Monthly Archives: July 2011

Growing Community III: 11 more ways to get inspired

photo: Danny Woo International District Community Gardens, Joe Mabel

There are so many interesting ways to think about community gardens. My last post listed twelve of these. Venue, design, and the needs of the users all play a role in planning a community garden. Here are eleven more ways to get inspired:

1. Corporate work places
Why not help create a healthy balanced life by introducing a community-style garden at your workplace? Albert Quek, a senior manager at Yokogawa Engineering (Singapore) did just this. The garden welcomes visitors, allows workers an opportunity to grow herbs, spices and fruit trees. There is even a rooftop garden for relaxing.  Quek also created a DIY vertical gardening system after implementing a passion for gardening onto his own 1-meter square balcony.

2. First Peoples gardens
When it comes to long-term knowledge about local growing possibilities, indigenous peoples often have a deeply knowledgeable and have a unique perspective. Despite this, many indigenous peoples often have the greatest need for food security. Community garden initiatives serve the purpose of celebrating and maintaining knowledge, while also providing resources to communities.

The Yilili Aboriginal Community School located in Western Australia is a wonderful example of community learning that bridges institutional communities with geographic and cultural communities. Part of their efforts is dedicated o the school’s community garden. Local families can wander down and pick a meal, and the indigenous women who prepare the students’ lunches also use the harvest. The Canadian government has also provided funding to almost 40 communities through the Aboriginal Agriculture Initiative (AAI) for the purpose of establishing community gardens.

3. Therapeutic
The act of gardening has long been known to provide a sense of calm and bring mental and physical health benefits to gardeners. With this in mind, many communities and health care facilities have made gardens a part of their focus. For an impressively long list of gardens working in conjunction with health care of facilities, see Healing Landscapes.

 4. Fill the Food banks
Many communities are growing to help fill the kitchens and shelves of local food banks. One of these is The Stop Community Food Centre, which produces more than 4000 pounds of fresh produce each year. The Grow a Row program encourages gardeners to plant an extra row of their favourite vegetables to donate to their local food bank.

5. Seniors
The Danny Woo International Garden has been a centre of learning, beauty and relaxation for Seattle Asian Seniors since 1975. Despite its focus on seniors, many people visit the gardens just for their beauty and a children’s garden has also been recently added.

6. Accessible
Gardening can be a physically demanding activity, particularly when garden beds are located close to the ground. Fortunately, many creative people have come up with beautiful and accessible gardening solutions. The Guelph Enabling Garden is open to all children, families, elderly, and those with a variety of cognitive and physical abilities. The Sunshine Coast Seniors Garden includes raised tables and accessible greenhouse. It was designed by and for seniors, and is located next to another food garden that provides intergenerational sharing. Also check out the Francis Avenue wheelchair gardens. Click here for instructions on building a wheelchair accessible raised bed

7. Beautiful
Many community gardens conjure up images of spaces that are an improvement over their previous aesthetic but that primarily remain a series of rectangular boxes. Many have realized that this does not need to be the case, as design contests for community gardens are popping up like weeds. To inspire beauty in your garden check out this video for a permaculture and design at Coffs Harbour Community Garden, this oasis in Singapore, the Franklin Park Conservatory, and the Strathcona Gardens.

8. Partnerships with Parks
Many government parks organizations have taken on the role of facilitating community gardening. This allows for organizational focus within cities, and has also opened up land. Examples include Montgomery Parks, Vancouver Parks and Singapore’s National Parks.

9. Rooftop
If you are in a city pressed for space, rooftops gardens may be the way to go. This takes careful planning as not all buildings can handle having a garden on top. St Paul’s Hospital has, however, managed to pull off this feat. Here are some guidelines for planning a rooftop community garden, complete with a photo of a garden made of kiddie pools! The Rooftop Garden Project has a slew of useful resources (most in French & English) including a complete guide to setting up an edible rooftop garden; educational guides; social, technical & environmental assessments; and even a research thesis on the topic!

