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community gardens

Community Gardens, Lifestyle

Shifting the Focus

June 3, 2016
Shifting the Focus - Greenside Up Garden June 2016

Greenside Up Garden, 3rd June 2016

All Work Not Enough Play

It’s been my quietest year on the blog since I began writing 7 years ago, mostly because I shifted focus away slightly from Greenside Up and more towards helping Community Gardens, both in a funded and voluntary capacity. This is now changing as things fall into place, but life itself has been far from quiet, despite continued efforts to find a better work/home balance.

We don’t value our health until we lose it

A few weeks after I switched to a mostly vegetable based diet, I had a health scare that convinced me the decision was the right one for me. Despite various test results showing this, that and other is wrong with me, ailments that I might never have known about if I hadn’t visited my GP with a sore knee of all things, I’ve never felt better.

I’m losing weight in a healthy way, aiming for a pound a week; I’m drinking 2 litres of water a day and am really enjoying experimenting with all the nutritious meat free recipes, one of which you can find below. (Chris if you read this, just leave out the spinach). I’m getting fitter, feeling happier, more in tune with nature and am managing stress levels; there’s really nothing like a health scare to wake us up to the really important things in life like family, love and friendships; it puts everything else into perspective.

All being well the shift in lifestyle will cure or ease the various problems and allow for many years of health and happiness. In the meantime, I’m having fun embracing everything I’m offered and all this glorious sunshine we’re experiencing is helping no end.

Magical evenings

Shifting the focusPart of the juggle is learning to say NO to working all hours of the day, night and weekends by switching off social media and saying YES to real-life experiences. On the most recent occasion this included being invited to an intimate house concert that took place in my friend’s holistic healing home a couple of miles away.

Harmony Hall is a bio architecture retreat and a magical place in many ways with its meditation area by the stream, affectionate animals and unusual building designed to replicate nature’s patterns. It’s difficult not to feel immediately relaxed there and I’m sure Frances Micklem’s vegan AirBnB guests must go home from this healing yet creative spot feeling healthier and happier on all fronts. Frances is a skilled and giving energy healer who’s been working wonders on me, I think sometimes when I’m not even aware of it, so if you feel the need for some tender loving care, do contact her.

David Corley and Hugh Christopher Brown

Given that I’ve been immersed in this work bubble for so many years, I confess I hadn’t heard of David Corley or Chris Brown until the evening of the house gig, but that has thankfully changed as I’ve played their CD’s in our sunny garden ever since.

Changing Focus

David Corley

I found David’s rich, baritone mesmerising as he played guitar and sang slightly southern songs that he’d written about love, life and friends in his deep, soulful tone. David mentioned that he’d started songwriting later in life and I for one am glad he did or he wouldn’t have been the only one missing out on his new life experience.

Throughout the evening David and fellow musician, song writer and talented producer Hugh Christopher Brown passed banter back and forth between themselves, something that came easily to the band mates who’d been on a European tour for the past few weeks. Chris regaled us with stories of his life and work as he moved between his New York and Ontario studios; on the one hand hanging out with colourfully creative people in the city, to the other, working on social justice programs helping develop prison inmates through music; here’s Chris’ TED talk about it.

Changing Focus

Hugh Christopher Brown

Chris effortlessly moved between song and acoustic guitar, intricately playing Frances’ piano, taking all the thirty or so dedicated fans who felt more like friends and family, to places I don’t think any of us were expecting that evening in the intimate setting.

At times I was reminded of how Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ album Raising Sand moves me, then later on, as I wistfully wished I had a smidgen of musical talent, I remembered  that years ago I wrote poetry so who knows if that will take me somewhere as I hope to enjoy more creative moments in life…

You can hear more from their band recorded in Waterford last year here.
Changing FocusA couple of days later and it was back to work. As I mentioned at the beginning, that’s been pretty full on too but in a more considered way. I’ve been managing a few websites including the Community Gardens Ireland (CGI) and An Gairdin Beo, as well as applying for funding for the national organisation that will help to make it more relevant and useful to community gardeners. This has been an ongoing and essential part of the work which of course takes time, as does writing and distributing strategic frameworks among committee members.

Changing FocusWe had a really successful networking meeting and Peace Gardening workshop in Belfast a few weeks ago which reminded me just how essential and valuable all our work is and I hope we can share more about that with you soon on the CGI blog. I particularly liked how Peas Park Community Garden incorporated so much art into their garden as well as flowers and vegetables and how they use artistic workshops to invite adults and children into the garden, albeit through sculpture, their constantly changing billboard or the inspired piece of painted art that covers their tool container.

