Start a Garden

Even before you launch into the planning, take the time to first ask yourself a few questions that will help determine if a new garden site or group is what’s actually needed.

  • Is there another community or school garden in your area that is already serving the people you’re hoping to reach? If so, is there a way you could support or further their goals?
  • Is there a garden group in your area that is open to expanding its reach? If so, could you work with an existing group to create a new garden site?
  • Is a community or school garden something that will meet the needs and desires of your community? Is there another project that would better suit your goals?

Best Practices

This is our compilation of “best practices” for starting, and sustaining community and school gardens and associated programs.

Stages of Garden Development

Once you’ve taken the time to think over the suitability of your project, you’re ready to start planning! Remember: every garden and every community is unique. With that in mind, there are steps to building a new garden community that many new garden groups have found helpful to see them through the process. Rather than using the following information as a checklist, we hope that these tips can give you guidance where needed. We wish you the best as you begin to build your garden!

  1. Get your group together
  2. Define your goals
  3. Develop your garden management plan
  4. Pick a site
  5. Design your garden site (phased development)
  6. Develop your garden budget and fundraising plan
  7. Build your garden site
  8. Grow your team

Establishing a Garden Project

1. Get your group together

  • Seek out dedicated, motivated individuals to be a part of your garden planning committee.
  • Engage a diverse group of people that represent stakeholders in your soon-to-be garden.
  • Establish clear lines of communication and regular meetings for the group.
  • Define roles and responsibilities for your garden.
  • Good leadership and management skills will help to build your garden leadership team.
    Building Your Garden Leadership Team & Making the Most of Meetings (Springfield Food Policy Council)

2. Define your goals

  • Meet as a group to discuss and determine the purpose or mission for your garden.
  • Develop goals that will bring you closer to the overall mission.
  • Identify concrete tasks and a timeline for achieving them.
    This planning checklist can get you started on your task list and will help keep you on track: Planning & Development Checklist

3. Develop your garden management plan

  • Discuss management roles, gardener outreach, registration, fee structure, etc.
  • Creating community garden guidelines is a great way to get everyone on the same page from day one.
    Here are some tips for developing your guidelines: Community Garden Guidelines – Tips
    And an example of what these guide lines can look like for a community garden: Community Garden Guidelines
  • When thinking through roles and responsibilities, it may be helpful to think through the year based on monthly tasks.  Here’s an example to get you started: Garden Organizer Monthly Tasks (Springfield Food Policy Council)

4. Pick a site

Look for a site that meets your garden’s purpose and goals.  When choosing the potential garden site, keep in mind several considerations, including:

  • Light: At least 6 hours of direct sun daily.
  • Drainage: Little to no standing water after heavy rains.
  • Slope: As level as possible.
  • Exposure: Protected from high winds; Avoid low-lying frost pockets.
  • Surrounding vegetation: Few trees; Look out for problematic plants (i.e. poison ivy, stinging nettles).
  • Soil: Test the soil for heavy metals and other contaminants.
    The University of Vermont provides services for Soil Testing
  • Water: Ideally a close water source is available.
  • Safety: Site promotes personal safety; If digging, make sure not digging on utility line – Call Before You Dig“811.”
  • Accessibility: Location and layout of site suitable for potential gardener population & for bringing materials onto the site.
  • Size: Space large enough for the number of potential gardeners, garden infrastructure, a diversity of garden activities, and room for growth.
  • Ownership: If the potential site is not owned by you or your gardening team, find out who owns the site to see if you can rent or buy the land.

5. Design your garden site (phased development)

  • Conduct a site analysis to determine what your site needs to become a garden and where you should place various features.

What’s included in a site analysis? One way to analyze a site is to map it out and overlay your map of the site with an analysis of physical, programmatic, and design considerations: Site Analysis: Creating a Base Map.

  • Create a garden site plan that lays out landscape and garden features.
  • Divide the site development into multiple phases, as budgeting and time allows.

What features should you consider including in your garden?

  • Garden Beds
  • Pathways
  • Watering System
  • Fencing & Other Critter Control
  • Shed
  • Compost
  • Relaxation & Gathering Spaces
  • Communication & Education
  • Delivery area for materials (i.e. compost and soil)

The following document from the C&S Workplace Gardens Project provides some helpful details on the above features:

Physical Garden Features

Also, some additional design plans and resources:

How to Build a Raised Bed

Highfields Center for Composting – an absolute wealth of information on composting and composting systems.  Also check out their Resource Library; an valuable resource for school and community gardens alike.

 6. Develop your garden budget and fundraising plan

  • Based on your site analysis and site plan, make a list of supplies, materials, and other resources needed.
  • Outline the budget, considering your garden’s various developmental stages, from budgeting for garden construction, to on-going needs, to future development and garden sustainability.
  • Develop a fundraising plan.  Consider various fundraising strategies to match your garden’s developmental stages, from seeking donated and recycled materials, to conducting bake sales, to writing grants.
    Here are two resources that can help you begin making your budget: Sample Garden Cost & 10 Tools Every Community Garden Needs, from American Community Gardening Association.  If you’re considering approaching businesses for sponsorships and/or donations, check out these tips: Tips for Approaching Businesses

7. Build your garden site

  • Determine a timeline for phased development of your garden site.
  • Gather people together for a garden work party, with an emphasis on party!  This is a fun opportunity to bring more people into your garden project and build the community spirit of the garden from the get-go.

8. Grow your team

Both throughout the process of establishing your garden and once it is up and growing, keep in mind ways to include more people in the project.

Brainstorm a list of key people you may want to include.

  • Volunteers: Look for volunteers who have enthusiasm for the project, time to give, and the skills/knowledge needed to help you accomplish your goals (i.e. expert gardeners, landscape designers, grant writers, etc.).
  • Garden Leadership: Include people most affected by the garden (i.e. gardeners, neighbors).
  • Partnerships: Think creatively and strategically about community groups, businesses, agencies, and individuals who could support your garden (i.e. community leaders, garden businesses, garden-related educators).

Identify ideal times to consider bringing new people on, including when you’re:

  • Designing the garden
  • Planning for the garden season
  • Managing the garden and gardeners
  • Developing community support for the garden
  • Maintaining common areas
  • Organizing events
  • Reaching out to new gardeners
  • Fundraising
  • Expanding the garden
  • Facilitating and attending gardening workshops
For more resources and tips on starting a garden and leading its development, return to Organizing in the Garden.