When planning a community garden, think beyond the usual raised beds
I have designed a number of community gardens around the world. Community gardens can enrich the lives of those around them in countless ways. But while I have seen many wonderful projects, I also feel like a lot of people involved in creating such spaces haven’t always grasped or effectively exploited the full potential of a site.
Community gardens can be more than just gardens with raised beds where annual crops and flowers grow. They can be true multi-functional spaces where you can not only come together as a community to grow your own, but form a hub for a wide range of different community businesses. Going off the beaten track can make community gardeners true pioneers. Here are some ideas that might inspire you to get the most out of your community garden project.
Beyond raised beds
Community gardens will often include at least one element of the annual production. But filling the center of a site with several raised beds can sometimes limit the potential of the project. Food crops do not always have to be separated into specific beds or growing areas.
Edible landscaping and food forest projects can turn an amusement park into a wonderland for locals to choose from, while still remaining an inviting and calming space to sit, picnic, walk, or maybe even ride a bike and enjoy other outdoor recreation.
You can also have areas for annual crops, but don’t overlook the addition of plenty of trees, shrubs, and other perennials for carbon sequestration, wildlife, and bountiful yields. Even in paved areas, the smart use of salvaged materials and containers can enable the inclusion of small trees, shrubs and other perennials in the project.
Another important thing is to carefully consider the use of vertical and horizontal space. Vertical gardens, trellises, planting towers, hanging gardens and more can ensure that every inch of space is used to the fullest. Planting against walls or fences can also add to the feeling that a community garden is a true oasis in the heart of a city.
Consider multiple returns
A community garden is a space where a community can grow food together. But thinking beyond food production can help you see that a garden can produce other yields as well, from herbs for natural medicine and wellness to ingredients for natural health and beauty products. materials for crafts and DIY projects, and much more.
Beyond these things, community gardens can be spaces where intangible returns can be “reaped”. For example, a community garden strengthens community unity, provides joy and relief from stress. It can be a place of learning, where skills can be honed – not just gardening, but potentially other skills like knowing plants, foraging, crafting and maybe even food preparation. , cooking and food preservation. Consider how the garden can become an educational center, welcoming a range of people from different backgrounds.
Beyond Plants: Other Elements for a Community Garden
A community garden project may have the potential to add other elements. Some items may be for the enjoyment of people: pergolas, gazebos or other structures, paths and paths, outdoor kitchens, wood-fired pizza ovens or barbecue areas, picnic tables, sports facilities / gym, play parks or construction areas for children. Even in relatively small areas, there are imaginative ways to ensure that each element serves multiple functions. For example, in a community garden, a fence-like partition between two areas of the space also serves as an obstacle course for children.
There can also be many local wildlife species, not just the plants themselves, which should be chosen with the wildlife in mind, but also features such as ponds for wildlife, wood piles, nesting boxes. or feeders. In some situations, a community garden can also become a wildlife sanctuary. It could even become a community farm, and you could include chickens, ducks, rabbits, or other animals in your plans.
If there’s room for a small building on-site, that opens up a lot more options: community kitchens and / or communal dining rooms, pop-up shops and community exchanges, and libraries (maybe not just for books. but also for tools and other items). It can be a hub for gatherings and events, conferences, lessons and workshops. And it can be a hub for other community projects like time banks, for example. The options are almost endless.
Ultimately, community gardens can be whatever the community wants them to be. But be sure to think imaginatively and not be limited by what a “typical” community garden might look like.