Changing FocusGreenside Up is still very much alive and well too. I’ve refreshed and updated the workplace garden package I created with the help of my own INSPIRE mentor Brian Andrews a couple of years ago. This is an area I really hope will take off, allowing people working full-time the opportunity to spend more time in gardens and help to balance their own work life stress. I’m also putting a training package together for two new community groups in An Gairdin Beo that will help to address some of the 17 Sustainable Global Development Goals that were launched by the UN in 2015.

Changing FocusIn September I’ll be coordinating a pop up community garden in Electric Picnic once more, thanks to Cultivate, organisers of Global Green and during the weekend I’ll be joining fellow community garden enthusiasts in the Food Matters tent in Bloom. I’m continuing my Carlow Kilkenny ETB funded training with Gleann na Bearu community garden in Bagenalstown, a garden that’s a joy to be in every Wednesday morning, as well as my ongoing horticultural therapy with intellectually disabled adults in an HSE day care centre garden.

Next week I’m off with three fellow coordinators of the CGI to the Presidents garden party to share tea with others involved in helping to bring the UN development goals to Ireland and there’s other projects on the horizon too.

Are you still with me? I’m tired even reading that back ☺️

Sweet Potato, Spinach and Cauliflower Curry Recipe

Sweet Potato, Spinach and Cauliflower Recipe

If you’ve made it this far, I promised a recipe at the beginning which is one of the many delights we’re discovering with our new lifestyle. It has become a bit of a favourite and one that is allowing Mr G a rest in the kitchen. He usually puts on his blue and white stripped pinny and conjures up magnificent curries, but finally I’ve come up with one on my own that’s cheap and nutritious. It’s loosely based on a Jamie Oliver recipe but rather than using a Rogan Josh paste as he suggests, I’ve made it using a selection of complimentary spices. It’s much quicker to make than its ingredients list suggests too.


1 tblsp organic rapeseed oil
2 red onions, peeled and sliced
3 cm piece freshly grated ginger
3 cloves peeled and crushed garlic
2 tblsp ground coriander
2 tblsp ground cumin
1 tblsp tumeric
1 teaspoon Kashmiri chilli powder
2 tsp garam masala
200ml water
A good handful of fresh coriander, leaves and stalks
3 peeled sweet potatoes, chopped into bite sized pieces
400g chickpeas, tinned or soaked and boiled
500g passata or 8 ripe tomatoes
400ml tin of light coconut milk
400g pre-washed spinach
Half an aubergine, chopped into bite sized pieces
Half a cauliflower, chopped into bite size pieces

Serves 6-8, Cooking and preparation time 1 hour


Heat the oil in a large pan and add the onion and all the dried spices except the garam masalla, mix together well, remove from the heat for a second while you add a splash of water to the pan to prevent the onions and spices sticking. Put the pan back on the heat and cook for ten minutes, stirring frequently and adding more water as necessary.

Add the ginger, garlic, coriander stalks, aubergine, cauliflower and finally the sweet potato to the onion and spice mix then add the chickpeas. Cook for a few more minutes before adding the passata and about 200ml of water. Reduce the heat and cook uncovered until the sauce has thickened and the sweet potato, cauliflower and aubergine have softened.

Empty the coconut milk to the pan and add the garam masala. Rinse the spinach in cold water, squeeze out the excess water and add to the top of the mixture, stir in and cook until the spinach has wilted.  Add the remaining coriander leaves and serve with rice, naans, mango chutney, or simply eat it on its own.

If you make the recipe I’d love to hear how you get on. How are you managing to balance life now that we’re online so much? Have you cracked it?



Community Gardens, Lifestyle

Spring into Action

February 23, 2016

Springing into action

A strange thing happened recently. After 6 years of blogging I lost my ‘voice’. One minute it was there, then it was gone. I’ve countless drafts sitting in my google docs, but none made it here and I was beginning to wonder if my blogging voice would ever come back. Perhaps it was something to do with the flu bug I’m now sharing my fourth week with, but gone it was and it’s only as a result of taking these photos that I’m tentatively easing my way back in.

Springing into actionUntil this week outdoor activities have been at a minimum. Yesterday that began to change as Mr G and I managed to take advantage of the spring sunshine and we headed out for a walk. It was an amazing experience as the reintroduction into the wild was bursting with spring sights and sounds and I’m really thankful we took the time to do so.


