Want to start a Workplace Garden?

First season tips from employee gardeners

By Libby Weiland, Statewide Network Coordinator

In its fourth year, VCGN’s Green Thumbs at Work grant program provides funding and technical assistance to support the development and sustainability of employee gardens at small workplaces across Vermont. Our grantees this year include a local pizza parlor, a statewide solar business, an international software development company, three rural healthcare centers, two social service organizations, and a youth theatre. Along with the diversity of workplaces has come a diversity of approaches—below are some lessons learned as groups started their gardens this season.

Get employee input.

Centerpoint employee holding employee feedback for developing “garden norms”

Before you even make a decision about whether to start a garden at your workplace you should consult with fellow employees to gauge interest and likelihood of participating. Once you’ve got the thumbs up from management to go ahead with plans, continue to check in with employees about what they want to see planted, how they want to be involved and how the program could be improved.

  • Garden team leaders at Centerpoint, a youth treatment and educational support center in Chittenden County, have worked hard to make sure fellow employees have buy-in into the garden. Early meetings included drawing up “garden norms” (group guidelines) for use of the shared space based on employee feedback and encouraging input on what employees want to see planted. The group continues to use a Google spreadsheet for their watering schedule, sends tips on watering and harvesting via email, and holds regular meetings to work out any issues related to the garden.

    SunCommon’s raised beds made from pallets

Creatively use local resources.

Before you submit a request for use of company funds, ask and look around for resources on-hand that could be donated to the project. Don’t be afraid to ask and be vocal about your project—chances are employees, neighbors, and local businesses will be happy to give to the cause and may even have extra tools and materials lying around!

  • Employees at SunCommon, a solar array installation company in Waterbury, built their beds from wooden pallets sawn in half, previously used for shipping solar panels. The beds were lined with donated burlap coffee sacks from Artisan Coffee, located just up the road. Additionally, when employees heard about the gardens the project received an outpouring of extra items from home gardeners; so much so that the garden team had to return the items they’d already purchased.
  • The farming communities that frequent the community health centers in Bomoseen and Shoreham (Castleton Family Health and Shorewell Community Health Center) pitched in by donating rich farm topsoil and manure. A farmer in the Castleton area contributed an old watering trough to be used as a raised garden bed.
  • Lamoille Home Health & Hospice in Morrisville not only received donations from local companies, but also tapped into their already strong network of volunteers for plants, knowledge, and hands-on support.

Have fun with fundraising.

Paint-and-sip fundraiser at Springer-Miller Systems

While it is essential for company/organizational leadership to demonstrate commitment to the project, it’s also wise to be realistic about funds available for getting the garden started as well as keeping it going over the years. In addition to seeking material donations you can have fun with special events that double as fundraisers for your project.

  • Springer-Miller Systems raised $485 from a bake sale, paint-and-sip, and 50-50 raffle put on by the employee “Fun Committee.” While not all employees were interested in getting their hands dirty in thegarden, this allowed another way for employees as well as the local Stowe community to give to the project.

Plant it where people will see it.

That is, the people you want to see it! Mostly likely your focus will be employees. In this case build the garden in a place where employees already spend time or pass by regularly. If you are encouraging community use or would like to share this great idea with the broader public make sure the garden is front and center.

Garden oasis growing in employee break area at The Pizza Man

  • At Castleton Family Health the gardens are located around back. Employees walk past the gardens daily on their way to and from the employee-only parking lot and building entrance.
  • At The Pizza Man, a local pizza parlor in Lyndonville, surrounded by a cement parking lot and driveway, employees built waist-high raised beds directly on the pavement. The beds are located around back where employees take their breaks, turning hot asphalt into a green garden oasis.
  • Employees at Groundworks Collaborative, a homeless shelter and social support site in Brattleboro, continued the work started by a previous tenant in beautifying their front yard. The group added to the peach tree and blueberry bushes by adding raised vegetable garden beds, promoting healthy eating and healthy landscapes for employees and residents alike.

Express the character of your workplace.

Fairy bird house at New England Youth Theatre

Gardens in any location can tell you a lot about the gardeners—whether tidy, creative, wild, or welcoming. What can your workplace garden say about the place where you work, its culture and the people who garden there?

  • In developing the gardens at the Brattleboro non-profit, New England Youth Theatre the group tapped into their wealth of creative characters and skilled artists. The gardens served as a creative outlet, including such features as a hand-carved bench, rustic trellising, a polygon shaped sunflower bed, and a fairy-house style birdhouse built by students and staff. The gardens sit at the base of a long walkway to the theatre’s entrance—another way for the group to share their story with the community.

Want to start a garden at your workplace? VCGN offers technical assistance and garden planning and development packages to match any business or organization’s needs. Contact libby@vcgn.org for more info and pricing options.

The Green Thumbs at Work grant program is a partnership of the Vermont Department of Health, Vermont Community Garden Network, and Charlie Nardozzi, with support from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont and Gardener’s Supply. Visit our Green Thumbs at Work web page for more information.