How To Take Your Plant Obsession Outside — Even If You Don’t Have The Space
It's easy to fall in love with the allure of gardening: It's an opportunity to connect with the earth, grow something beautiful, and maybe even reap some powerful physical and mental benefits in the process. But maintaining an entire garden can be difficult, especially if you live in a city and are pressed for outdoor space. Enter the community garden: an opportunity to grow your own greens while connecting with and learning from others.
According to the National Garden Association's recon, from 2008 to 2013 the number of community gardens in the United States increased by 2 million as more and more growers and wannabe growers signed on to meet their neighbors, beautify public space, and walk away with some fresh food or flowers.
Lynne Viera, who's on the executive committee of her community's garden on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, tells mbg that she loves the way it can provide the opportunity for, "meeting your neighbors, contributing to beautifying your neighborhood, and learning about gardening from incredibly knowledgeable people who are willing and excited to share what they've learned over the years." Studies have also found that community gardens can actually reinforce family relationships and promote healthier eating habits.
If you're ready to take your plant obsession out of your house, we've pooled the top tips from community garden experts to get you started.
Finding a community garden near you.
Community gardens are becoming more common, especially in urban areas, so chances are there's one closer than you think. Poke around the web (GreenThumb is a great place to start if you're in NYC, and check out Garden Council if you're in LA). Charlotte Haase, the director of farm programs at Civic Works Inc., a community development nonprofit in Baltimore, also recommends stopping by your local gardening store to see if they have any ideas.
"Or do it the old-fashioned way like I did," says Viera. "Walk around your neighborhood and ask people in the gardens how to get involved." Chances are smaller plots cost less than $50 a year or are totally free.
Best practices when you join a new garden.
Once you've found a garden accepting new members, make sure you know all the rules and expectations before you get planting. "This is important because expectations will vary at each garden," says the Sustainable Food Center, a group that aims to bring locally grown food to communities around the country. "For example, some gardens require community hours spent tending to common spaces in addition to cultivating one’s own plot."
The USDA's site is a plethora of information on community gardens, diving into the nitty-gritty of how to set up your plot for success and track down books on different plants and techniques. Depending on the light and soil conditions of your garden, low-maintenance starter plants include tomatoes, carrots, and radishes, as well as native plants that are noninvasive. Look out for perennials too, since you won't have to replant every year.
Once you get going with your plot, experts agree that the No. 1 no-no is taking something from other plots without permission. Being a good team player means sticking to your own area and being OK with less-than-glamorous garden duties. "It's called a community garden for a reason," says Viera. "It's not just about your plot. It's about helping to maintain the overall beauty of the garden, helping plan events, educating fellow gardeners and visitors, and, yes, sometimes, working on rat patrol."
What if you can't find a garden near you?
If you can't find a garden in your area (or are just feeling super ambitious), starting one of your own is another possibility. It usually requires getting permission from the owner of the site, drafting a proposal, and seeking support from your community members. This startup guide out of U.C.–Davis is an informative how-to that dives into the step-by-step process.
"However you choose to get involved, remember to have fun with it," says Hasse. "Gardening is a great way to meet your neighbors and new friends. The first step is to find or make space and dig in."
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