Toolshed Tips: Maintaining Shared Spaces

By Libby Weiland

Your April Tip: The days are approaching when your community or school garden will transition from dream to reality—buzzing with people, plants, and other life! By now you should already have an idea of the basic structure of your garden—whether the beds will be individually or communally maintained. However, every garden has additional work to keep up with and communal spaces to maintain. How will the work get done at your garden? What systems, people, and schedules need to be in place to maintain its beauty and productivity? And how can you foster a participatory garden community while you’re at it? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • All Together Now—Garden-wide work parties bring all gardeners together to accomplish large projects and care for communal spaces in the garden. Start with one at the beginning of the season and then periodically throughout, so that gardeners can get to know each other and you can stay on top of the work. These gatherings are a productive way to build community at your garden! Some community gardens require that gardeners attend a certain number of work parties per season. Or for a twist on the theme…
    • Learn Together—Combine your work party with a hands-on workshop/lesson in the garden. One great example: A garden insect workshop where participants are instructed to go looking for bugs. Each time a new insect (eggs, larvae, or adult) is found the group gathers around to learn about it; and then everyone goes out to find more and dump them in soapy water if they’re pests! (Kudos to Putney Community Garden for this idea!) UVM Master Gardeners are a great resource for this type of program.
    • Play Together—Put the party back in work party! Don’t forget that gardening is ultimately for enjoyment—the pleasure of good food and the joy of spending time outside. End your work party by harvesting from the garden, cooking, and eating together. Plant next year’s garlic as a part of an end-of-season festival. One garden uses “weed races” to motivate youth to pull the most weeds—with a thorough lesson on weed identification first, of course!
  • A Volunteer Approach—Depending on your garden’s structure, your volunteers might be community gardeners looking to fulfill required hours or additional volunteers from outside of the garden community. In either scenario you’ll want to come up with a system for scheduling and managing these volunteers. A few strategies…
    • Take a week—Each volunteer is assigned a week where they cover the basic garden tasks. If you have enough volunteers this could mean that each volunteer is in charge of only a few weeks per season.
    • Weekly work parties—Similar to work party idea above, this is a regular weekly open gathering time with a smaller group of volunteers. Some groups use this time to have a Master Gardener available for questions and gardening support.
    • Garden signs—Place signs around the garden with suggestions of things to be done (updated regularly), kind of like a scavenger hunt. An example—“Pick 6 potato beetles” with a photo of the insect and jar filled with soapy water to accommodate. To ensure the work is happening this would need to be done in conjunction with a more consistent approach; however it’s a fun, laid-back way to engage irregular visitors and unlikely guests in the garden.

*For more tips on working with volunteers go to VCGN’s Garden Organizer Toolkit.

  • Delegated Leadership—People are more likely to stay involved in a project if they have some sense of ownership. Some groups call on gardeners serve as “stewards.” For example, a Compost Steward would be in charge of ensuring the compost system is functioning—everything from weekly maintenance, to educating fellow gardeners on how the system works, to organizing a work party to repair dysfunctional bins. Similarly, other groups, particularly in school settings, have “crews”—a classroom or subset of community gardeners that take collective ownership over a certain area of the garden.
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