First, check if community gardening is the thing for you:
- Did your early-pandemic attempts with Bunnings seedlings end badly?
- Do you want more space to grow your own food?
- Do you want to be more involved in the community?
- Do you want to learn more about growing vegies and herbs, composting, and the like?
- Do you want somewhere to compost your food scraps?
- Are you turning into a carrot? (A community garden will accept you just the way you are, and help you flourish in organic conditions. They know not all carrots grow straight.)
If you answered yes to most of these questions, a community garden will give you the tools, space, and support you need to flourish as a gardener (or as a carrot) in a beautiful urban oasis.
Community gardens are more than a nice idea for enthusiastic gardeners. They’re for anyone who wants to grow something in a supportive community environment, whether you’re a compost connoisseur or you’ve never picked up a trowel before.
They’re also ideal for people who might be turning into carrots.
Here’s why more Australians are joining community gardens
There are multiple benefits of community gardens. They improve mental and physical health and wellbeing. They’re important places for community connection and skill sharing. They reduce food waste by composting, and some community gardens became an essential food source during the pandemic.
Now more and more Australians want to be involved with community gardens and many have years’ worth of wait lists. So, what exactly is a community garden in 2022? How can you join one? Where are new community gardens popping up? Do you need to know how to sew seeds and prune tomatoes first? Should you mention that one time you put cheese in your aunt’s compost bin? Here’s what you need to know.
What is a community garden?
They’re places where you grow veggies with other people, right?
Well, yes. It’s pretty simple. Community gardens are spaces cultivated by community members. Community gardens can be established on any free space – a vacant lot, a rooftop of an apartment building, curb sides, in schools, community education centres, hospital grounds, etc.
For example, St Kilda’s Veg Out community garden occupies a former lawn bowling green. The rickety roller-coaster of Melbourne’s Lunar Park emits squeals and rattles in the background. The garden includes colourful park benches, wall murals, rabbits and chickens, meandering paths, a cabinet library and artwork. Over 140 plots overflow with organic tomatoes, odd-shaped squash, and garden art.
Like many community gardens, Veg Out hosts working bees and has regular open hours for visitors.
How do community gardens work?
Most community gardens charge a membership fee to help with running costs. Members make decisions about the garden in regular meetings (there’s tea and biscuits involved), and most gardens have policies about what gardening practices are allowed: for example, many community gardens are organic.
Council support for community gardens varies. Some councils are made up of progressive legends who actively foster community gardens, as is the case with the St Kilda’s council-run Veg Out garden. This is an example of a ‘top-down’ community garden, managed by a council or organisation.
The alternative is a “bottom-up” community garden, initiated and run by community members with council support (more or less, depending on your council’s proportion of legendary individuals). With consistent enthusiasm these gardens can be very successful.
Garden plots are communal or individual. Many community gardens have both types, where some members have their own garden beds while volunteers tend a large communal plot. Either option is a good starting place, especially if you’re turning into a carrot.
How to join a community garden near you
Maybe you’ve already stumbled across this magical urban utopia and wondered how you can get involved.
Most council websites will have a list of community gardens and their contact details. This directory lists most of Australia’s community gardens, and a quick Google could also bring up a community garden in your area. Joining the garden’s Facebook page will connect you with upcoming open days, working bees, and workshops.
But what if all the community gardens near you are full? Many gardens have a waitlist for new plot holders, due to increased interest. There are a few options: you could ask to volunteer. You could attend working bees and events. You could look at starting your own community garden, maybe with fellow would-be gardeners on wait lists. And in the meantime, consider growing vegetables at home with these tips on growing food in small spaces.
Alex is a journalist and freelance writer who loves bringing you inspiring stories. Have an idea for a story? Let her know at firstname.lastname@example.org