Whether we’re tending to Clive the pet cactus, or turning balconies into miniature rainforests - our fingers are becoming progressively more green. But what if you don’t have an outdoor, or even an indoor, space to try out your hankering for horticulture? Community gardening projects may just be the answer - for seasoned growers and enthusiastic amateurs alike.
Community gardening projects are pockets of land that are cultivated by a collective group of people. This can be a shared public or private plot which the local community cares for. Gardening enthusiasts are on a mission to brighten up neglected areas - rewilding urban nooks with plants and flowers, using gardening to reconnect their community to nature, and having a great time while doing so. And these spaces aren’t just for seasoned growers - there’s a planty place for budding gardeners too.
People are also turning to gardening as a way to relax and destress, with studies showing a link between our connection to green spaces and lower levels of cortisol (the hormone which makes us feel stressed.) Gardening offers a simple way to stay active and look after both our mental and physical health. One NHS report showed that an inactive person spends around 37% more time in hospital, so it’s no surprise that a growing number of people are being given ‘green’ prescriptions as an alternative to medication. The health benefits of gardening are bountiful, from improved mental wellbeing and mood, to increased physical activity.
Kate Mitchell, a gardener from Dorset and founder of community gardening project BH12 Planters, explains just how easy it is to set up your own: “I was doing a national initiative called 30 Days Wild, where you pledge to do something for wildlife every day. I had a packet of wildflower seeds and just decided to sow some seeds in a planter near to where I live - a bit like guerilla gardening I suppose. I decided that it wouldn’t take much to make the planters in the area look a bit nicer and I understood that the council didn’t have the resources to look after them particularly well.”
After speaking with her neighbours, Kate realised that lots of local people were interested in helping to make a difference to their local area. She says: “We contacted the local council and said we would be interested in looking after all the planters along the road. They agreed, so I set up social media page, contacted neighbours and tried to encourage other people to get involved. Since then we’ve held a session once a month.” BH12 Planters have found a way to maintain the planters, encouraging people to ‘adopt’ a planter near to where they live.
Aside from making things look pretty, there are plenty of other advantages to community gardening projects. A connection to nature can increase empathy for others and encourage social interactions. In addition, there’s growing proof that a higher quality of community living can even lower crime rates. These projects bring together people of all ages and cultures and can be a great way to get to know your neighbours. Kate says: “It’s been really nice to meet other neighbours and talk to people that you wouldn’t necessarily know otherwise. Every time we’re out gardening lots of people either wave from their cars, say thank you, or stop and chat as they’re walking along. There’s a community feel to it, and even though it’s still pretty small, we’re slowly but surely making a difference.”
Rewilding these urban areas also has a positive effect on local wildlife. Many community gardening projects introduce plants that encourage insects and birds. Kate explains: “We try to maintain a balance between plants that look nice, are easy to maintain and are good for wildlife. Things like lavenders that don’t need much looking after but are good for bees and butterflies.”
Feeling inspired to start your own community gardening project?
Starting your own green fingered fellowship needn’t be tricky. Begin by identifying a need in your local area, why not reclaim some disused land or speak to your local council about adopting a plot? If you need a hand finding a growing space then you can visit The Community Land Advisory Service for information on access to land across the UK. Of course, it’s also important to make sure that you ask permission from the right people before getting flower-happy.
Planning your project is key, so keep a few practicalities in mind when choosing your plot. Is there access to water, electricity, storage space, and what is the length of the lease? What will you grow and how does the project suit the needs of the community? Once you’ve figured out the basics then you can begin to think about funding. Growing Together is a lottery funded partnership which helps to unlock revenue, land and skills for community growing groups so that they can generate their own income. There are also other ways you can make your garden self-sustaining, perhaps you can sell spare produce, homemade chutneys or plants?
Above all - have fun! Gardening is great for community wellbeing, the environment and a brilliant way to get to know people. An increasing number of projects are proving just how simple it can be to kick start this kind of project. Kate says: “People feel like it’s a difficult thing to do, but I want people to know that it’s not complicated or time consuming. All you need to do is contact your local council - they’re probably going to say yes. Our gardening sessions are two hours a month and they’re not a massive drain on anyone. It really is that easy.”
Looking for existing projects in your local area? Here are some handy links:
You may be surprised what’s on your doorstep. There are loads of useful sites where you can search for community gardening projects in your local area. Pop in your postcode and dig in!
Royal Horticultural Society
Social Farms and Gardens
Brighton and Hove Food Partnership
The Wildlife Trust
What are you waiting for? Give into flower power and get growing with your local community. You can read more about rewilding Britain here.