We walked at a steady pace for fun and not exercise. Because of this, we were able to hear and watch the various birds twittering with one another and just caught the sound of twigs snapping, alerting us to a fox running for cover in the distance. We listened to streams trickling through the undergrowth as they headed down to the river. When we stopped for a few moments and were really quiet, we were able to hear the soft, deep sound of male frogs calling for mates throughout the woodland.

We are in awe of the amount of frog spawn that’s been laid in the puddles and ponds in the forestry. After the big machines and lorries departed, they left behind deep tracks all around the clearings which the frogs have taken full advantage of. There isn’t a single track that we could see that wasn’t full of the gelatinous spawn. We could hear the adults all around us but could barely get a glimpse. Whether they heard our tracks or could feel our vibrations on the pathways I’m not sure, but it was nye on impossible catching a glimpse of a frog, bar this one that we rescued before our young dog was tempted to play with it too enthusiastically.

Hopefully, I’m now turning a corner on the energy front as I’ve so many plans and ideas in the pipeline it’s starting to get frustrating. I’ve also been blessed with the help of an amazingly enthusiastic and upbeat work experience woman, Frances of Healing by Franc, who’s enjoying learning about the intricacies of running a small, social enterprise as she studies for her own Fetac 5 in Horticulture.

Having the responsibility of a trainee has allowed me to really focus on the weeks ahead and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in. Here’s some of the plans.

Community Gardens Ireland (CGI)

After a week of day time TV, I couldn’t stand it any longer so sat down and wrote down my goals for the year, both personal and professional. My enthusiasm for community gardens hasn’t diminished at all and in fact, the more I see and hear, the more I’m convinced we need an active community garden network to support and help one another.

I took the opportunity of some quiet time to spruce up the new website and as a result, feel that it’s finally starting to take shape. We’ve begun mapping the community gardens, something we were unable to do on our forum site. We now have over 165 community gardens mapped, with the majority of Northern Ireland still to go. I’ve also begun to add In Focus posts on the CGI blog written by various community gardens; an idea I started on the Greenside Up blog but feel the real home of such posts should be on the CGI blog.

A section that’s been proving popular on the CGN website is the newly created Training and Education initiatives, as well as Synergies with other agencies and organisations. These are both tucked under the Resources section which apart from giving tips on how to set up a community garden, also include information on setting up food co-ops, community cafés and buying clubs, an idea Frances and I are about to start exploring with neighbours.

As a result of spending a few hours dedicated to this project, plans for the community network have fought to get out of my head and as a result, we now have a draft strategy document in place for the coordinators to work towards and we are actively looking for funding avenues to help us continue our work.

Creating Local Community Garden Networks

Talking of funding, at the end of last year I heard I’d been awarded a small amount of Local Agenda 21 funding to create a Carlow Community Garden Network and explore the possibility of community gardens becoming Eco hubs, or places of adult environmental learning. I’m in the process of planning a workshop in Carlow in April and am very much looking forward to helping representatives of the dozen or so gardens in Carlow sit down in one place and introduce one another.

Working with Community Gardens

Last year I was funded by Carlow Kilkenny ETB to work with a small community garden in Glenn na Bearu, Bagenalstown and I’m thrilled that more funding has been granted to this wonderful group to enable me to head back to them in April. Last year we ran a session on garden design and as a result, they helped design a bigger and better community garden, adding several more raised beds. If you’re local and reading this we’d love to see you in the garden on Wednesdays for the practical workshops, tea and cake. All are welcome.

More community garden projects will be coming on stream after Easter; if you’re interested in hearing more about them sign up for the newsletter so you don’t miss out.

Glenn na Bearu Workshops 2016

Working with Individuals

In a couple of weeks I’ll be welcoming budding gardeners into our own kitchen garden and sharing the basics of propagating with them. From seeds to cuttings, layering and bulb division, we’ll be looking at several ways we can start growing food, shrubs and flowers without it costing a bomb. To accommodate the workshop the polytunnel has been repaired and tidied, the willow fedge and autumn fruiting raspberry canes have been pruned, and the garden in general is getting a good tidy up. Now if only the lawn would dry out I’d even be tempted to cut the grass.

There’s still a couple of places left on the first workshop in March so if you’d like to join us, you can read more about the course details here.


