In December, we posted about ways to find out who owns vacant lots in your neighborhood. One reason we thought ioby readers might be interested in this topic is that so many of you lead the charge to turn vacant lots into active amenities like community gardens. So cool!

The first step in this endeavor is usually to find out who owns the land you’re eyeing, which can take some digging. Below, we outline the next steps many ioby Leaders have told us they’ve taken to turn the empty lot on their block into a flourishing green oasis.


What is a community garden?

Just so we’re all starting on the same page, let’s spell out what a community garden is. According to the University of California Cooperative Extension’s Marin Master Gardeners: “A community garden is any piece of land gardened by a group of people, utilizing either individual or shared plots on private or public land. The land may produce fruit, vegetables, and/or ornamentals. Community gardens may be found in neighborhoods, schools, connected to institutions such as hospitals, and on residential housing grounds.”

There are an estimated 18,000 community gardens throughout the U.S. and Canada, and it’s easy to see why. Community gardens are known to…

    • Provide aesthetic benefits and fresh, healthy produce to neighbors
    • Make neighborhoods safer
    • Support food security and financial savings for individuals, especially the unemployed and those with low incomes
    • Improve soil, water, and air quality and increase biodiversity
    • Help cities save money through storm water retention and purification
    • Help keep food and yard waste out of landfills (when they compost)
    • Support neighborhood economic development by increasing property values
    • Provide educational opportunities for kids, adults, and seniors
    • Act as a beacon of permanence for traditionally transient communities
    • Promote individual health by offering physical activity, stress relief, and a connection to nature
  • Promote public health by giving people a space to congregate and define themselves as a community

What’s not to love about all that?! If you’re convinced, read on to get the real dirt.

Note: While the steps below represent a basic plan for getting a community garden started, they’re very much an overview: every situation is unique, and you’ll get into plenty more details along the way! You might also find it makes more sense for you to proceed in a different order than the one outlined below, and you might omit some steps and add others. Only one way to find out!

How to turn a vacant lot into a community garden

1. Make sure the site is suitable

An urban land parcel with no buildings on it is a great start for a community garden, but there are other characteristics that make a vacant lot good or not-so-good for growing greens. Does the lot you’re eyeing get a good amount of sun—six to eight hours per day? Is it relatively flat? Is it within walking distance of nearby homes? Does it have any debris in it that couldn’t easily be moved by volunteers, like giant hunks of concrete or a rusted-out car? (If there is giant-size debris, you don’t need to write off the lot yet; just note that you’ll have to enlist some additional muscle to move it, and might have to make special arrangements to dispose of it.)

2. Get permission from the owner

San Diegoan Avital Aboody tuned into her neighbors’ wants and needs and rallied them to turn an underutilized parcel of land into a bright and beautiful community space for play, leisure, and gardening: The H.A.C.E.R. (Helping Achieve Community Empowerment and Revitalization) Project Gilliam Family Community Gathering Place. Her advice:

“Once you have a handle on , reach out to the owner, explain your idea, and ask for permission to use their land for this community benefit.” Read about how Avital connected with the owner of the land the H.A.C.E.R. Project garden is now on.

3. Check zoning laws & water availability

In most cases, the former won’t be a problem, since the lot you want to garden on is likely in a residential or mixed-use area, and since local governments are increasingly aware of the benefits community gardening brings. But especially if there’s any doubt, it doesn’t hurt to look up the lot’s address on your town’s zoning map (many are now online) to make sure that the district in question allows community gardens—or at least does not expressly prohibit them. (Some cities, like Raleigh, North Carolina, specifically mention community gardens in their zoning language, but many cities do not.) For a heftier introduction to zoning concerns, see this Modern Farmer article.

Water is the lifeblood of any garden, so definitely check into this! Try to find out if a water source is available on the site you’re interested in. If you can’t find evidence of one and the owner isn’t sure, contact your local water utility to ask if the property has a water meter. If they aren’t sure, you can ask if they’ll conduct a site investigation to find out. If your site has had water service in the past, it should be relatively inexpensive to get a new water meter installed (if you need one). If the site has never had water service, installing a line that connects to the street main could cost much more. Your water utility should be able to give you more info.

In general, while community garden arrangements are often made just between a land owner and a group of gardeners, it’s not a bad idea to touch base with your local government about your plans, too. Some cities have specific agencies that handle community garden affairs: Green Thumb in NYC and the Committee on Community Gardens in Madison, Wisconsin are two examples. At the very least, they will appreciate knowing about your efforts, and they may well be able to help you with advice or connections.