10. Museum Gardens: A growing trend
Museums have often embraced a role of facilitating community interaction and learning. Many are beginning to use community gardens as one way to build upon this role.  For examples of existing museum gardens check out the Woodlawn Museum, the Enfield Shaker Museum, the Huronia Museum, and the community/demonstration garden at the Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum. Watch out for the up-and-coming Sydney Powerhouse Museum garden. Better yet, get involved and attend the American Museum Association’s conference on Feeding the Spirit: Museums, Food, and Community (October, 2011, Pittsburgh).

11. On the move?
Check out these fabulous moveable feasts: Have a look at this proposed native garden, to be installed on the back car of an operating Chicago Transit Authority train; there is also a garden truck being pedaled (yes, human powered) around San Francisco that houses a mobile garden. The most beautiful mobile garden I have seen is the Westshore Garden-in-Motion located in Victoria, B.C. I have yet to track down a photo of this one though, so you will have to wait to see it!

There are so many wonderful examples out there. Please share your favourites in the comments section below!

Growing Community II: 12 ways to get inspired

photo: Kettins Community Garden, Oliver Dixon

For the most part, community gardens are an answer to urbanization. However, the increasing recognition of the social and learning benefits that stem from community gardens has led to a wide array of small-scale horticulture projects. Check out the links below to be truly inspired by community knowledge and energy.

1. Want a garden with history?
The UK is known for its long history of allotment gardens. The oldest is located in Nottingham, England. The community has maintained St Ann’s Allotments  for 600 years. Currently, the site is home to 670 plots, although their activities go beyond simple allotment gardening. Given its age, St Ann’s allotment is also home to over 2000 varieties of apples and pears, making this site heavenly for those interested in heritage crops.

2. School-based
Check out The Edible Schoolyard at Martin Luther King Jr Public School (Berkley) to find out more about a one-acre garden initiated by Alice Waters (considered a founder of the Edible Schoolyard movement). The website includes information about how the garden is incorporated into all aspects of the curriculum.

3. Ecology parks
These parks provide incredible opportunities to learn about gardening as a spectator, or a hands-on volunteer. They also provide beautiful green spaces in our communities. My first experience with such a place was spending a summer volunteering at the Peterborough Ecology Park. The park has been a place for people to freely share knowledge, skills and space for twenty years. It originally began as an organic food and demonstration garden, but has expanded to be a site for a wide range of learning. A few years later, inspired by my experience at the Peterborough Ecology Park, and with an itch to travel, I spent several months volunteering with a reforestation project in Costa Rica. This project is now part of the Children’s Eternal Rainforest, managed by the Asociacion Conservacionista de Monteverde.

4. On government grounds
Looking around for a spot for a city garden? Why not use the grounds of your local government buildings? Check out the Vancouver City Hall Community Garden.

5. Improving food security in South Africa
Capetown-based Abalimi Bezekhaya works to help build community gardens in settlements (‘townships’) near Cape Town. They have successfully initiated more than five gardens in previously unproductive areas. They regularly publish newsletters that contain a wealth of interesting articles on everything from gender issues in the gardens, to basic training in agriculture.

6. Sharing our yards
Starting a large-scale community garden can be a daunting process. A simpler idea has begun to spread based on the idea of sharing our existing resources. Several programs have recently sprung up that match urban dwellers seeking garden space with neighbours who have yard space sitting idle. For example, check out Urban Garden Share (Seattle), Yardsharing (Portland), and Sharing Backyards. Landshare (UK) goes beyond backyards, and helps new farmers find land.

7. Beyond plants
Gardens need not be all about plants and ecology. Many people have creatively used the garden as a venue to communicate information about other parts of their worlds. For example, the Toronto Zoo hosts a First Nations Art Garden that shares a part of the worldview of some of Canada’s First Nations peoples. Windmill Primary School in Oxford, England recently opened a storytelling garden. It is “…a unique environment where children can walk along different paths and use question posts and other outdoor learning materials, like sentence builders, character blocks and drawing walls, to help develop their ideas[…] The entrance fence is particularly enchanting as it represents a book shelf of the children’s favourite and in some cases, imaginary, book titles.