Synchronicity is a wonderful word and within hours of writing down my goals, ‘coincidences’ began to happen, one of which, was an email landing in my inbox about a facilitation workshop that will be taking place in Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary. As the opportunity to facilitate conversations about community gardens and the environment begin to happen, so too does my wish to learn more about guiding them. I can’t wait to learn more about the art of facilitating from a couple of men I greatly admire in this respect, Davie Philip and Chris Chapman who worked with us in the very early days of the Community Garden Network.

The Art of Facilitation Poster

Building Communities

Once we begin to look, there’s so much going on in communities that can engage us and give us the opportunity to meet like-minded people. Community gardens in particular have a massive potential to become outdoor education centres for adults, giving us the opportunity to step away from our screens or work, busy or lonely lives for a couple of hours and learn about nature, wildlife, food and the environment with others.

They are ideal places to go if you’d like to start gardening but don’t know how, if you live in a flat with no garden or live on your own with too much garden. Community gardens give us the opportunity to make friends, sharing the work and sharing the harvest.

Are you tempted? If so, take a look at the map above and see if there’s a community garden near you.


Blogging, Friends and the Future of Greenside Up

October 25, 2015

Blogging and Friends

I began blogging almost six years ago and the experience has brought me on an amazing journey. I’ve made some special friends, met a tremendous amount of talented people and learnt even more from them all.

Blog Awards

Bronze Winner of Blog AwardsOn Thursday I received a message letting me know that the Greenside Up blog had achieved a Bronze Award for Health and Wellbeing at the Blog Awards Ireland, an honour and one I’m thankful for given that there were over 4,000 nominations, 1,800 entries and over 80,000 public votes for all the blogs.

Greenside Up Blog

The blogging scene has changed completely since I began writing and so has my blog. After its last big win, I spend a lot of time working on its layout to help you find articles and as a result, the blog has grown to encompass several categories in areas that reached out and enticed me once we begin to grow our own food.

From becoming more environmentally aware, learning about different food crops – both vegetable and animal – my involvement with community gardening, as well as sharing the ongoing love of the mountains, gardens and rivers that surround us here in Ireland; I try to give you a glimpse of an alternative life that isn’t dominated by a work to TV and sofa lifestyle. It’s difficult to measure how rich our lives have become since we embraced a more wholesome lifestyle, but as I scroll back over the posts I can’t help but notice how they’ve become a log of our ongoing quest to become more self-sufficient. From the beekeeping and pig rearing, hens and vegetables to the passion that’s grown to want to help others become more aware of nature and food from its source through community gardening.

I’ve always loved to write and blogging has enabled me to do that and I hope that even in the smallest way, it might have helped to inspire you to make, grow or visit something or somewhere yourself.

Apart from becoming an online and very public diary, blogging has enabled me to share other people’s stories.

Local Radio

Blogging and FriendsOn Friday morning I was invited to a bloggers breakfast for the start of the Savour Kilkenny food festival at Anne Neary’s beautiful 17th century cookery school at Ryeland House in Cuffesgrange. The table was heaving with produce Anne and her friends had made for the local KCLR breakfast.

It was a lovely surprise to meet up with fellow blogging friends I’ve met during the years who also care passionately about the importance of good quality, locally produced food. They too understand that strong communities will help us all to become more resilient and better able to cope with the challenges that climate change is likely to throw at us.

Blogging and Friends

Susan (Vibrant Ireland) and Frances (The Honest Project) helping to highlight Savour Kilkenny


Community GardeningDuring the morning I was able to talk on local radio about An Gairdin Beo, the new Carlow community garden I’m volunteering with and later that evening I was talking to Martha Bolger on Kilkenny Community Radio.

There I was able to share my story with listeners about how I begin tutoring, how the first community garden I worked with in Goresbridge developed to become a beautiful food garden and how the new garden project I’m working with in Glenn na Bearú in Bagenalstown is growing.

It’s unlikely I would have had the opportunity to tell these stories without the Greenside Up blog.

So many of us share a desire to make the world a better place and our time spent in writing, tweeting, broadcasting and photographing is usually given up for free, often at a cost to ourselves, in the hope that we can help to spread the word, share the news that real food produced by passionate people is worth the extra cent.

As I become even more involved with community garden projects, I’m not certain which direction the blog will take over the next few months. If there’s an area that I write about that you’d particularly like to read or learn more from, please let me know.

In the meantime, a huge thank you for your ongoing and continued support which is tremendously appreciated and a happy and peaceful Halloween week to you all.

