Do you ache to get your hands in the soil, to pluck juicy tomatoes and lemon cucumbers from the vine, or to give your kids the hands-on experience and responsibility of growing their own food, but don’t have space for a garden bed at your home? Let me share three benefits of joining a community garden with you. For balance, I’ll mention a couple potential downsides to consider before you sign up for a plot at your local community garden.
Community: Inspiration and Advice
Even when my plot is looking less than fruitful, a stroll through the gardens inspires me. Slowly I walk past four foot dahlias, their round, intricate flowers popping like lion’s manes in a savannah of stinging zucchini branches and feathered carrot tops. Some beds are packed to perfection with veggies and I see potted fruit trees here and there. Calendula has planted itself up and down the path, welcomed by gardeners who appreciate its beauty and the beneficial insects who flock to it. Rosemary bushes the size of my kitchen table thrive and scent the air when I brush against them.
I like to peek in at one garden in particular, the one with oats and wheat and towering sunflowers. The gardener isn’t there this late in the day. He always comes early in the morning, like a proper gardener. By contrast, I’m generally out in the afternoon when I have to spend extra time with my watering making sure I don’t drench the leaves which causes the sun’s rays to be magnified and burn the plants. When I do catch him, he has as many answers as I have questions about growing wheat for bread and fun.
I sigh as I look at his blue wheat standing as tall as a seven-year-old.
I should have planted my wheat sooner.
I should have planted them farther apart so each clump gets nice and strong.
I should remember this is a learning experience!
I’m growing an ancient variety of wheat that was found by archaeologists a hundred years ago in caves at Masada in Israel, how cool is that?! I get to lead my children as we learn to pop out the soft grains from the green hulls in the spring. It tastes like fresh baked bread–if you could bake bread that also tastes like a fresh, green vegetable.
I also note his simple compost bins with leaves, stems and roots in multiple stages of decay as they return to the soil. As I walk back to my garden, I tell myself I should dedicate a bed to compost bins, rather than just the ones I have at home. But by the time I’ve arrived at my plot, I’ve seen fifteen new plants I want to grow next!
Getting advice from fellow gardeners has also been a benefit. What do I need to grow dahlias like yours? Are these holes in my lettuces from bugs or birds? How do you protect your plants from gophers? Conversations like these have been very helpful and saved me some time from having to research a plant problem later at home.
Free Water and Use of Community Tools
While rules differ from garden to garden, water is free for our community. Also, renting the plot from the city is less expensive than paying taxes on an equal sized portion of my yard! So, it’s actually cheaper to garden there that at my own home. Sunshine is always free, but at home it is blocked by my roofline through the winter months over my small garden bed.
The city garden also supplies tools to be used by the community, which saves money and space. Next to the toolsheds are large bins where gardeners can share items they no longer need. I’ve repurposed and reused many seedling pots, trellises and pieces of irrigation and I’ve shared seeds with others as well. Now and again, a local nursery grower has donated extra flats of seedlings, upon which delighted gardeners descend like kids on a birthday cake.
Community Gardening With a Friend
Communal gardening has also made it easier to garden with a friend. I have one plot to myself and share another with a friend. We split the rental fee and some of the gardening expenses. I’m sure I have received the greater blessing, as she always makes time to water my plants when I am away and has saved my garden many times when I have been stuck at home during the week.
When the going gets tough–like last spring when gophers found a way through our anti-gopher measures–we commiserated together over our lost plants. After mourning sufficiently, we worked together to repair the beds and replace the hardware cloth beneath them.
Of course, there are downsides to having a garden separate from your home. The possibility an item or even food on the vine will be stolen by a passerby is real, or so some of fellow gardeners near the gate have told me. Thankfully, I haven’t had this problem.
Some days get too busy for a trip to the water the garden and the plants suffer. Those are the days I wish I my garden was at my doorstep! But until I have a property with space for multiple garden beds, I continue happily at my community garden.