Gardening for Life!

Garden Leadership

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Here is an exercise to do with a garden team or group of gardeners who are just getting to know each other.   It is an easy introduction to informal group learning through discussion.  You can also use it for a gardening group that needs to cultivate a group-oriented community gardening culture.  


Ask the gardeners to go through the exercize together before you start discussions around the following questions:

  • How to manage succession and turnover in garden team leadership
  • How to renew, refresh, rebuild a positive community-oriented culture
  • How to work with garden team members with a wide variety of personalities and styles.



Building a team approach:

  • Identify, respect and use the different talents garden members have while bringing them together as a series of interconnected teams.



  • Do this before garden registration so that there is a list of teams and their roles for people to join.


  • Name the teams.  


  • Personally invite people from the group of returning gardeners to act as a team lead. 


  • Every Team Lead role  has an Assistant who helps. These assistants are from the garden membership.  The personal invitation is the most influential action for engaging people in the garden.


  • One team of these teams is the admin team.  This team is composed of people who are not intimidated by a little paperwork, planning and procedure.  They are not averse to financial activities such as budgeting and bookkeeping, report writing, following terms of reference and looking ahead for the future of the garden.  Five people are asked to join this team and they decide amongst themselves the roles they will assume for the year.


  • Ask  12 people who enjoy hands-on gardening activities to join the Operations Garden Team.


  • Divide the 12 people into 6 teams of two team leads. Each pair of team leads has additional 2 to 8 gardeners on their team.


  • Ask  2 to 6 garden members who prefer hands-on garden activities to join each of these task-oriented team.  These are Garden Operations Teams. Everyone joining the garden joins a team. Set up a minimum of 5 garden operations teams and 1 admin team.


  • Each team gathers with the team leads by a specified date  and defines clearly what they will do for the garden.


  • Share this with the rest of the teams and discuss. People are more likely to participate if they can see immediately that they are not going to have too large a responsibility and can learn from others how to do the tasks to be completed.


  • Take Communication, for instance.  One team of two shares the responsibility to communicate twice a month with the 5 garden admin executive members and the community association (if the garden is on public land) or the landowner (if the garden in on private land).  The additional 2 to 8 team members each take one aspect of garden communication.  (monthly community newsletter article, welcoming and connecting new garden members with existing members, maintaining the garden blog or web page content, communicating key dates for meetings and group gardening days like Spring Cleanup by email to gardeners and so on).


  • The  Admin Team and the Operations Team Leads work on the  5 year garden path plan of sustainability during the fall and early winter.  Identify the costs of garden maintenance such as water, repairs, footpath renewal, bed expansion, and shared gardens.  Review the Garden Guidelines and membership practices.


  • Communication with gardeners can take place by  texting, email, Facebook,  or Doodle Polls  to set up meeting dates.  Call people who do not use a computer.   The Communications Team organizes this.
  • Decision-making is best carried out by voting and recording the majority decision made in brief meeting minutes.     If a garden group uses consensus decision-making only it will at some point prove difficult to make progress. 
  • Use a framework of garden guidelines for the consequences of abandoning a garden bed and missing planting deadlines.  Make it clear to all garden members what the accepted practices are.  Then when a person loses their garden bed due to neglect it is due to the garden operations and not a decision influenced by  personal judgment.


  • Use Garden Team Culture Monthly Exercise at Admin Team and Operations Team meetings to renew collaborative relationships.  If face-to-face meetings are difficult to arrange, find out if the group is willing to do the group exercize online.


  • When new garden team leads struggle with a sense of community, start the discussion with the Garden Operations Social Team to build in garden projects and garden celebrations to bring garden members together for enjoyment.


  • Consider having one person on the admin team be a meeting facilitator.  This is someone who can see when a large group meeting needs to take a vote on a hard decision, clarify misunderstandings, store an idea that requires more discussion by a smaller group at another date in order to stay on topic, move forward the meeting agenda to keep meetings to one hour and so on.  This can be anyone on the admin team.  Offer a free garden bed if have trouble filling garden team leadership positions and you have a waiting list


  • Make the organizational framework simple and the responsibilities distributed amongst all gardeners so that everyone does a little to maintain the garden and the focus is on getting out there and growing plants!



Leadership Succession and Involvement:

  • Publish a timeline of when things need to happen
  • Emphasize that to have a bed in the garden people need to have a role in the operation of the garden.
  • Have an Open House Social in connection with the community association meeting to provide updates and enlist support.
  • Get a group together to go on community garden visits.
  • Send out an updated Garden Agreement and encourage people to complete it even if they are not planting this season.
  • Take the time and make the effort to establish personal relationships amongst the gardeners.
  • Talk to people in the neighbourhood as you meet them.
  • Set up a sign advertising the garden's web page and contact email.
  • Ask people to sign up for Mayor Nenshi's "3 Things for Calgary".
  • Make up buttons or fridge magnets that say "I support the community garden!"
  • Have an event at the garden site such as an Easter Egg Hunt or a BBQ.
  • Make up business cards and hand them out everywhere.
  • Arrange 1 garden bed on the garden site and plant it up beautifully for visual impact.
  • Get the community garden onto a Jane's Walk usually held the first week of May.
  • Canvas the neighbourhood with a clipboard list of expertise needed in the garden.
  • Meet with Propellus (formerly Volunteer Calgary) to develop a relationship.
  • Create a "Timeraiser" where people bid on pieces of donated art whre the bids are "time to be donated" not dollars.


 For Garden Leaders who are feeling "burnt out":

  • Keep coming to the Kitchen Table Talk meetings and other community gardening events to meet other gardeners and get re-energized.
  • "Fake It Until You Make It" and keep your eyes and ears open to see and hear the good stuff that is happening in the community garden.
  • Don't take things too seriously.  Remember it's not our day job!
  • Create your own gardening support network.
  • Go to garden parties and enjoy yourself!

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