4. Crowdsource & formalize your efforts

A community garden is—you guessed it—all about community. It’s also a lot of work!, so you’ll want buy-in from at least a handful of your neighbors before you start. Ask other nearby residents to find out who might be interested in participating, and contact local organizations like block associations, houses of worship, gardening societies, and homeowners’ and tenants’ associations to see if they have any advice or would like to partner with you.

After you’ve roused some initial interest, form a group to take charge of the project. Invite the people who show the most interest and have the most time to invest to become your “steering committee.” To make sure all your bases get covered and stay that way, make a list of the tasks you think will need doing—funding, publicity, partnerships, garden construction, plant selection, etc—and ask each person to sign up to be responsible for at least one. People can choose whatever best suits their skills and interests, and then everyone will know who to turn to when a question comes up. You should also consider asking each founding member to sign an agreement that states their rights and obligations. Make sure all members have each other’s contact info.

You can treat your steering committee as a relatively informal group to start, but most successful community gardeners find it’s helpful to eventually draw up at least a simple legal document that explains how your garden is organized and governed, and get everyone to sign it. You should also consider forming an association or garden club; eventually, you may wish to incorporate as a nonprofit. Getting organized in this way can help you do things like establish garden rules, open a bank account and handle money, run meetings, and keep track of membership.

5. Brainstorm your garden

With your team, discuss what kind of garden would best serve the needs of your community and also suit your space: Do you want to grow vegetables, flowers, or both? All organic, or some pesticides okay? Will you have a single space that everyone manages together, or separate plots for individuals to tend? Will you be open to the public? If so, how often, and will a member need to supervise? You’ll probably find it helpful to draw a map of your garden on paper and sketch some initial ideas about where plots and paths—as well as amenities like a tool shed, benches, and a community bulletin board—might go. Also, you’ll need to answer this fun question: What will you name your garden?

As a part of the brainstorming process, it’s a good idea to have some soil from the lot tested for possible pollutants like heavy metals. Search for a private lab in your area that provides this service. If you do find the soil is polluted, you don’t necessarily need to abandon the garden idea altogether, but you will want to consider growing only inedible plants or installing raised beds so you can grow your food in fresh, clean soil. Testing can also tell you about soil fertility and pH: info that will be useful to have when you start preparing the site and selecting your plants.

6. Protect your arrangement

Once you have approval from the property owner, your steering committee confirmed, and at least a basic sketch of what your community garden will look like, you’ll want to sign a simple lease with the landowner; starting from a template is fine. Many garden leaders ask one of their partner organizations to sign it as the space’s representative. Include a waiver that protects both garden members and the property owner from liability if anyone is injured while working in or visiting the garden.

The American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) counsels that garden groups seek leases of at least three years in length: starting and maintaining a winning community garden does not happen overnight! They also suggest researching whether you should buy public liability insurance.

7. Budget & fundraise

Now that you have a basic handle on how big your garden will be, what you want to grow there, and who will be involved to start, you can start figuring out how much it will cost to get it going, and make a plan to pay for it. Common costs include:

    • Seeds and/or seedlings
    • Tools: everything from spades and gloves to watering cans and hoses
    • Construction materials for beds, benches, bins, and more
  • Fertilizer and compost

According to The Community Garden Start-Up Guide produced by the University of California Cooperative Extension, starting a basic community garden typically costs between $2,500 and $5,000. Your mileage may vary!

The most common ways of funding a community garden include membership dues; cash or in-kind sponsorship from community organizations and/or your city’s department of parks and recreation; applying for grants; and crowdfunding. As you may have guessed, we’re huge fans of crowdfunding! Raising money this way helps neighborhood projects to build local buy-in and stay flexible as they grow, and you don’t need to be a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation to do it. Read more about why we love crowdfunding for community projects. (And when the time comes, we of course recommend crowdfunding on ioby!)

8. Prep & build the site

You can absolutely start to prepare your lot for gardening before your planting plan is totally worked out and before you’ve raised all the money you need. In fact, getting people away from the planning table and into getting their hands dirty is a great way to boost morale when it’s all starting to seem like too much! You can also gain some management practice by corralling your steering committee and potentially other volunteers to take care of tasks like removing any debris from the site, marking where your garden beds and paths will go, and putting up fencing (at least eight feet tall is best, to curb vandalism, and include a gate big enough for a truck to drive in).