8. Defiant
Some gardens are made in extremely difficult circumstances, such as behind the front lines of a war or in internment camps. Kenneth Helphand has written a fascinating book on the history of these defiant community gardens. The Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) took inspiration from Helphand and created a current-day Defiant Gardening Project. This program plants gardens in containers and in the ground on military bases, in communities with military families, and sends containers to soldiers in Afghanistan.

9. Public produce
Community, or allotment gardens, are often controlled and harvested by a limited number of people. A different approach is to encourage the growing and use of produce that already exists on public lands. Juliete Anich has launched an initiative in Australia to make this easier. Urban Food Maps provides a platform that encourages individuals to respectfully share the locations of food grown on public lands. Here are also a number of projects that encourage the use and stewardship of public fruit such as: fallen fruit, city fruit,  and lifecycles. Also see Darin Nordahl’s book Public Produce.

10. Gardening in the Arctic
Think that you do not have the right climate for gardening? Check out Inuvik’s community greenhouse. Inuvik is located in northern Canada, north of the Arctic Circle, almost a stone’s throw from the Arctic Ocean, just south of the end of tree line.

11. University gardens
With cultural ecology at the heart of its mission, College of the Atlantic provides one of the most interesting examples of community farming and gardening that is linked to a university. The university operates five gardens, including a community garden, as well as a farm. These projects feed the bellies of students and local community members, and the minds and skills-sets of creative, energetic young farmers like graduates Alex Fletcher and Virginie Lavallee-Picard of Wind Whipped Farm.

12. High Rise
Even in cities such as Singapore and Hong Kong, where green space is at a premium, productive gardens are popping up. In Hong Kong, the government recently launched a community garden program. Arthur Van Lanenberg is a well-known Hong Kong gardener who has published several books, including a journal on urban gardening. Community in Bloom facilitates many of the community gardens in Singapore. Wilson Wong has also been active in promoting gardening and the sharing of gardening knowledge in Singapore.

To be connected with even more inspiration, check out Growing Community III: 11 more ways to get inspired. This post includes gardens in corporate work places, First Peoples gardens, therapeutic gardens, gardens for food banks, seniors’ gardens, accessible gardens, beautiful gardens, partnerships with parks, rooftop gardens, museum gardens and mobile gardens.



photo: Garden Dining, Geoff Peters

For anyone interested in gardens as a context for fostering learning and interaction, the next three posts are guaranteed to provide you with inspiration and practical resources.

What are community gardens and where can they exist?
As new sprouts push their way through the ground in my corner of the world, I increasingly turn my attention to the ways in which communities interact in the environments they create. Some of the most exciting sites for communities to come together in are community gardens, allotment gardens, and ecology parks. Gardening together fosters communication and learning. It is also extremely versatile, existing in places such as on the grounds of schools, universities, public parks, government buildings, hospitals and high rises. Given the rich history of community gardening, there is also a wealth of resources available to assist those hoping to develop a garden in their own learning communities.

What’s so great about gardens?

  • They can happen almost anywhere – schools, universities, parks, cul-de-sacs, vacant lots, roof tops, old age homes, greenhouses
  • They provide a common place for people to come together, learn from each other, and learn about one another
  • They push us to take part in collective decision-making, skills sharing, and conflict resolution
  • They provide physical exercise and spaces for relaxation
  • They can provide food resources
  • They provide spaces for insects and other animal life
  • They aid us in experiencing and learning about our natural world
  • They provide a sense of accomplishment
  • They can be the starting point for additional community-focused initiatives such as shared meals, outdoor kitchens, and parks
  • In institutional settings, they provide an easily accessible opportunity to get outside. In the case of schools, gardens tie in with all curriculum areas and, more importantly, promote social learning and interaction.

How can I start & sustain a community garden?
Community gardening comes with challenges (which is, really, part of the point!). It is useful to gain inspiration from the actions of those who have come together on previous initiatives, and to learn from their wisdom. Fortunately, there are many fantastic resources that make starting and sustaining a community garden much easier…

Where can I see examples ? Go the next post – Growing Community II: 22 ways to get inspired