Community Gardens

Health and Wellbeing in a Community Garden

October 11, 2015

An Gairdin Beo - Health and Wellbeing in a Community Garden

An Gairdín Beo – A Living Garden for Carlow

I’m sitting quietly in the common room area of a new community garden project in the middle of Carlow town and in this particular instant, I couldn’t feel more at peace. The wall clock is ticking loudly, cars are passing by on the old Dublin Road and in the distance I can hear the shouts of children as they play. All of these are unfamiliar sounds to a woman who’s been living in rural Ireland for the past 17 years, someone who’s usual neighbours are herds of cows and hedgerow birds. The weekend sounds are somehow reassuring as I sit alone in this quiet, old school building during my volunteer shift, feeling an unusual sense of Saturday peace as I wait for company.

An Gairdin Beo - Health and Wellbeing in a Community GardenJust through the open door crunchy leaves are skittering around the tarmac, early losses from the nearby silver birch and chestnut trees, marking the beginning of the seasonal change.

My eyes are drawn to the area that will soon be full of raised vegetable growing beds and a compost area and I can feel the bubbles of excitement in my tummy when I think about the plans for developing this garden. The potential for this social food growing and eco hub, bang in the middle of the county-town is heart-stirring.

An Gairdin Beo - Health and Wellbeing in a Community GardenThis garden will be a place to socialise, to learn, to eat, to create, laugh, meditate or just be at one with nature in a green space that’s being created for the community, by the community. It’s unlikely it will be this quiet once the growing begins.

An Gairdín Beo, a living garden for Carlow, is in its early stages of development and the changes the other volunteers have made over the weeks in preparation for hosting the recent Integration Forum gathering, are palpable.

An Gairdin Beo - Health and Wellbeing in a Community Garden

Where, just a short while ago there were laurel and bracken, pathways now meander beneath cleared stretches of overhanging evergreens, revealing steps with urns and other delights. In the distant end of the contemplation area, stags head sumac glow in the low sunlight, trees and and shrubs have been tidied, old flower growing areas resurrected and the undergrowth cleared from basketball courts that will one day be replaced by timber and soil.

An Gairdin Beo - Health and Wellbeing in a Community GardenBoth of the buildings have been spruced up, cleaned and painted, toilets repaired and I can only imagine how different it was here just a couple of weeks ago when I was visiting friends in the UK.

Health and Wellbeing in a Community Garden

Photo Credit: Rosalind Murray

In September twenty nations moved into the garden for two hours for the Forum event, bringing life and vibrancy, food, song, art, laughter and music during the annual event that’s struggled to find a natural home until now.

We hope that An Gairdín Beo will welcome many more Carlow communities over the coming years.

An Gairdin Beo - Health and Wellbeing in a Community GardenI was contacted twelve months ago about this new, two-acre community garden project in Carlow town, that sits snugly beside St Leo’s college and convent. It’s the first community garden that I’ve personally volunteered in and not simply worked with, and it’s cheering.

I’ve written many posts that you can find here about why community gardening is so good if you haven’t had the chance to join a community garden yourself, but a new group of us are beginning to live and breathe them in this urban centre.

Truly, the mental health benefits alone of being in a tranquil setting surrounded by nature, in a place that has already begun to enthuse so many people, cannot be underestimated.

Sharing the Harvest

Next weekend An Gairdín Beo will be holding another event that we hope will help to go some way towards solving the problem of what to do with our excess harvest. Perhaps next year we’ll be harvesting from the new community garden beds, but for now it will be from our own gardens as we try to find a solution for the food waste that often drips from abundant crab apple, plum and apple trees that surround many of us.

An Gairdin Beo - Health and Wellbeing in a Community GardenFrom 2pm to 4pm on Saturday, 17th October the gates will be open wide once more and we will welcome everyone who wants to come inside and bring their excess harvest, perhaps swapping fruit or vegetables, or maybe just taking what you want in exchange for a donation towards the creation of this special garden.

HEALTH AND WELLBEING IN A COMMUNITY GARDENWe hope to be pressing apples (bring some empty containers in case), tea making and cake devouring as well as generally enjoying the company of new friends and people who enjoy being close to their food sources or who want to learn more about this or other community gardens.

If you’d like to become involved or simply keep in touch with the activities in An Gairdín Beo and watch from afar how the community garden develops, you can find our Facebook Group here.

Hope to see you there sometime.

