Gardening for Life!

Beyond the Garden Bed: Garden Relations

2013HSHF2 (34)

Tending Community Relations in the Garden

Issue: People do not know one another and there is no sense of being a group of gardeners.


  • start using  name tags (first name only)  at the garden bed registration / sign-up event and every meeting following.


  • set a goal that every gardener who joins will know the name of 3 other gardeners within 2 weeks.  This can be done by matching up gardeners with Watering Buddies or having them be part of an garden operations group as soon as they join the garden.  Do the same for people joining the garden after the registration signup.  Start those connections and introductions right away and keep it as an ongoing practice. 
  •  Make spring cleanup day a meet, greet and launch the garden together day - attendance, nametags, good humour, refreshments required!  Use a "icebreaker" style activity to mix people up while doing the spring cleanup tasks so that they are teaming up with people they have not met before. Results: conversation, laughter and a cleaned up garden space!


  • Garden Team: make a point of getting to know a little about  your garden bed renters' gardening life so you learn what their interests are.  This enables you to understand what kind of volunteering invitation will be attractive and catch their interest. Then invite them personally to take a specific role.  The power of the personal invitation is the singlemost important factor in a person getting involved in any activity.



1. Finding enough gardeners and growing participation beyond the same core group. 


2. Culture of garden is more like an allotment garden where. Gardeners do not interact, are uninvolved, and unaware of the additional value of a community garden.  People are focused exclusively on individual gardening goals and complain they aren't receiving food crop harvests equal to the garden bed rental fee. 


  • Start with social events in the community hall such as: Pesto making, potlucks with a humorous theme, family events where children are welcome, seed or plant swaps...
  • Ask each Garden Team member to introduce 2 gardeners to 2 other gardeners they have not met before.  Keep it simple and achievable such as a half hour of coffee and conversation.  Do this over a series of fall / winter months.  Repeat.
  • Identify a garden workshop topic that members want to learn and explore.  Co-host a talk with the Calgary Horticultural Society.


  • Engage groups of garden members by their special interest.  For example, present a sample of  family-friendly garden activities that non-gardening parents can do with their kids from Gardening with Children.


  • Host a garden education event on "Low Maintenance Gardening" or "Growing Food in Small Places", soil health, seed saving, bugs and insects etc.   Ask specific garden members who have been uninvolved to help with one element of the event.  Keep it simple and straightforward such as sharing event info with friends, neighbours or co-workers, checking in people at the door, taking in and accounting for pay-at-the-door cash, setup / takedown of chairs, bringing contribution for the refreshments (juice, cookies).

Calgary Horticultural Society has a Speakers Bureau where an experienced gardener will come and do a 20 minute talk for free. Contact Colleen at


  • Partner up with Permaculture Guild Calgary members to see if they would run a permaculture design course in your community hall.  


  • Examine if the goals for your community garden involve claiming back a grassed area for a permaculture project and the first step can be a sheet mulching party.


  • Check to see if there is a permaculture blitz planned in or near your neighbourhood.  Invite a group of gardeners to participate.


  • Edit the garden guidelines to make participation on a garden team a requirement of garden membership.


  • Change the name to one that refers to people and not a location eg. Gardeners of Springbank Hills, McClure Fellowship of Gardeners.


  • New Gardener Welcome: Make a Buddy system a requirement of renting a garden space.  All new garden members are matched with returning garden member.  Introduce them to their Buddy Gardener and refer them the Calgary Horticultural Society's  Community Garden Resource Network (CGRN) sessions on learning how to garden.

Issue:  Vacant garden beds


  • Start communicating about available beds as soon as you can in the January  /  February  /  March community association newsletters.


  • Reach out to neighbouring communities that don't have a garden and invite them to join by placing a listing in their April  community newsletter.


  • Contact CGRN to let them know about available vacant beds so that nearby community gardens with waiting lists can re-direct people to join your garden.


  • Sow cover crops that renew the soil in vacant beds such as field peas, Dutch clover, barley, and buckwheat.  Let the soil in those beds rest for the season. In the meantime, focus on building a sense of common purpose within the garden.


  • Sow root crops for the Calgary Inter-Faith Food Bank such as potatoes, onions and beets.   Avoid carrots because they will be more vulnerable to produce thieves.


  • Advertise Social Gardening and name the group garden beds so that people with specific interests can join one.  For example, have group gardening beds named the

          Coffee Lovers' Garden Bed

          Bike Riders' Garden Bed Bed

          Wine Drinkers' Garden Bed

          Card Players' Garden Bed

          Chess Players' Garden Bed

          Soccer Moms' Garden Bed 




Issue: Imbalance of participation in overall garden operations.


  • Be alert to garden members who may be doing too much and burning out.  Prevent disillusionment by opening the conversation with them regarding burn-out.  Invite them to collaborate with you to match up all currently active gardeners with an assistant from the new garden members.


  • Contact  garden members and ask  if they have concerns about volunteering. Identify if they are uneasy because they do not know what to do.


  • Gardeners' Mailbox:  set up weatherproof mailbox  for comments and suggestions.  This is also a place where gardeners can place extra seeds or hang a bag for extra produce for giving away to community members walking by the garden.


  • Connect with people around saving money by sharing seeds.  Create a pool for leftover seeds and have an informal seed swap event.


  • Option for apathetic gardeners is to donate an extra monthly amount if they are not able to meet the requirement for garden team participation, group garden maintenance etc.  Note: Some garden teams have tried this and not had success in engaging the unengaged gardener.


  • Set up and make known a clearer framework of participation so that people know and see in the gardener's agreement that they will be joining a specific team responsible for an aspect of garden operations.


  • Consider a gardening interest group for the entire neighbourhood in order to make friends with residential backyard or balcony gardeners.


  • Survey gardeners at the end of the season.  Ask garden bed renters what worked, what didn't and what they would like to help make happen in the future.
    Sample harvest celebration survey



Issue: Finding it difficult to get people together.



  • Use smaller group model for garden operations. A Team Lead meets with his/her 3-5 team members.  Team Lead then keeps in touch with other team leads and garden team executive. At garden bed sign-up (or before spring clean-up date) people choose a role and meet with the other people on that team over refreshments.


  • If your garden does not place people on an garden operations team at registration, then standardize the volunteer hours requirement so that gardeners are discouraged from "shopping around" from garden to garden in order to find a garden where they can avoid helping to maintain the entire site.  (Hey, we are all kinda lazy by nature, right?)



  • Create connections with groups and organizations that can help with heavy garden labour such as Calgary Attendance Centre work crews,  students on internships, church youth groups looking for a project, Youth Core volunteers, and non-profit societies assisting people in recovery.

Next Topic:  Community Relations