May Toolshed: Tips for Garden Leaders

Garden Communications

Before the growing season’s in full swing, make sure there are systems in place for communicating information, ideas, and concerns with and among those involved with your community or school garden (i.e. gardeners, volunteers, teachers, students).  To assess your garden’s communications, start with some basic questions:

GardenerComm-Gardenat485Elm

Garden at 485 Elm, Montpelier

  • How do your garden’s coordinators relay announcements, scheduling, and other information to those involved with the garden?
  • How do those involved with the garden communicate their needs and ideas to the organizing group?
  • How do members of your garden community communicate with each other to express concerns, share ideas, and help each other out?

By answering the above questions, you’ll generate a list of communication methods used in your garden.  Review your list and ask yourselves:

  • Are these methods effective and appropriate for the people involved?
  • Are those involved with the garden receiving important information about the garden?
  • Are the garden coordinators receiving gardener and volunteer input and feedback?
  • Are all involved communicating with each other in a healthy, effective way?

Brainstorm ideas for strengthening communications at your garden.  Here are a few ideas to potentially get you thinking in new directions:

  • Online communication tools—There are some wonderful online communication tools available; however, before pursuing them, you’ll want to find out if your garden community has the computer access and savvy needed to use them. Besides email, a few tools that have proven useful for garden groups include:
    • Facebook Groups or Google+: share latest photos, updates, educational tips, and stay in touch outside of the garden
    • Google Drive or Dropbox: share and store important garden documents for your group; great for working on projects together
    • Sign-up Genius or Doodle: for scheduling and organizing people around projects; Sign-up Genius for larger projects and Doodle for scheduling with a smaller group.
  • Surveys and evaluations—valuable for soliciting more formal feedback and input from those involved with the garden. One of the best user-friendly online survey tools is Survey Monkey: https://www.surveymonkey.com.  For support in designing your questions or developing evaluation activities that will get you the information you’re looking for, here are a few favorite links:
  • In-the-garden communication tools— With busy summer schedules, most garden groups have had to come up with inventive ways to communicate when people can’t all be at the garden at once. Some useful communication tools commonly found in gardens: bulletin board—post announcements, schedules, maps; white board—write notes, communicate ideas; and garden journal—take notes about what happened when and exciting or concerning sightings in the garden.  A variation on the theme: a garden mailbox—leave a note, lost-and-found items, or anonymous feedback.
  • In the garden, face-to-face—And last, but most certainly not least, never underestimate the value of spending time together in the garden. Some of the most fruitful conversations happen across garden beds, while weeding or planting together.  Take the time to relax and play together too.  A pick-up soccer game or a garden potluck can do wonders for morale, building relationships that increase comfort levels when sharing ideas and concerns with each other.  At a garden potluck, go the extra step and give people the opportunity to speak about “one thing they’re most excited about” and “one thing they feel could be improved” about the garden this year.