Community Gardens

Community Gardens Connecting in Galway

February 26, 2015
Community Gardens Connecting in Galway

Leighlin Parish Community Garden, County Carlow – Photo credit: Philippa Jennings

When people connect great things can happen and community gardens are no exception. On the 8th March community gardeners from Ireland and Northern Ireland will be meeting in County Galway to help and support one another to gain more from this form of group gardening. The following gives an insight into the network as well as Doorus Community Orchard, the location of our March networking event.

Community Gardens in Ireland

Many of you will be aware that I’m one of the coordinators of the Community Gardens Ireland (CGI) that was established in 2011, primarily to support community gardens in Ireland and Northern Ireland, but also allotments and Community Supported Agriculture schemes.

Generally CGI offers a virtual network of support with its Facebook Group. However, we also run a Twitter feed as well as a Facebook Page and Group for anyone who doesn’t want to register for the forum and we aim to meet up in person every three or four months in various locations around the country.

Apart from getting a glimpse at other community gardens when we get together in various locations, the networking events also give us an opportunity to meet fellow community gardeners who we’ve struck up friendships with online, as well as swap ideas, pick up tips and learn from one another or any of the expert speakers invited to join us.

Doorus Orchard Community Garden, Kinvara, Co Galway

The next Community Garden Network get together will be taking place in Doorus Orchard Community Garden in Kinvara, County Galway on 8th March from 10am until 4.30pm and anyone involved or interested in community gardening is welcome.

The events are free though if you’ve some spare cash we ask for donations to cover costs as we are a voluntary group with very limited funding and we ask people to bring their own lunch and a bit extra to share. We always try to include an educational element into the networking events and our Galway meet up is no exception.

Community Gardens Connecting in Galway

Community Gardens are great places to educate people about pollinators

Lynn O’Keeffe is hosting us at Doorus Community Orchard and she will be showing us around the walled garden, as well as explaining how the community gardeners there propagate and plan the perennial flowers and vegetables in the garden to attract pollinators.

This is something I’ve a keen interest in having recently joined the Association of Beekeepers as well as signed up to be a Bumblebee Monitor for the Biodiversity Centre (more details here if you’d like to volunteer too). I’m very much looking forward to learning more about planting for pollinators from Lynn.

A bit about Doorus Orchard

Community Garden NetworkThe walled garden that’s attached to Doorus House Youth Hostel dates back to 1866 but became overgrown over the years until it was rescued and replanted thanks to Heritage Council of Ireland funding. The money enabled the community gardeners to plant the land with over 50 heritage apple trees obtained from Irish Seed Savers, as well as many other types of fruit. All of the trees in the orchard were sponsored by local families, which encourages community involvement and they hold regular work and open days there. It’s open all year and anyone is invited to call in and see what’s they’re up to.

If you’re not able to join us for the network meeting, you can find out more about the project here.

Community Garden Network at the Electric Picnic

Community Garden Network at the Electric Picnic

Community Gardens Ireland

Since 2011 the network have met in several locations around the country, including Derry, Dublin, Leitrim, Athlone, Waterford and Cork. We’ve also exhibited two postcard gardens at Bloom Garden Festival in Dublin, and taken a stand at the Electric Picnic in Stradbally, County Kildare. We’ll no doubt be looking for volunteers to step up and help us promote the CGI this year too at various events.

If you’d like to learn more about the community garden network, click on any of the links above or leave a comment below. We’d love to meet you at one of the networking events or hear from you.

Please help us to spread the word about the network – the more we can connect, the more we can help one another.

“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much” – Helen Keller


Community Gardens

Start Up Essentials for Community Gardens

February 14, 2015

Autumn Prep at Callan Community Garden

I’ve written several articles about community gardens – the benefits and how to’s – but once you have your plot of land and an interested bunch of people who want to grow food, it’s important vital, to provide some basic equipment for the gardeners and tutors to use. Without a few tools the group will struggle and far from the success you envisaged at the beginning of the project, you could find it falters and folds.

Willing or Not So Willing Volunteers?

If the initial core group are willing volunteers, you may get away with asking them to bring their own equipment until funds have developed. However, if you’re a well-meaning organisation who are trying to encourage low-income families to start growing their own in community gardens, even if your ethos is one of upcycling and recycling, you’ll need to provide some basic kit. Your potential gardeners might not have the equipment or the funds to buy the tools, seeds or gloves that will start them on the road to growing more of their own food and without it, will soon lose interest.

The Community Garden Twitter & Facebook pages recently received the following query which prompted me to write this post, sharing some of my experiences from projects I’ve worked with.

Start Up Essentials for a Community Garden


Do I Need To Harvest Water or Have An Electricity Supply?

