has been grown in the local area can be a bit of a challenge. Community gardens provide fresh food for individuals and families that would otherwise struggle to afford a variety of fresh produce in their diet. Plus, eating locally grown fruit and veg helps expose you to pollens that cause allergies, reducing hay fever symptoms!
Build Strong Communities
One of the best things about a community garden is the way it can bring you together to socialise with people in your community. In the city, many people struggle to feel connected to their neighbours and can even become very lonely. Starting a community garden lets you (literally) get your hands dirty with your neighbours. You bring the teabags, get someone else to bring the custard creams, and get to know people in your area!
It’s been said time and time again that gardening brings with it some tangible health benefits: all that digging, hoeing, and lifting is actually a good source of exercise, especially for those who spend long days sitting at their desk for work. Spending some time outdoors helps you get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life – and is a great way of practicing mindfulness; it releases feel-good endorphins, and reduces stress. Why would you not want to do a bit of gardening?
Help to Reduce Crime
Community gardens can be a powerful force for good in your local area. They get people outside in their neighbourhoods, where they can keep an eye on what’s going on in the street and act as a deterrent to criminals. Not only that, there have also been several studies that have shown that living near green space makes people less aggressive and violent, leading to lower levels of crime.
In big cities, community gardens are often established on land that would otherwise have been overgrown and strewn with rubbish. Creating a community garden can help these areas to be reclaimed and transformed into attractive spaces where people want to spend time. These gardens not only improve the quality of life for people who work in them, but also for passers-by who can enjoy a vibrant green space in the midst of the urban landscape.
How to Start a Community Garden
So, you’ve decided that you’d like to get involved in a community garden, but a little research has revealed that there isn’t one in your area. What do you do now? Well, this is the perfect opportunity to give back to your area and establish a community garden. Follow our simple steps and you’ll be making new friends over the sprouting of spring bulbs in no time.
1. Talk to Your Neighbours
The first step in setting up a community garden is to contact your neighbours and see if there is actually a need for one in your area. There’s no point in drawing up plans and getting funding if the only person who’s actually going to be tilling the soil is you. You can get in touch through tenants’ associations, apartment building forums, message boards, anywhere you can chat to people and gauge interest in a garden project. Once you’ve established people are interested, you can get a group of people together and get started!
2. Get Other Groups Involved
If you can’t find enough interested people, or you just want to grow your project, getting in touch with other community groups is a great way to expand your garden’s network. Established groups such as the Cub Scouts and Brownies, youth groups, and groups for older members of the community may all jump at the chance to spend some time gardening. It can also help to foster an even stronger sense of community.
3. Find a Site
Once you’ve established that people want to get involved in a community run garden, you need to find somewhere to plant it. You’ll need to look around your neighbourhood for a lot that isn’t being used for anything else, gets a decent amount of sunshine, and has a water source. Once you’ve identified some land, you’ll need to find out who owns it and see whether they’d allow you to use it. Write to the owner outlining the benefits of the community garden and ask whether it would be possible for the community to rent it for a nominal fee. Before you sign a lease, be sure to test the soil for possible pollutants, such as heavy metals.
4. Look into Funding
Even if all the labour for your garden is provided by volunteers, you will need to pay for things such as the land lease, tools, seeds, and plants. To fund your garden, you may need to charge a small membership fee, find a local business or other organisation to sponsor your garden, seek a grant, or hold some form of fundraiser. If you can’t manage to cover the cost of your dream garden right away, try scaling back to a smaller project that can be expanded over time.
Now you’ve got all the admin out of the way, it’s time to start the fun part – actually making the garden! The first step is to get together and plan how you want your garden to look and what it should include. Measure the site and draw a simple map of where things such as garden beds, raised beds and paths will be. It’s good to plan what type of plants you will grow in each area of the garden. Take into account how much sun that part of the garden gets, which plants grow well together, and how close each bed is to a water source when determining which plants will thrive there.
6. Get Gardening
Once everything is set up, it’s time to dig in and get started on your garden. Collect all your gardeners together to work on common garden beds and plant any individual areas. Once your garden is up and running, you can invite people to come and tour the garden, post updates on social media, and just generally make it a place that people can come to be together. Happy gardening!
Come and visit one of our garden centres near Alexandra Palace, Wandsworth Common or Berkhamsted to stock up for your garden and get some advice from our helpful Plant People. Alternatively, head over to our homepage for further gardening inspiration.