Every garden is different, but most successful ones wind up containing some version of the following:

    • 15 or more plots assigned to individual members, located in the sunniest part of the garden.
    • Raised bed plots (if any) that are no more than 4 feet wide, and between 8 and 12 feet long.
    • In-ground ground plots (if any) that measure between 10 by 10 feet up to 20 by 20 feet.
    • Paths between beds that are no narrower than 3 feet—you want wheelchair accessibility!
    • Soil that is amended with aged compost or manure.
    • A simple irrigation system for every four plots. If no one in your group is very knowledgeable about irrigation, try asking a landscape contractor, plant nursery, or garden center pro to help you develop a basic layout and materials list.

    • A tool shed or similar structure for storing your supplies. Recycled metal shipping containers make super storage sheds!
    • A picnic table where gardeners can sit, relax, and have a snack. Locating this in the shade of trees is best, or you can build a simple arbor and plant it with vines.
    • A composting area. (Wood pallets can often be sourced for free from local businesses, and make great DIY compost bins! Search online for simple construction plans.)
  • A sign—of course! You want the whole neighborhood to know your garden’s name. It’s also wonderful to shout your sponsors out with signage, and to include an email address or other contact info for neighbors who have questions about what you’re doing. Make sure this info is in multiple languages if your community is bilingual.

Once your basic infrastructure is in place, you can start planting seeds and/or seedlings, as your garden plan dictates. Kids love this part, so don’t hesitate to recruit a few to help!

9. Celebrate—and keep celebrating!

Do not, we repeat, do not work so hard that you forget to have fun! Make a point of organizing an opening celebration for your garden, like a barbecue or potluck lunch, to thank everyone who’s put their time and effort into it so far, and to mark the milestone you’ve come to.

Then, keep it up! Regular programming does require extra effort, but even hosting just a few events a year will keep morale up, attract new members, and help maintain the “community” end of “community gardening.” Garden grow-and-tell tours, storytimes for kids, live music—there are as many good ideas for events as there are gardens. Keep your steering committee thinking about it and get creative!

Remember: Issues are inevitable

Not to end on a bummer note, but nothing is perfect: most every community garden will experience at least occasional problems with vandalism, security, miscommunication, trash, weeds, and gardener drop-out. The Community Garden Start-Up Guide mentioned above gives some great tips on dealing with each of these problems. Whatever comes up, let your group know that you believe in your collective ability to handle it, do your best to address the situation, then keep on keeping on!

Additional resources

– Learn from a Leader: How to turn a vacant lot into a multi-purpose community space: In addition to the “Awesome Project” blog post mentioned above, check out our Q & A with ioby Leader Avital about how she launched the H.A.C.E.R. Project in San Diego.

– The American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) seeks to build community by increasing and enhancing community gardening and greening across the US and Canada. For those just starting out, their articles 10 Steps to Starting a Community Garden and this FAQ with information about making your garden wheelchair accessible are great starts.

– The Community Garden Start-Up Guide produced by the University of California Cooperative Extension: As noted above, this guide provides lots of great info about planning, building, and troubleshooting a community garden; it also offers a sample member contract.

– A project of the Sustainable Economies Law Center, this website is a collection of resources on laws and rules that regulate “who, how, and where” urban agriculture can occur—all in the service of getting more “urban ag” projects off the ground.

– State and Provincial Master Gardener Programs: This list, curated by the Cooperative Extension System, can help you find master gardeners in your area. Their websites and trainings can be great sources of info for community gardeners just starting out.

– What Is a Community Garden – Benefits & How to Start Your Own: Ecofrugal Living blogger Amy Livingston wrote this super-helpful how-to that also includes an interesting history of New York City’s Clinton Community Garden, which has been going strong for almost 40 years.

– How Do I Start Up a Community Garden? Modern Farmer enlisted the help of a zoning and land use attorney for this informative article. Be sure to note the additional resources they list at the bottom.

How to Create an Urban Community Garden

By The National Gardening Association, Paul Simon, Charlie Nardozzi

To start an urban community gardening program, begin by assessing the level of interest in your community. The first step is to find like-minded folks to help you organize the project. Ideally, you’d like to recruit at least five to ten families interested in helping. Survey neighbors to see who would like to participate and hold planning meetings at least monthly to get the ball rolling.

