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Community Gardening: Start a Community Garden

A guide to community gardening resources in the Boston Public Library and online

Case Study: Peterson Garden Project

The Peterson Garden Project in Chicago is already having an impact on the community.

What's the Buzz About Pollinators?

This U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service video explains who the pollinators are, why they are so important, how they are being threatened, and what we can do to help protect them.

Sonia's Garden -Plants that Attract Wildlife

Sonia Uyterhoeven, from the New York Botanical Garden, discusses the plants that attract bees, birds, and butterflies to your garden.

No Community Garden in Your Area? Consider Starting One!

Not every neighborhood has a community garden.  If there is no garden in your area, consider starting one.  The American Community Gardening Association lists 10 steps to starting a community garden:

  1. Organize a Meeting of Interested People
  2. Form a Planning Committee
  3. Identify All Your Resources
  4. Approach a Sponsor
  5. Choose a Site
  6. Prepare and Develop the Site
  7. Organize the Garden
  8. Plan for Children
  9. Determine Rules and Put Them in Writing
  10. Help Members Keep In Touch with Each Other

Community Garden Start-up & Management Resources

Not quite sure how to get your community gardening project started?  Use the step-by-step guides below to guide you through the process.  Sample documents such as leases, gardener application forms, garden rules, and more are included.

The American Community Gardening Association promotes community gardening throughout the United States and Canada.  In Boston, the Boston Natural Areas Network is the support organization that can help you start and manage your garden.

The local food movement has grown substantially in the last few years. More and more people are interested in having fresh, organically-produced food available to them and reducing their food costs. In an urban area such as Boston, this has led to an increased demand for community gardens. The City of Boston recognizes this trend, and their Open Space Plan 2015-2021 responds to it with many new initiatives planned over the next 7 years. Goals for the next 7 years include:

  • Reducing the capital cost of developing community gardens by encouraging the co-development of community gardens with residential, institutional, and other developments.
  • Reducing the capital cost of developing community gardens by supporting key elements as providing city infrastructure such as water lines and compost/soil.
  • Encouraging private multifamily residential housing and low and moderate income owners in the development of community gardens on their property.
  • Developing more public support for land trusts through resources and training in their structure and organization.
  • Developing a permanent, rolling funding stream for capital investments in new and renewing community gardens.
  • Developing and implementing an educational program that emphasizes safe, low-cost, intensive gardening techniques.
  • Supporting community-based initiatives to develop new gardens and improve existing ones.

There are legal issues to be considered when starting and managing a community garden.  Is the area you are considering zoned for community gardening? If the land is leased, what should the terms of the lease be and how will the landlord be protected from law suits? What sort of waiver should garden participants sign? What about applying for nonprofit status? These issues and more are covered in the guides below. The information provided does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that for legal advice you consult a lawyer in your state.

There has been a great increase in the number of people wanting to grow food in urban settings whether it is for economic reasons, or as a result of the rise of the organic and local food movements. When considering a site for a garden, particularly in an urban area,  it is important to consider the history of the site and its potential impact on soil quality.  Is it close to a busy roadway, or to older housing, where lead contamination could be an issue? Was the site used for industrial or commercial purposes such as a gas station or dry cleaners, or near an area that was? Is it close to a landfill or garbage dump? Knowing the history of the site can help you determine whether to check for environmental contaminants and what to check for. Check with your local library or historical society to see if they have resources such as fire insurance maps, city directories, or historical property records that can identify previous property uses.  Check the sites listed below to learn about the potential problems of gardening in urban areas.

Healthy soil is an essential ingredient for a successful garden. When considering a site for a garden, particularly in an urban area,  it is important to have the soil tested.  Tests are useful for finding out, not  only basic information such as the pH of the soil and whether there are sufficient nutrients to support plant growth, but also for discovering if there are contaminants such as lead, mercury, arsenic, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), PAHs (polyaromatic hydrocarbons), and more in the soil. Check the sites listed below to learn what tests are offered and the pricing.

Beyond The Vegetable Garden - Online Resources

Rain Gardens are an important water conservation tool.  Not only do they supply water for plants, but they also prevent water wastage through runoff, and protect urban areas from flooding.  When plants take up the moisture and return it to the atmosphere through evapotranspiration, it also helps to reduce the urban heat island effect.

Watch the video below as EPA New England, Youth Build Boston, and the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy combine to create a rain garden on Dewey Square.

The National Wildlife Federation states that habitat loss is the biggest threat to the survival of wildlife in the United States. According to the Federation, habitat loss is driven by five things:

  • Agriculture
  • Land conversion for development
  • Water development
  • Pollution
  • Global Warming

To counteract these forces, they recommended the creation of wildlife habitats. They believe that "whether you have an apartment balcony or a 20-acre farm, you can create a garden that attracts beautiful wildlife and helps restore habitat in commercial and residential area."

Why Use Native Plants?

The Native Plant Trust (formerly the New England Wild Flower Society) defines a native plant as one growing in North America before European settlement. The Society, in its recently released "State of the Plants" report, examines in detail the status of New England's plant communities, and explains why native plants matter:

"Plants are the basis of all life on the planet, providing the oxygen we breathe, the food we eat, and the medicines we need. Each native plant species supports insects, birds, animals, and other plants and microorganisms, and relies on them, in turn, for survival, in ecosystems that are intimately connected. The loss of a single plant species can lead to the collapse of its related food web, affecting many plant and animal species. In New England, where 593 species are now listed as rare or possibly extinct, it is vitally important to understand and protect our native plants."

Watch the video below to see Sonia Uyterhoeven, from the New York Botanical Garden, explain how to prepare and store your herbs for all-year-round use.

The connection between gardens and health, both mental and physical, has long been recognized.  Horticultural Therapy gardens are designed to facilitate the use of gardens by trained therapists as a rehabilitative tool. Many of the ideas, such as raised beds that are accessible to people in wheelchairs or those with mobility issues, hanging baskets, table planters, wide paths with firm, level surfaces, and more, can be incorporated into community gardens to make them accessible to people of all ages and abilities.  Check out the sites below for ideas.

In the video below, some of the top horticultural therapists in Canada explain the healing power of working with plants for physical, mental, and emotional rehabilitation.

Children living in urban settings have few opportunities to interact with nature. If your community garden is going to be family-oriented, consider setting aside a section of your garden for children. Through gardening, children can learn informally about biology, botany, horticulture, nutrition, and more. They can enjoy planting and harvesting their own food, learn to cook and preserve what they've grown, and develop a life-long connection to nature. If including a children's section do:

  • Involve the children in the decision-making process from the start, if possible.
  • Locate the section away from the entrance/exit, and in a quiet area where parents can easily supervise.
  • Give children responsibility for choosing plants, planting, and garden maintenance (under adult supervision).