How To Start A Community Garden in 6 Easy Steps

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NOVEMBER, 2017

Text By Daire Cullen

Photographs By Sean Cullen

There’s nothing my brother can’t do. He always has a million passion projects going on at the same time while juggling his seemingly never-ending PhD, the latter of which is the lowest down on his list of priorities. From curating a gallery exhibition to brewing his own beer to working on a sustainable housing project, he’s does it all… at the same time! So it was no surprise when, sat in his apartment in downtown Belfast a few months ago, I noticed a five meter long plank of wood tucked behind his couch with the words “Patch To Paradise” painted carefully down the side.

“Sean?”

“Yes?”

“What is a 5m plank of wood doing in your apartment?”

“Oh that? It’s a sign for a community garden I’ve been working on.”

I then made a mental note to add “Community Garden Start-Up” to the long list of the things he’s achieved. He came up with the idea with his neighbour, most probably over a pint of his home brew. The goal was to turn a small piece of derelict, cemented land near his apartment into a communal garden for young people with the hopes it would unite the community over a common goal. It was a challenging project for many reasons, it didn’t always go to plan but he learned a lot in the process.

So, using my brother’s first-hand experience, here is a definitive list on how to start a community garden and keep it going!

1. Community Involvement

You need to get the community on-board, involved and excited about the project. This is the most important yet most challenging part. It’s called a community garden for a reason and without the momentum and input from everyone in the area, the garden won’t last. It’s tough to get young people engaged and involved in a fun and interactive way, so you need to get creative! My brother decided to go on the street, chat with the young people he met and then invited them to “Wildflower Alley”, a regeneration project in a run-down student area of Belfast, with the hopes it would give them some inspiration. He then got them to draw their vision of the community garden with chalk on the ground.

Community Garden in the Holylands, Belfast

2. Plan Before You Plant

And be specific! This seems like an obvious one, but I can’t stress it enough. When working with a large group of people it is important to have a clear vision, for practicality reasons. Using images of the chalk drawings, my brother and his team came up with a detailed design for how they wanted the garden to look and where they wanted specific plant species. They also made a list of the tools and equipment needed.

Community Garden Plan

3.Get Funding or Fundraise.

Once you invest in the right gardening tools, the equipment needed for making garden beds and the seeds you should be good to go! My brother applied for and received a £500 grant and used it to hand-make a garden bench. Something as simple as a bench can transform your garden space into a relaxing and welcoming environment for the community to enjoy. If you are unable to get money this way, try setting up fundraising events within the community until you reach you goal!

4. Start Small And Then Build Momentum.

It’s great to have lots of ideas but don’t get carried away. Split up the work into small pieces, this will make the project more manageable. Remember to delegate tasks throughout the community! It’s a cliché but teamwork really does make the dream work! But also let others take initiative. One morning, when my brother went to visit his community’s “Patch to Paradise” he found that someone had anonymously planted a tree! He loved that people around the community were getting involved, even if he hadn’t ever met them!

5. Get Going!

Start out by planting just one veggie bed. Once you and everyone involved gets used to watering and caring for the veggies, you can expand! Make sure to celebrate your accomplishments, it will help keep everyone’s spirits up! Remember to be selective about the plants you grow in accordance to the environment you live in. Are you able to access water easily? What seasons are the best times to grow?

Building a Community Garden

6. Keep It Going!

This is where my brother struggled. It’s always fun starting a project but often the excitement can fade. Stay regimented and committed to the project by setting common goals such as hosting fun events on site using the produce grown in the garden for community garden parties. Appreciating the direct benefits of the garden will keep you motivated!

Ready, set, plant!

Eden Festival of Action

Keen on planting trees and getting active about the future? Come to our Eden Festival of Action to help us regreen the Garden Route

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