Gardens and landscapes have long been designed as retreats from the stresses of life – from urban green spaces in major cities to the humble suburban backyard. The recent growth in community gardens has also shown that gardening can have a therapeutic effect on the community.
Today, community gardens have become places where the people in a community are able to come together to grow food, promote good health and nutrition, create green urban or town environments, support whole of life learning and cultivate vibrant communities.
Growing with the times
But there is nothing new about community gardens. Gardening on public land dates back to the early 19th century when the British Government allocated plots of land to the poor to grow vegetables and flowers. Since then, they have continued to flourish in some form. From the victory gardens of war-torn times, to large-scale modern greening projects and small kerbside or verge gardens, community gardening has always adapted to the requirements of the community.
In Australia, community gardens started with people working together in response to war and food shortages. The modern iteration of community gardening began with Melbourne’s Nunawading in 1977, followed in 1985 in Sydney, with community gardening at Callan Park in Rozelle. From these early beginnings, community gardens became increasingly popular and now some community gardens are so popular they have long waiting lists, highlighting the strong demand for people to become involved.
Gardens bring together people from all walks of life, backgrounds, and ages to foster a lively and connected community.
Bringing people together
Community gardens have been recognised as an innovative way to grow food and improve health. Social connectedness is also a key feature of community gardening. They bring together people from all walks of life, backgrounds, and ages to foster a lively and connected community.
Transforming an unused plot of land into productive community hubs is just one of the benefits of community gardening. These neighbourhood groups develop a shared passion for fresh produce and work together to learn and share knowledge of growing food, help reduce family food budgets and provide opportunities for exercise, recreation and learning, as well as being spaces for contemplation and relaxation.
Community gardens point the way to living sustainably in an urban environment, demonstrating waste minimisation, composting and water-usage techniques that can be used by people in their own homes.
How to start a community garden
There are now many ways for a community to start a community garden. Forming a group and locating and securing a suitable site sometimes takes a while, but there are now many great examples to assist with that.
Gardens are usually located on vacant public land, which can be donated by local councils or other organisations under various lease arrangements. They can be sited in schools, universities, parks, cul-de-sacs, vacant lots, rooftops, verges or nature strips, or retirement homes – indeed anywhere there is a large enough space with good access, adequate sun and a water supply.
There is no one way to set up or run a community garden. Each has its own particular character depending on the people participating, garden size and design, the environment, what’s grown and how the garden is managed.
The Australian City Farms and Community Garden Network is a great resource for all new community gardeners and groups looking to start a garden. They can be found at communitygarden.org.au.