Consider getting a partner or sponsor for the project, such as a local church, parks and recreation department, a nonprofit organization, or a local business. They may be able to provide land, supplies, organizational help, and money to get the garden up and running.

Once you’ve established that there is a strong community interest in beginning a community gardening program, and you’ve checked to see if there isn’t already an established community garden nearby, you’re ready to organize and start one yourself!

How to select a site for a community garden

Look for an open piece of land that might serve the purpose, and contact the owner for permission to use it.

Make sure the site gets at least six hours of sun per day. And be sure to test the soil for nutrients and for contaminants such as lead and other heavy metals. The site will also need a water source, easy access, and, possibly, parking.

The best scenario is to find a landowner who is enthusiastic about the plan and is willing to provide a written, multiyear lease. You don’t want to establish your garden just to have to move it in two years’ time!

How to develop your community garden site

Once the site is secured, your group can start to plan its development! Involve as many stakeholders as is practical. The more people involved in the design and planning of the gardens, the more help you’ll have in building and maintaining your community garden.

Schedule workdays and clean-up days. Measure the site, determine the size of individual plots, and mark them. Amend the soil as necessary with nutrients and compost to build up the health of the land. Water is crucial to a garden’s success. If you’re irrigating, plan and install an irrigation system before opening the garden to residents.

Consider including community areas where you can plant trees, shrubs, and flowers for general beautification. Some community gardens have special areas just for kids to garden. Create some shady areas where people can sit to rest, have a picnic, and gather and socialize.

How to organize your community garden

Your garden group must be well organized if the community garden is to be successful. You’ll need to determine how much to charge for plots and create a budget for spending the money.

While most of the money will probably pay for tilling, soil amendments, and water bills, consider soliciting donations from individuals and local businesses for special additions such as a tool storage shed, a sign, and a bulletin board (a good way to notify gardeners of upcoming events and meetings).

Build a compost pile in one area of the garden where everyone can dump their dead plants, and add a trash barrel for dumping non-biodegradable materials, but only if you can arrange for it to be emptied on a regular basis.

Don’t forget rules! Community gardens should have rules of conduct that all the plot holders read and agree to when they register. Rules can govern pesticide use, watering, planting deadlines, weeding requirements, and the clean-up schedule for garden plots at the end of the season.

How to manage your community garden

A group of dedicated, organized volunteers will help keep your urban garden growing well and diffuse misunderstandings before they become problems. That said, here are a couple of common issues that arise for community gardeners:

  • Most private landowners will not sign a lease unless your group has liability insurance, so secure coverage before opening the gardens.

  • Provide signage that clearly identifies the area as a community garden, and include names of sponsors and contact people. Let the neighbors know this is their garden, too — this will help thwart vandalism.

Celebrate and have fun. Be sure to hold social gatherings in the garden, especially in the summer and fall, to celebrate the garden and all its bounty. See “Hosting harvest festivals” for more on harvest festivals and community gatherings.

3. Hulme Community Garden Centre

Age: 15 years

Location: Hulme, Manchester


Why it started:

In the past, the areas of Moss Side and Hulme in Manchester haven’t had a good reputation. The initial founder and current Chair of Hulme Community Garden, Richard Lockwood, realised that something positive could be done to turn an area of deprivation into somewhere to encourage healthy living through gardening and food growing.

What happens?

The centre is open to the public every day, running sessions with a variety of people, from service users (who pay a small fee to come and be involved in a range of activities to learn life skills), to mothers and toddlers, and to probationers. Mondays and Tuesdays are solely for service users, but Wednesdays are open to everyone: “Lots of men who used to work as labourers come along because they miss the graft,” says Rachel Summerscales, manager of the garden. On Thursdays, there is a group for mums and toddlers; around 20 to 30 go along and do a range of suitable activities, such as pond dipping and bug hunting. “There is a day when we have all three groups – site users, probationers and the mum and toddler group – on site at the same time working on different projects and it does work,” says Rachel. “It’s not just a garden with a garden centre. It’s hard to explain without seeing it, and I know it sounds a bit naff, but we really do get people coming here saying: ‘Wow! This has changed my life.’”

How many people involved?

Hulme Community Garden has had 5,000 people involved over the years, including volunteers in training or those running workshops. There are about 150 regular volunteers, but 50 is the norm for a single month.

Does the group get funding?

