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Imagine going for a stroll in your local city area, coming across a little oasis, a fruit and vegie forest where you can snag a tomato or chilli from the garden. Need a bit of coriander for your salad? No worries, just pop outside and grab a sprig. Welcome to your local community garden.
The idea of communal gardens built and maintained by locals is starting to gain momentum, with slivers of greenery starting to pop up in laneways, schools, disused bits of land and shared yards.
For SBS TV garden guru Costa Georgiadis, the reason for the boom in community gardening became all too clear when he toured the country for the latest season of Garden Odyssey.
“The fruit and vegetables are a great visual outcome, but behind the scenes people in these gardens are really opening up to community engagement,” he says.
With many informal community gardens tucked away, experts don’t know how many exist in Australia. But the growth spurt looks set to continue. “Interest has grown significantly as our understanding of climate change has developed and people start to link food with environmental issues,” says Annie Walker, City of Sydney Council’s community gardens officer.
Part of the appeal may be that community gardens are ideal for beginners wanting to cultivate green thumbs. “It’s a fantastic way for novice gardeners to get started,” says Helen Tuton, national garden centre coordinator at Sustainable Gardening Australia. “You can share your successes and failures, and learn from each other.”
Finding the right people
If there’s no communal garden nearby, why not start your own? Begin by harnessing people power, advises Walker. “You’ll need a small group of committed people to do the legwork, look for a site and develop a plan. Once you have a site in mind you can open things up to a bigger group.”
Unless you’re just planting the odd tree along footpaths, don’t be tempted to go it alone – you’ll need more than your own enthusiasm to haggle with council, source materials and motivate people to the point where planting begins. Gather five to 10 people with an ability to follow up on promises and provide a smattering of horticulture knowledge. Appoint one particularly proactive person to deal with council if you’re seeking their support (they may need to make some noise to succeed).