Community Gardens

Community Gardens …. where/how do I start one?

May 2, 2011

It was a question that Peter Donegan asked at the Oldbridge Country Fair on Saturday and one I’ve been pondering on since, particularly as I’ve been lucky enough to work with four community gardens over the past year.

I mentioned then and still think that, as with any new project, enthusiasm and commitment are the key. I’m a great believer that if you have those, and really want to achieve something then nothing is impossible….  from there on in everything has a way of falling into place. 

So you have bucket loads of enthusiasm, then what?

It’s important to think about what you want from the garden…who will be using it? Will it be the active retirement group, young people, the community as a whole or individual groups? Often groups find the funding for a polytunnel and some equipment, try to recruit some individuals to come along and garden, and stall because they have no real plan for it.

Play around with some ideas until you have a vision or a goal. It may change along the way but at least you’ll have something to talk to others about and ideally fire up their enthusiasm too.

Then you need to recruit some fellow gardeners to help you make your vision a reality.

In Ireland Pride of Place and Tidy Towns competitions are becoming more popular and the individuals working to help their communities look their best often have contacts, resources, and/or knowledge about funding/land that should not be overlooked.

Local council offices usually know who the committee members are and would be a good point of contact if you’re unsure  A large polytunnel in a community would be a major asset as groups would be able to start seedlings off for their planting schemes to ensure their villages, towns and cities are full of flowers, at a much lower cost than having to buy them all in.

Parish churches may have enthusiastic helpers and/or land so may be worth considering too and from my experience, Family Resource Centres are always willing to help community groups. You could also advertise in a local newspaper (they may run a short story which will cost nothing) or place posters up in shop windows.

Once you have fellow enthusiastic volunteers the land usually follows. It may be an old scrap of land that’s often used for fly tipping or an unsightly area that’s been overlooked…. in just a few months you can pretty much guarantee that it will be transformed.

And that’s pretty much it. It helps to get an ‘expert’ in to help get you started. Inviting a qualified horticulturist to come along and help you set up or give a series of gardening classes is invaluable and these can often be found on VEC tutor lists.

The important thing is DON’T GIVE UP…. it may take a while to get going, but once you have a community garden, you won’t regret it.  Still not sure? Ten benefits of community gardening can be found here.

If you do start a garden, or know of one in your area there’s a great Facebook Page that you can ‘like’ for up-to-date information and links to other community gardens in Ireland and GIY Ireland are plotting community gardens on their map too. The Organic Centre in Leitrim have also published a very handy guide to Community Gardening which is well worth downloading… and of course you can contact me.

Good luck and feel free to leave a comment if you’re in or have set up a community garden in your area. I’d love to hear and learn from your own experiences.

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