At present, they are working with Siemens to build two underground rainwater reserves which will pump water around to parts of the garden that don’t get enough. Laing O’Rourke, Hewden, and the University of Sheffield are also helping with a shipping container conversion which will provide space for volunteers to have a rest. As part of a corporate challenge, RBS are helping to develop a composting area in the garden.

“As we have expanded, we have had to get more people on board and this has come at a cost,” explains Summerscales. “We had two funds; one lasted for five years and another lasted for another five, but we have just come to the end of those time periods and fallen off the edge a little. The recession has really had an impact on us because so much money has been cut on social services and NHS health provisions that previously would have offered services to those using the garden.” The garden is hoping to get some more funding through applications to the European Social Fund and Awards For All.

What would they like to do next?

“We would like to start doing more with after-school groups and there are some bushcraft-type workshops we would like to run,” says Rachel. The garden is also interested in developing a way to measure the impact of the garden. Rachel: “We need to invest in a decent database. We have received a couple of grants for this, but money has to be spent on so many things like computers. We are getting there with business partners but it would be great if, rather than having 50 people down from an accountancy firm to repot plants, they could come and help us go through our accounts!”

What can you do to help?

“We are looking for someone who can act as a coordinator between us and the younger demographic; someone around 25 years old who can help us make HCGC a place where young people can come and do some really solid and constructive work experience.”

Aside from signing up to the garden’s newsletter, and following them on Facebook and Twitter, donations are always really appreciated. “In 2015, we’re going to start a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to help towards the costs,” says Summerscales. “We have these ethics that we like to stick to in every aspect of what we do – all our tea is Fairtrade, all our loo roll is recycled – but all these things are incredibly expensive, so the Kickstarter campaign is going to be about ‘money for loo roll’.

Can I set something like this up in my area?

The Royal Horticultural Society runs the Campaign for School Gardening, working with more than two-thirds of all UK schools to help them make the most of their outdoor space and engage the local community. The scheme is free and comes with numerous resources and support, including a team of advisers who work directly with school and communities. You can sign up to the scheme here.

The Wild Network’s Wild Time app (available on Android and iOS) suggests timed activities for children and their carers to get outdoors and make the most of their time in nature.

How can people get involved?

The Federation of City Farms and Gardens also offers advice on all aspects of community-managed gardening. They can put you in touch with a community garden within travelling distance from you and can give advice over the phone or on site. You can also (or order a hard copy for £6).

“My advice would be to establish a solid team of really dedicated staff and allow a lot of time for administrative things,” says Summerscales. “You have to safeguard against many variables, then there’s health and safety, and collecting information so you can report back to your funders … There is a lot of work that needs to get done that isn’t just about being out digging in the sun.”

The projects in this series:

1. The community supported farm

2. The bike repair co-operative

3. The community garden centre

4. The community forest

5. The meat-rearing collective

6. The owl conservation group

7. The neighbourhood community scheme

8. The local beer-growing group

9. The Solar Schools project

10. The clothes swap project

11. The beekeeping group

12. The repair cafe

13. The ecotherapy garden

14. The community allotment

15. The nature reserve

16. The school growing project

17. The traffic reduction project

This article is part of the Live Better Community Project month. In September, we are showcasing 17 community projects from around the UK. We are asking you to vote for your favourite project. The project with the most votes will be awarded £1,000 of funding, and two runners-up will each receive funding of £500. One voter chosen at random will receive £150 worth of gift vouchers for Nigel’s Eco Store. Terms and conditions here.

With thanks to: 10:10; FOE; Project Dirt; Neighbourly; UK Community Foundations; Groundwork; Business in the Community; Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens; the Prince’s Trust; Garden Organic; the Royal Horticultural Society; the RSPB; Keep Wales Tidy; The Wildlife Trusts; and Mind.

Interested in finding out more about how you can live better? Take a look at this month’s Live Better challenge here.

The Live Better Challenge is funded by Unilever; its focus is sustainable living. All content is editorially independent except for pieces labelled advertisement feature. Find out more here.

Winter Sale Now On!

See Shop For Added Lines

We are a small family run business with our nursery situated at the foot of the Pennines in South Yorkshire where we have been for the last 32 years. We are 5 minutes off J36 of the M1 Motorway and 20 minutes from J37 off the A1 Motorway.

We have had agapanthus at our nursery for countless years but my interest was given a kick start when I was given a giant blue and a giant white agapanthus that was in full flower as a present many years ago for my birthday. I immediately became fascinated and we have been collecting them ever since.

