Community Gardening

Why garden in your community?

Whether you’re an experienced gardener or just starting out, community gardening is a great way to connect with others and improve the place where you live. If you don’t have a garden to call your own, community gardening means you can share the benefits of tending a green space, while helping others and the environment.

Benefits for your community

  • Pride of place: public spaces improved by the people that use them allows a sense of ownership and shared learning – for lasting benefit
  • Greener surroundings: more gardens mean a cleaner and greener place to live and visit
  • A healthier environment: attracting wildlife with plants could help to boost local biodiversity and tackle air pollution 
  • Transformation: community gardens can regenerate run-down areas and boost the local economy
  • Safer streets: Cleaner, greener environments have been linked to lower crime rates and reduced anti-social behaviour
  • Healthier communities: Local food growing can help people make better eating choices, while green exercise is linked to better mental and physical health 

Benefits for you

  • Less stress: ‘green exercise’ like gardening can help reduce anxiety levels and improve mental wellbeing 
  • Get moving: gardening is a great form of aerobic exercise and could help boost your strength, stamina, and flexibility
  • Better connections: by growing with others you could meet new people and form stronger local networks
  • New skills: gain new knowledge, such as how to grow fresh tasty food, how to support wildlife, how to improve the local environment and more
  • Discover: take the chance to explore new areas of your community and improve them while you’re at it

As outlined above a community garden can bring a wide range of benefits – from connecting people with each other to growing fresh food to enjoy.  Whether it’s greening a local area, starting a food growing project or conserving an area for wildlife – community gardening can have a huge impact for both people and places.

If well-planned, a community garden can offer people a place to relax, a way to engage with nature, meet others and get active outdoors. 

First Steps

  • If you are interested in Community Gardening first do your research and find out if there are any community gardens or growing spaces near to where you live.  It’s much easier to join an established group, compared to establishing an area from scratch, and we’re sure that local groups will be more than happy to have new members.  Have a look on the internet and social media or contact the following groups who may have more information: –

Birmingham Open Spaces Forum (BOSF) – www.bosf.org.uk

Social Farms and Gardens – www.farmgarden.org.uk

  • If there isn’t an established group in your area, think about whether you have the time to set one up, and gather interest by speaking to neighbours, local groups, schools, etc.  Setting up a community garden is very rewarding; however, it is also hard work in the beginning therefore it’s helpful if all the responsibilities can be split across a group rather than progressed by one person
  • Identify a location for the garden. Contact Birmingham City Council www.birmingham.gov.uk/info/50044/contact_us_form, or search the government website to find out who the landowner is to then seek permission for your project.   http://www.gov.uk/search-property-information-land-registry.  It is important that you obtain permission in writing from the owner of the land to build a community garden
  • If you are a Birmingham City Council housing tenant and would like to establish a community garden on housing land please contact the Resident Involvement Team by email Resident.Involvement@Birmingham.gov.uk
  • You or the group will need to have public liability insurance to protect it against the risk of public injuries and unforeseen issues. If you’re part a member of Birmingham Open Spaces Forum, Social Farms and Gardens,  Britain in Bloom, It’s Your Neighbourhood or an Affiliated Society, you can access affordable insurance for your group
  • Engage as many people as you can and find out what sort of garden people would like and how they’ll use it. You could contact local groups, schools or businesses to get people involved and talk about the potential benefits of a community garden project or space
  • Visit other community groups or sites that have done similar projects to gain ideas
  • Consider a timescale for the garden to be completed and agree a simple plan
  • Set yourself a budget and have a think about ways to fundraise
  • Set up a volunteer led community organising group to manage the project
  • Find out if any local gardeners, landscapers, or builders would be interested in lending a hand
  • Work-out the orientation of your site (North, South, East or West) – this will influence what you can grow
  • Survey the site – walk around it and make a list of all the features or objects. Are there paths or sheds you would like to keep? Are there any plants that could still be used? What trees do you have? Check to see if any are protected by preservation orders or are in a conservation area, and look to keep habitats that already support wildlife, if you can. Perhaps there are materials that can be salvaged and repurposed?
  • Complete risk assessments before any work is started

Bringing your garden to life

Have a look at your site and think about:

  • The size and shape of the space
  • The type of soil you have (clay, sand, or silt, etc)
  • How much of the garden is in light or shade and how much moisture there is
  • Any permanent features you will have to work around
  • Any concrete areas you could use for growing or existing beds, weeded areas or lawn that could become a growing space

Consider…

  • The distance from public areas, houses, or any schools.  Consider your neighbours and either get them involved, and/or ensure that any activities in the garden are not invading their privacy or impacting on the enjoyment of their garden
  • Water supplies.  This is an important, and often forgotten factor, but you need to establish how you are going to get water to your garden and how you are going to pay for the water if it is not supplied from water butts/storage
  • Secure storage of equipment.  Is equipment going to be kept on site, if so, how will you keep it secure?
  • Access to toilets and washing facilities will be essential for any users of the garden
  • Accessibility for all is key so you’ll need to consider how users of the garden can navigate around the space, and make use of the garden
  • The security of the site is of paramount importance so that its difficult for unknown people to access the garden

Give the garden a purpose

Do you have a primary aim for your garden, such as to:

  • Attract wildlife or to create a wildlife reserve
  • To be a food-growing hub, perhaps helping feed those who are less well off
  • Be a sensory or wellbeing garden that offers a place of respite, relaxation, and recovery
  • Help people learn about a changing climate or other local issues
  • Be a memorial garden to recognise those that are no longer here

Then ask yourselves:

  • Who in the local community will use it and when?
  • Will your garden need disabled access?
  • Do you want the garden to be accessible to people with a range of needs e.g. hospital patients, older people, children, people with special educational needs or disabilities?
  • Will the garden be closed with fencing or open to the public?
  • Do you need more than one entrance?
  • Hard landscaping – what type of paths do you need and where would you like them? Do you want to add artwork or sculptures?

While deciding the purpose of the garden, look at some ideas about different vegetables, fruits, herbs, and edible flowers that could be grown. You can also find lists of plants and ideas for wildlife.

Agree on basic garden structures

  • Will you have planters, containers, or pots?
  • Do you have space for raised beds, narrow beds, or wide beds?
  • Will you have allotment plots?
  • Is the land well-suited to water features such as a pond? This is a great way to invite wildlife in
  • Will there be a polytunnel or greenhouse and where will these go?
  • Will you have water butts for collecting water and to water the garden?
  • Where will you house your compost bin or heap?
  • Would there be a shed or secure building on site for tools and equipment?

Sustainable design

  • Include features such as a compost heap and water butt if you can, to reduce your impact on the environment and to help share knowledge about living sustainably in your community
  • Consider going organic. Garden chemicals can be a big risk to children and wildlife if they are swallowed. Also be cautious if you’re using animal manures as fertilisers. Liquid plant feeds can be made from nettles or comfrey.
  • Ask yourself if you could creatively re-use discarded materials or features in your garden. For example, old tree stumps can be sculptured as a natural focal point and old wellies or pallets can grow plants
  • Choose plants suitable for your site and conditions. For example, if you have a dry, sunny plot, you could create a drought-tolerant garden. If you live in cooler and wetter parts of the country, you might want to consider designs and species that tolerate water
  • Putting your plan into action
  • Clear the site of weeds and rubbish. There could be hidden dangers, such as, potentially harmful plants. Always wear gloves, especially on waste ground. Try to involve your local community as much as possible in your project so that they feel it belongs to everyone.
  • When planting up the garden you could include labels with plant names to help people find out more about the plants in the area. Add interest by including the common name and the Latin name of the plant, what it may be called elsewhere in the world, where it originates and its purpose in the garden.

Maintaining the garden

  • Who will water plants and look after the garden – will you have to create a rota? Don’t forget the summer holidays when most people go away. Get some tips from other community vegetable growers on managing this
  • How do you prevent vandalism? Involving your community in your garden project and giving them ownership of the garden could really help
  • Keep the paths in good repair and make sure that there are no overhanging branches
  • Have a think about the garden as it grows, so you can adapt it to your community’s needs. You don’t need to do everything at once, it will grow organically
  • Keep records at each stage of the development – especially photographs. You could enter competitions in the future and promote your work or use them to support a fundraising opportunity

Hopefully this information has been a useful starting point for you, however if you need any additional information please contact the Resident Involvement team by email – Resident.Involvement@Birmingham.gov.uk

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