Start Up Essentials for Community Gardens | Greenside Up

Soaker Hose Irrigation in a Polytunnel

I’d be interested in reading your experiences in the comments below, but my own are that groups can manage without electricity but gardening can be difficult, though not impossible, without water on tap. None of the gardens I’ve worked with have had a power supply in the garden itself, though some have run extension leads from buildings nearby for power tools. Although a heated propagator bench is a very useful addition to any polytunnel, I’m not aware of a garden having one where the group only meets once a week.

Water harvesting can vary but community gardens are a good place to demonstrate how it can be done. It makes sense to save water. It’s a free resource with no chemicals added and although it might seem like we have a lot of rain in Ireland, we can experience some long dry spells. If you don’t have a mains water supply on site, harvested water might be your only source of water.

Some gardens have standard rain barrels attached to roof guttering, some have old builders tanks rigged up to catch rainwater with a funnel, some sink their own wells. In the Greenside Up garden we attached a couple of leaky hoses to a builders tank connected to our roof guttering. This has worked really well for us and I would definitely recommend trying to install something similar in a community garden environment if you can. You can read more about our system here.

So you have water and possibly electricity, what else do you need in a community garden?

Toilet Facilities & Shelter

Before we move on to the must haves and optional extras, it’s a good idea to think about toilet facilities. They might not be a necessity but will be needed by someone at some point! If there’s no toilet block on site, consider installing a composting toilet, hiring a portaloo, or have a chat with the closest pub or business and ask if they mind gardeners using their facilities.

If you don’t have a polytunnel or shed, a pop-up gazebo would be a useful addition to the kit list. I’ve been in several gardens where a downpour of cold rain in February has sent everyone running to their cars. By the time they’ve started their engines and gone home, the sun was out and the rain stopped.

Must Have’s

Note: Quantities will differ depending upon the size of garden or group expected. 

  • Soil/Raised beds – digging straight into the soil is the cheapest method and perhaps the most sustainable, but not always the most practical for a community garden. The soil might be contaminated, full of rubble or may not be fertile, you may want higher beds for people with mobility issues and there’s no doubt they’re a lot easier to maintain for a group environment. Don’t forget that if you’re creating raised beds, you’ll need to source good topsoil.
  • Garden tools – you’ll need a minimum of a fork, garden (flat) rake, spade, hoe.
  • Hand tools – small trowel, fork and a small hand hoe/weeder.
  • Start Up Essentials for a Community Garden |Greenside Up

    Wheelbarrow with added booster


  • Waterbutt/water source – You might get away without a running water supply outside if there isn’t a long dry spell of weather, but vegetables will grow a lot bigger and tastier if they’re not left to parch. If you don’t have an outside tap nearby but have a shed or building close to your garden, plan to connect waterbutt’s where you can – it’s a free resource once you’ve made the initial outlay.
  • Watering can and/or hose for the above.
  • Horticultural fleece – for covering vegetables in case of a sudden frost.
  • Bamboo poles/hazel sticks of various sizes for pea and bean supports.
  • Compost Heap – make your own with pallets or buy a plastic one from the local council, but composting in a community garden is a must. It will become a source of organic matter for you in the future.
  • Manure/Organic Matter – buy in or find a friendly farmer who can supply you with some well-rotted manure.
  • Start Up Essentials for Community Gardens | Greenside Up

    Pallet seating at Thomastown School of Food

    Seating – make your own, buy or look for donations but the social side of community gardening is one of the top two reasons people join them.

  • Seed/propagation Trays and Pots – see ‘start collecting’ below.
  • Seed & Potting Compost for starting seedlings off, preferably reduced peat.

Optional extras

  • Start Up Essentials for a Community Garden |Greenside Up

    Home made cloche

    Shed for keeping the tools securely locked away.

  • Grow bags and buckets/tubs – if your beds aren’t ready, or you simply want some extra growing areas, grow bags can be useful for planting outdoor tomatoes, strawberries or cucumbers.
  • Cloches – great for beginning and end of season as well as growing warmer climate veg if you don’t have a polytunnel. You can make your own or buy them ready-made.

Start Up Essentials for A Community GardenThings you can gather

        • Community gardens are really good environments for encouraging people to think creatively about reusing and upcycling, both of which can help to keep the costs down too.
        • Cardboard toilet/kitchen roll tubes are handy for growing seeds in.
        • Plastic food containers make great seed trays or pot containers.
        • Plastic plant pots – ask local garden centres for spares.
        • Carpet can be used as the base for garden paths if you’re planning to wood chip over them.
        • Cardboard boxes – can be put on the bottom of raised beds to prevent weeds coming up.

