Lacking the space to grow their own food at home, some city gardeners have opted to join an existing community garden in their area, while others are keen to start a community garden from scratch. Here are some of the common challenges encountered in the process of creating a successful community garden.
Choosing a site
Before looking for a suitable site, visit some existing community gardens that are working well. Gather information from each garden, noting challenges, strengths and weaknesses. Discuss which plants are most suited to your local soils and growing conditions.
Next, visit potential sites for the new garden. Check if they are exposed or sheltered, and how much sunlight they receive at different times throughout the year. Also consider how good the access is for deliveries of bulk materials such as mulch, and if there is sufficient space for storing composting materials.
Converting thoughts and dreams into a written plan really helps to clarify what is actually achievable, plus what each person involved with the garden feels will work best for them.
It’s important to determine if there is a preference for the style of garden to establish. Where labour for maintenance is limited and access to water restricted, permaculture often works best. Over time, permaculture gardens become more resilient to drought and flooding. However, since they look very informal, some landowners prefer them to be on sites with a low public profile. Organic food gardens tend to be more productive, and usually look more orderly, but require more labour, water and skill.
Some community gardens, such as Northey Street City Farm in Brisbane, offer training which can be useful during the first year. Members may also wish to start their own gardening library.
The more reliant people are on food grown in a community garden for their overall diet, the more important soil testing becomes to ensure healthy crops.Simply growing food organically doesn’t guarantee healthy, nutritious food.
Soil samples can be readily tested to check the soil pH, using a pH test kit. Samples should also be laboratory-tested to identify nutrient deficiencies. Both affect plant growth and the nutritional value of produce, and test results can be used to guide soil improvement.
It’s also critical to learn as much as possible about the site’s history. At my home, a former resident kept car bodies, and I was concerned car batteries might have contaminated my soil with cadmium. can advise on and test for soil contaminants, which may be necessary to identify persistent pesticide residues, perhaps from termite treatment years ago. Heavy metals, such as lead, may also be present on sites close to freeways. These results may determine a site’s suitability for growing food.
Issues to consider
Local councils often provide free bulk lawn clippings, compost and mulches. Find out if these are chemical-free before agreeing to accept them, and make sure you have room to store them. Don’t leave them outside to grow weeds, cause offensive odours or leach nutrients into creeks and stormwater systems. Never store these materials under trees as delivery vehicles compacting the soil, plus leachate, can both harm tree roots.
Find out the laws that apply to your community garden, as they vary from state to state. In NSW, Queensland and the Northern Territory, buying and planting bananas is regulated, while in Queensland and NSW, control of citrus gall wasp is mandatory. Keeping honeybees is regulated countrywide.
In all cases, information is available from your state’s Department of Primary Industries (DPI). Every local council maintains a list of scheduled weeds, and they or the DPI can tell you which weeds must be controlled and how to do it.
In Australia, the rate of evaporation generally exceeds our average rainfall. Compost-rich soil and mulching are essential for extending the benefits of rainfall, especially when growing food.
Expect drought and water restrictions. The general formula for an intensive organic food garden is that 100m² can provide the bulk of the fresh produce required by an adult. A plot this size needs 10,000–15,000L of stored water to keep it productive all year round through extended drought. Rainwater tanks are essential, ideally with the capacity to cope with heavy or prolonged rain events and long dry periods between.
The is an informal, community-based organisation that helps connect and advise people interested in community gardening. Also, can help you with establishing and running a garden club.
Some tasks, such as security, weed control, deterring vermin and working out storage for bulk materials, should be dealt with collectively. Security fencing can be costly to install but is sometimes essential, especially in a new garden. Promptly repair vandalised property and remove graffiti as this generally reduces repeated damage. Also, develop good relations with neighbours as they can help to keep the garden secure.
Serious pests or weeds that impede cultivation can spread between poorly managed plots or invade from properties nearby. Where footpaths are grassed, install mowing strips to stop creeping weeds infesting plots. Create a seasonal maintenance plan so problems are dealt with fairly and in a timely fashion.
Successful community gardens reduce feelings of isolation in a neighbourhood and increase a sense of belonging. As a result, petty crime is often reduced. Also, well-presented community gardens can increase local property prices. Neighbours living beside a community garden may not wish to garden, but you can boost support by inviting them to events, and sharing and trading produce with them. Helping and educating willing neighbours in pest, disease and weed control in their own gardens is a valuable form of community outreach.
You can even be rewarded for your community spirit with generous grants from garden tool company, Fiskars. Visit for more.
Did you know?
Local councils are often very helpful with setting up a community garden and may supply land. Australia’s Open Garden Scheme also funds projects through its community grants program.