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 or other associated 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. Prepare for your gardeners
  9. Grow your team

Ideal Timeline for Starting a Community Garden


  1. Get your group together.
  2. Define your goals.
  3. Start to develop your garden management plan.
  4. Assess options and pick a site. Make arrangements with land owner if needed.


  1. Continue outreach, generating interest.
  2. Start designing your garden site.
  3. Start drafting a list of supplies, materials and other resources needed and begin to build a budget.


  1. Finalize overall garden design (budget-dependent details).
  2. Finalize budget.
  3. Start fundraising and looking for donations ($ and in-kind).
  4. Continue garden management plan. Determine governance, rules, roles and responsibilities.


  1. Continue fundraising.
  2. Obtain insurance if needed.
  3. Continue outreach. Look for volunteers (to help develop site) and gardeners.
  4. Continue garden design and layout.


  1. Finalize garden management plan and prepare for your gardeners by creating forms and guides.
  2. Organize the gardeners: orientation, applications, waivers, fees, scheduling, etc.
  3. Finalize garden design and layout.
  4. Gather all remaining materials needed—plants, seeds, tools, compost, etc.


  1. Prepare and develop site.

(Sample Timeline for Planning a Community Garden adapted from From Neglected Parcels to Community Gardens: A Handbook, Wasatch Community Gardens)

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. Consider different levels of involvement — from one time requests to regular volunteers.
    • If not everyone concerned can meet in-person send out a survey to determine interests and needs of stakeholders for developing a community garden.
  • Establish clear lines of communication and regular meetings for the group. Take and share notes so everyone is on the same page about what’s been discussed and next steps.
  • Define roles and responsibilities for your garden development project.
  • 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. Here’s a helpful step-by-step guide for Group Visioning from Grow Pittsburgh.
  • Determine the type of garden that will best meet your group’s needs and mission.
    • Plot-Based: divided up into plots of land for community members to grow and harvest their own crops. There is often a small cost associated.
    • Communal: In these gardens, community members work together to grow and harvest the produce. All vegetables and fruit are then distributed to the garden members.
    • Donation: All produce grown and harvested in these gardens are donated to local food shelves and community kitchens. These are typically communally tended, rather than “plot-based.”
    • Educational: These gardens have an educational focus and are often associated with schools or other educational institutions.
    • Restricted: These gardens are only open to a selected group, such as residents in a building, employees at a workplace or members of a group or club.
    • Combination: Most gardens are combinations of 2 or more of the above types.
      (Sample Garden Types adapted from 10 Steps to Starting a Community Garden in Hamilton.)
  • 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 your community garden’s governance structure–how decisions are made, how leadership is shared, etc. Putney Community Garden has done a nice job of laying out governance in their community guidelines here.
  • Define roles and responsibilities for the management of your garden. See sample community garden roles and responsibilities on pages 30-35 of Community Garden Management Toolkit, (compiled by Betsy Johnson for the Springfield Food Policy Council).
  • Discuss 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: Sample Community Garden Guidelines
  • When planning for 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 (or here’s a printable checklist to take with you):

  • 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.

  • Get your community involved in the design through a design charrette.
  • 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, additional design plans and resources for developing infrastructure in your garden can be found on our Growing in the Garden page.

Visit our Community Composting page for more on developing an onsite compost system.

 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.
  • Determine if insurance is needed for your garden. Liability insurance is the most common insurance covering community gardens. Page 25 in From Neglected Parcels to Community Gardens: A Handbook (Wasatch Community Gardens) covers the basics.
  • 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.
  • If you don’t already have one, you may want to open a bank account for your garden group for collecting fees, donations, and grant funds. Details on “How can a volunteer group open a bank account” can be found in the FAQ section of New England Grassroots Environment Fund. Also, more on this as well as considerations for obtaining a fiscal sponsor can be found in this document: Handling Money (Partnership for Parks).

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. Prepare for your gardeners

  • Develop and deliver an orientation for your gardeners to get everyone on the same page about garden rules, tasks, use, and vision for the season. In-person is best–and make it fun! Additionally send everyone home with a booklet that includes guidelines, important contact information, growing tips and other details is extra helpful.
  • If applicable, create a gardener registration/application form for new and returning gardeners.
  • Depending on your garden’s structure and affiliation, you may also want to create a Participant Agreement and Liability Waiver (Archibald Neighborhood Garden, Burlington, VT, 2007) for gardeners to sign.

9. 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.
Skip to content