Take a look at my Recycled Garden Pinterest board for some more ideas.

Follow Dee Sewell ‘s board Recycled Garden on Pinterest.

 How to pay for the tools

If you don’t have immediate funds, there are various ways of obtaining small grants or donations though it’s a good idea to choose someone in the group to take care of this. If you need cash to pay for tools and equipment, you may need to fund raise or ask local business’ if they’ll sponsor more expensive details of the garden such as a polytunnel. You could try sending out a plea in your local newspaper, Facebook post or parish newsletter. Keep an eye out too for occasional grants being offered by groups such as GIY International (if you’re in Ireland be sure to join the community garden network for updates). Contact your local council or tidy towns group for advice and ask if they know of any small pots of gold that you can tap into or ask other community gardeners either in the forum group or on twitter or Facebook. Local training offices (ETB’s) might also be able to offer advice and definitely speak to them about the availability of horticultural tutors. There’s a wealth of knowledge out there if you ask.

Community gardens don’t just have to attract hardened gardeners. Youth groups, artists, people with disabilities, the elderly and socially excluded can all be encouraged to visit and take part, widening the reach within communities.

If you’re involved with community gardens, have you any more tips to add that can help to get them started?

Vegetable Garden

Pumpkin Art – Time For Something Different?

October 25, 2014
Pumpkin Art - Are You Ready For Something Different?

“Green Man” Pumpkin

It never occurred to me to decorate a pumpkin at Halloween any other way than carving it, but Melissa from the Empress of Dirt blog recently published a post calling for entries to a pumpkin decorating competition where pumpkins are embellished rather than sculptured and it seems such a great idea.

Pumpkin Art - Are You Ready For Something Different?If you’ve ever carved pumpkins you’ll have noticed how quickly they go mouldy inside, yet when they’re left in one piece they’ll last for months, which is great if you’re wondering what you can cook up after the festive season that’s cheap, cheerful and healthy.

We usually carve one or two pumpkins at Halloween to hold tea lights on the windowsills, but I’ve friends and neighbours with several dotted around their homes and gardens. That’s a lot of pumpkin flesh to use up or freeze at a busy time of year. Embellishing the pumpkins can give you the best of both worlds – a decorated squash in October that you can eat at Christmas.

If you like the idea of creating a piece of pumpkin art and trying something different this year, Melissa has lots of examples that you can find here to give you some ideas.

Pumpkin Art - Are You Ready For Something Different?I opted for a natural, ‘green man’ look with the giant community garden squash that will be on display at Savour Kilkenny (using a glue gun to stick everything to the pumpkin).

If you’re in Kilkenny this weekend and would like to see it, the Kilkenny Community Garden Network will have a stand in the Leader Partnership marquee on Sunday, where we’ll be selling this seasons chutneys and jams, made by the gardeners from produce mostly sown and grown in Callan community garden this year.

I was planning to make an autumn door wreath but haven’t managed to, yet this seems to make up for it. Our eldest daughter wasn’t so keen on my ‘green’ pumpkin as she couldn’t see its orange skin behind the leaves but Mr G loved it as he’s always been a Green Man fan.

What do you think? Could you be persuaded to hang on to your pumpkin a bit longer, embellish it and perhaps make a soup from its flesh or roast the seeds in a couple of months time, or are you a carving traditionalist, something that was after all, supposed to have originated in Ireland?

Community Gardens

Community education – how measurable is it?

September 20, 2014
Community education – how measurable is it?

This is what happens when you take a couple of weeks off in the summer

We spent a quiet couple of months in the Callan and Freshford community gardens during the summer months with the long, lazy days ensuring we all managed to spend some down time. Now the children are back in school we’re firmly back in action in the gardens and have some exciting plans ahead. Having announced at the end of the 2013 Savour Kilkenny Food Festival that they never wanted to make, preserve and sell home-grown produce ever again, like the memories of childbirth, Callan gardeners seem to have forgotten all the painful bits and have not only announced they want to give Savour another go, they’ve invited the new Freshford gardeners over to the kitchen to help them make this year’s batch of preserves and get involved with the selling of them.

I’ve mentioned before how unique community gardens are with no two alike and the gardens in these two rural Kilkenny villages are no exception. Continue Reading…