With more families moving to inner city or high density living, the idea of sharing garden space has taken on greater appeal. Local councils are leading the way, but many other groups are also active. If you want to get involved in a community garden, your local council is a good place to start – hopefully you may be able to join an existing group. If you can’t, the council should be able to give you some direction or guidelines for starting up a new group.

There are two ways you can start a community garden:

Option 1 – Start Bottom Up

This is the most common approach:

  • A group of people get together with a vision or idea.
  • You approach the local council or some other institution for help in finding land and, perhaps, for other assistance.
  • Alternatively, if you’ve found a site where you would like to make your community garden; you can then find the landowner and approach them
  • You determine a governance structure on how you will make decisions, resolve disagreements and communicate.
  • Complete a needs analysis to identify what your needs are - how you want to use the community garden, what should be included in it and what you want from the experience of community gardening
  • When you’ve have gained access to land, you can then design the garden, build and start to cultivate it.
  • This is a great approach as it builds ‘ownership’ of the community garden and the group establishing the garden put in the effort.

For community workers and local government staff, the most constructive role that they play is in assisting the community group and guide without controlling it.

You'll need: 

  • A group of people that are committed and excited to be on this journey with you.
  • Be sure to appoint a co-ordinator to stimulate interest and drive the program to gain support.

It’s great to have horticultural advice from someone in the group or a qualified Horticulturist. 

Option 2: Start Top Down

The top-down approach is taken by professionals such as community workers and local government staff:

  • The professional workers become interested in the potential of community gardens to build a sense of community, to improve the nutrition of the people they work with or its potential to help achieve some other social goal
  • Through their existing contacts with government, schools or church they obtain land and funding
  • They then have to popularise the idea of the community garden among the target group they believe will use the garden
  • If successful - and it might take some time - they then make use of a council landscape architect or a contracted designer to design the garden. Alternatively - and this might be the better solution because it builds ownership of the garden - they might find someone in the community who can lead a design workshop with the would-be gardeners, turning what could have been a professional-led solution into a participatory process.
  • The good news is that the top-down approach can succeed if the community or local government worker or consultant has the patience and persistence to build support for the garden within the community. It works best where any potential participants in the proposed community garden are assisted to form a team and participate in the design and construction of the garden.

Once the idea has been discussed with the local community, it is a good idea is to organise a tour of three or four existing gardens in the area. Be sure to visit gardens that are different so as to expose community members to a range of approaches to community gardening. Look at the design of the garden and discuss with the gardeners visited how they manage the garden and make decisions.

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