Community Gardens: Getting in on the Act

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Community Gardens: Getting in on the Act

Community gardens aren’t just allotments — they’re urban farms, lively social venues, great places to pick up and share gardening skills, and, of course, patches of ground in which to raise a crop of vegetables and flowers.

More than ever before, community gardens are places where both experienced gardeners and novices cultivate new friendships while they grow their own beans, beets, and tomatoes by the bushel. Community gardens are thriving in schoolyards, churchyards, and on city lots all around the country, coming up as fast as Jack’s beanstalk.

Garden seeds and transplants

“Communities are gardening together, and it’s bringing about changes,” says Bill Dawson, program coordinator for Growing to Green, a community gardening program at Franklin Park Conservatory, in Columbus, Ohio. The Conservatory offers classes in community gardening and supports a network of more than 200 gardens.

Community garden plot with Fiskars shovel

Franklin Park Conservatory is also the headquarters for the American Community Gardening Association, which was founded in 1979. Bill Maynard, president of the association and coordinator for community gardening in the parks and recreation department in Sacramento, California, says that in Sacramento, organic gardening is prevalent in community gardens. Gardeners make their own compost, turn their soil with garden forks or spades instead of with tillers, and grow cover crops, such as red clover, to prevent soil erosion, reduce weeds, and build nitrogen into the soil.

Trug with Fiskars Big Grip Tools

Community gardens are founded on the premise that gardening should be accessible, affordable, and rewarding. Many groups publish planting calendars, with the names of great varieties of vegetables and flowers for local conditions and many gardens offer free or low-priced seeds and access to tools. The crops you plant will depend on what you like to eat — there’s no reason to grow a row of okra if you don’t care for it — but you may find yourself experimenting with vegetables you haven’t tried before if you see smart gardeners around you cultivating them in their own plots.

Marty with a fall harvest of greens

With any garden, it’s important not to take on more than you can manage. Your first plot can be about the size of a throw rug, says John Williams, former program manager at Kansas City Community Gardens in Kansas City, Missouri. A garden about 4 x 6 feet is a good size for a couple of tomato and pepper plants, and perhaps some green beans, radishes, and spring lettuce. Don’t try to feed the world your first season, Williams says, “do it for the fun and adventure.”