A survivor’s guide to community gardening: how to not lose the plot


The quirkiness of community gardening

I’ve been a member of a community garden in suburban Sydney for about 12 years. I remember the day that the then coordinator proudly showed me around. He enthusiastically thrust tiny radishes and other earth-encrusted, often unidentifiable, edibles into my hands. I dusted off their soil jackets and obligingly popped one or two into my mouth. Others I surreptitiously dropped back to the ground.

I didn’t quite get it. But I had a romantic notion of toiling a small plot of land: pulling carrots, plucking pea pods, digging up bucket-loads of spuds.

It was years before community gardening became fashionable. The garden was a mess of unmanageable weed, with the odd bed planted with veggies. It was desperate to be tamed; the handful of members were desperate to attract others, which is possibly why they let a clueless journalist join.

The garden, which was originally an entirely communal space, has since transformed into a hybrid version with a number of individual plots.

We were then, as we are now, a disparate bunch: writers, PhD students, postmen, taxi drivers, scientists, teachers, travel agents, retirees, young families. Culturally we’re from all walks of life. And with diversity comes differences of opinion.

There have been quarrels — plenty of them, plots have been plundered, tensions have risen, tempers have flared, sides have been taken, and those of us who have sat on the fence have wondered if this laid back community gardening lark is all it’s cracked up to be.

I’ve seen members come and go. A bee hive come, and then go. An awfully handsome rooster come and very sadly go (he’s buried under a flower bed). My green thumb comes and goes. As does my patience with the politics that have pushed a number of members out.

But with diversity also comes indefatigability. Together we’ve weathered prolonged dry spells during which everything has withered, including our spirits; frequent flooding; a major land subsidence that closed off half of the garden for far too long while the council dithered and finally repaired; the worry of eviction; unneighbourly neighbours, attacks on our chooks, vandals, scandals and more.

We share and swap produce and tips, collaborate on working bees and morning teas, we roster shared responsibilities, and some (admittedly not me) pitch in almost endlessly. It works, mostly.

There are times when i want to throw in the trowel. When the bickering reaches crescendo or the extra curricular commitment in an already frantically busy life starts to bite. But something keeps me going back. I like the camaraderie, have learned to tune out of the rivalry, and have developed some survival techniques along the way.

Six top tips to community gardening

  1. Whether you’ve harvested a handful of carrots or a bucketload of spuds share the love. You’ll be paid back in spades.
  2. Where there are individual plots, don’t reap what others sow unless invited to do so.
  3. In the communal space, harvest a little and leave a lot. Don’t plunder an entire plot.
  4. Go bananas. Anyone can grow lettuce and basil. Try growing something different: asparagus, artichokes, bananas. Don’t underestimate your green thumb.
  5. Get your hands dirty. Don’t fret if you can’t be there as endlessly as others. But pitch in when you can, or when it’s needed.
  6. Perfect your fence sitting skills, or the bickerers will drive you bonkers.






Filed under Reflections, The Veggie Patch

14 responses to “A survivor’s guide to community gardening: how to not lose the plot

  1. I’m not sure how I’d handle the bickering. I’m not very good at it and would rather do something else than fuss but I LOVE gardening so maybe I’d be like you and learn to sit on the fence.


  2. Liz Posmyk of Bizzy Lizzy's Good Things

    Yes, me too, like Maureen, I hate that sort of politics… that said, the community garden would be a bonus in every neighbourhood.


    • Overall, it’s a bonus in my life. And there are some very inspirational members, who are far more “into it” than I am. They put in hours of work and are very productive. A nice bunch, with the occasional fruit loop thrown in!


  3. I enjoyed reading this piece. Didn’t realise there can be so much drama involved! But it sounds like a good, rewarding community nevertheless.


    • There’s a time and a place for drama – and it’s on the couch in front of the TV with a glass of wine!! Overall, the community garden is a very rewarding experience. I wouldn’t have hung around for 12 years, if it wasn’t 😉


  4. Maureen, this is a fabulous, funny, insightful and entertaining post. Thank you. Thank you mostly for the insight, but the rest as well. I thoroughly enjoyed it all.


  5. Sounds like you’ve had an interesting time Rachel. I’ve often wondered how community gardens are run. Is there a committee, do you have to reach consensus or is it a voting situation? Way back in my idealistic youth I worked with a consensus based feminist group. It damaged me for life.


    • We have a committee (i’ve never sat on it), we have a constitution, and we have rules … that are frequently broken. Hence the bickering. It’s a funny old thing, community gardening. But i quite like it, mostly x


  6. it sounds like community gardens are qute different to british style allotments, where everyone just has their own…allotment. but wow, a constitution, committe and rules – sounds too much like being at work for me.


  7. Ha I’ve always been curious about community gardens but then my green thumb is pretty shocking anyway!


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