Life

Gardening: How to set up a community garden – and aid mental, physical and social wellbeing

By Hannah Stephenson, PA

AS THE RHS unveils four new community gardens as part of its celebrations for RHS Garden Day, at the start of National Gardening Week, it's time to start thinking about setting up your own community garden.

You may have noticed unused patches of land in an urban area, or simply want to brighten up an allotment or a school open space, or feel the need to integrate your community with some colourful pot plants to line your street.

“Community gardens massively aid mental wellbeing,” says Ann Holland, garden designer and Britain in Bloom community gardening competition judge. “They give people a sense of purpose, they can see what they've done and they provide vital social interaction.”

She offers the following tips to start your own community garden…

1. Get a group together: “Engage with the community to find out if you can get a group together. or approach a local Britain in Bloom group if you have an idea. See if there's any interest. You may do that through a coffee morning – I've had a local coffee shop sponsor me with coffee and cake, and people have just come for a natter to discuss possibilities. Or it could be meeting in the library to find out what local needs are.”

2. Set out your mission: “Your vision is what you'd like to achieve. It might be growing vegetables or fruit to share in the community, or just to create a beautiful space to sit, reflect and relax, and meet with other people in the community.”

3. Find some land: “If it's a derelict piece of land, you would approach the local council to establish who owns it and see if you can do anything with that. Alternatively, you might want to approach a local school to see if it would be willing to do something in its grounds. It might be a group of parents who want to do something [gardening-orientated] with the children.

“Think of registering with Britain in Bloom, which may offer advice. And keep it simple. I've seen vegetables growing on a grass verge which has been left.”

4. Appoint a committee: “A community garden needs to have a central core of people to push it forward. So set up a committee.”

5. Look at the practicalities of the plot: “Consider the aspect of land you've chosen. Does it have six to eight hours of sunshine? What's the soil like? Is it wet? Could it get waterlogged in the winter? Do you have access to water and electricity and storage? Risk assess the land, to make sure it's not too near to a road or anything like that.”

6. Sort out finance: “You are very reliant on fundraising, but you can get local businesses involved. B&Q does a community scheme where you can apply for grants. Look at support from local landscapers and gardeners.

7. Take inspiration from others: “I have seen some wonderful community gardens which literally consist of alleyways where residents have planted up pots, while the local café was using catering baked bean tins to make a green wall.

“Another was set up in hospice, which was wonderful, because it was dual purpose. It was not only for the community, but also for the hospice residents. You see them in hospitals as well.”

Garden designer and Gardeners' World regular Arit Anderson will be designing one of the new RHS community gardens in Huntingdon for Huntingdon in Bloom, a community gardening group, who applied to the RHS Community Grant Scheme to build ‘Coneygear Park Community Growing Garden' in a park owned by the local council.

The park is the main large open green space in a deprived area and during lockdown, a ‘Natter Box' project was created there, providing a small seating area to reduce social isolation across the local community.

Huntingdon in Bloom wants to create a sustainable community growing area for long-term use for people to come together to establish and maintain a garden and social space; to grow fruit and vegetables for the community cafe and Oxmoor Community Fridge (which offers free food to those in need) and to share experiences and swap skills.

The National Garden Scheme (NGS; ngs.org.uk) also has a string of inspiring community gardens. Volunteers from The Wonky Garden in Widnes, Cheshire, for example, gave flowers grown in the garden to care homes, key workers, the bereaved, and people who were shielding during the pandemic – and continues to support physical and mental health, isolation and loneliness.

In addition to its donations to nursing and health charities, the NGS also grants awards to help community gardening projects.

For more information about National Gardening week, contact the RHS at rhs.org.uk. RHS Garden Day is on May 2, at the start of National Gardening Week, which runs from May 2-8.

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