Toolshed Tips: Garden Orientation

Your May tip:  Spring in all its glory is finally here and everyone is eager to get their hands, seeds and plants in the soil!  Before everyone is going full speed ahead in their own garden, take the time to orient your gardeners, classrooms, and volunteers to a new season in your garden.  In the midst of garden orientation season, here are a few tips to spruce up these first garden gatherings.

  1. ANG-GardenOrientationProvide options: It would be ideal to have everyone together at the same time, but chances are that your diversity of gardeners and garden volunteers will come with diverse scheduling needs.  If possible, provide several week nights and a weekend daytime as options.  For those of you working with teachers, ask to incorporate your orientation into a staff meeting that will meet in the garden!
  2. Introductions: In addition to getting to know the garden, this is a valuable opportunity for those involved with the garden to get to know each other.  You can learn a lot about people with a simple introduction that gathers their name and something unique about them (i.e. what they love about gardening, what they’re most excited about for the season, a little-known skill they have).  Pay attention, as this information may also be great for recruiting help on different garden projects.
  3. Core content: Make sure that gardeners have all of the basic information on what they should expect from being a part of the garden and what’s expected of them.  Garden guidelines are a helpful tool—click here for some tips on how to create effective guidelines.
  4. Tour the grounds: This physical orientation will go a long way—especially for those experiential learners.  Signs are a helpful to add before gardeners arrive, to provide orientation and instruction for key features (i.e. compost pile, watering system, tool shed).  A couple of additional ideas for making the tour fun: match up people who are new to the garden with people who know the site well as tour guides; have a scavenger hunt that asks new-comers to find key features in the garden.  (Kids will love it and adults too!)
  5. Q & A: Make sure you leave time for questions, as there will likely be plenty!
  6. Make it something they won’t want to miss: While it’s a good idea to make your garden orientation a requirement, this is a great time to develop the culture of your garden by setting the tone with something fun.  Asking people to bring a dish to pass or providing soup and bread is not only enticing and tasty, but reminds people of one of the many reasons for the season—food!  If the site and weather allows, give people a chance to get their hands in the dirt by cleaning up plots, turning compost, or doing some communal planting.
  7. Send them home with details: A garden handbook is a great tool that gardeners and volunteers will reference throughout the season.  It can be a couple of pages, with guidelines, seasonal events and contact info, or a longer booklet that also includes educational resources for gardeners, a garden calendar, map, frequently asked questions, and more. Here’s a sample community garden “Welcome Packet” from University of Missouri Extension.
  8. Follow up with: Set a date for your Spring Garden Cleanup soon after your orientation (if it’s not one and the same).  Use this early season momentum to keep people engaged!

The Toolshed is a monthly set of tips for garden leaders provided by VCGN Program Manager Libby Weiland

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