Since then most of our nursery has been devoted to the cultivation and propagation of Agapanthus and Tulbaghia. Agapanthus and Tulbaghia are now in the family Amarylidaceae, and we have therefore added Nerines, Amarines and Clivia to our collections

We have developed many new Agapanthus cultivars including Margaret, Silver Anniversary and Hoyland Blue, Hoyland Chelsea Blue, Pink Tips, Little Sebastian, Little Frank and Yorkshire Rose. Also Tulbaghia Scented Beauty, Dark Beauty and Elaine Ann.

We attend all of the larger Flower Shows including the Chelsea Flower Show, please see our show diary for our complete list. We have been pleased to be awarded over 12 Gold Medals this year including a RHS Chelsea Gold Medal.

If you have any questions relating to Agapanthus, Tulbaghia, Amarines, Nerines and Clivia please contact me, as I am always happy to help.

We are proud to have published a book ‘Success with Agapanthus’ which is available in hardback from our shop.

If you would like to visit us, please contact us for an appointment as we are not open to the public.


Steve Hickman.

Growing Together: Offering something for everyone, area gardening programs are sure to spark spring fever

My daydreaming about warm-weather gardening has eased this winter’s insanity, and thankfully upcoming gardening events are sure to coax Mother Nature to quit her winter ways.

Five cities around the region are hosting different one-day educational gardening events, conveniently scheduled on Saturdays, and everyone’s invited. Several of these information-packed gardening days are celebrating more than 30 years running, and the sizable audiences prove their popularity. Besides informative sessions, each has a vendor show, featuring garden-related products.

On a personal note, I’m among the program presenters at events in Carrington, N.D., and Perham, Fergus Falls and Alexandria in Minnesota, and I always enjoy visiting with Forum readers. Here is more information the upcoming regional programs.

ARCHIVE: Read more of Don Kinzler’s Growing Together columns

listen live watch live

Gardening Plus Day

Carrington, N.D.

When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 9

Where: North Dakota State University’s Carrington Research Extension Center, 3 miles north of Carrington on U.S. Highway 281

Info: Registration at 9 a.m. Admission is $20 and includes lunch and all programs. Programs: Hydrangeas and Other Flowering Shrubs, Pollinator Gardens, Gardening with Less Work, Seeds to Bloom, Succulent Dish Gardens, Annuals and Perennials: Hot New Varieties and Old Favorites. Sponsored by Carrington Garden Club.

Horticulture Day

Perham, Minn.

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 16

Where: Prairie Wind Middle School, 480 Coney St. W.

Info: Registration 8 to 9 a.m. Admission is $30, which includes lunch and choice of five program sessions. Program choices: Vegetables, Native Plants, Hydrangeas, Native Perennials, Bird Feeding, Pruning, Houseplants, Color Through the Season, Herbs, Crafting with Mother Nature, Succulents, Shrubs, Bulbs, Lessons Learned, Root Crops, Trees, Beekeeping, Mushrooms, Hostas, All-America Selections, Fermentation, Coleus, Landscaping, Container Gardening, Annuals, Renovating the Garden, Grafting, Strawberries and Raspberries, Roses, Weed Management, Youth Session. Sponsored by University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners of East Otter Tail County. For more information, contact Kelsey at 218-385-5420.

Garden Day

Fergus Falls, Minn.

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 30

Where: Kennedy Secondary School, 601 Randolph Ave.

Info: Registration 7:30 to 9 a.m. $30 admission includes lunch, keynote speaker and choice of 4 sessions. Program choices: Pruning, Shoreline Restoration, Native Landscaping, Composting, Controlling Buckthorn, Monarchs, Growing Mums, Roses, Drip Irrigation, Tomato Grafting, Succulents, Cold-hardy Fruit, Honeyberries, Vines, Vertical Gardening, Tomatoes, Seed Saving, Vegetable Gardening Basics, Tomato Diseases, Trees and Shrubs, Hydrangeas, Humane Critter Control, Hostas, Overwintering Tropicals, Mushrooms, Patio Vegetable Gardening, Hostas, Using Holidays as When-to Guides, Improving Existing Landscapes, Shade Gardening, New Annuals and Perennials, Stone Balancing, Grafting, Apples, Container Gardens, Miniature Landscaping. Keynote speaker: Stan Tekiela, “Uncommon Facts about Common Birds.” Sponsored by University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners of West Otter Tail County. For more information, call 218-998-8760.

Gardening Saturday

Grand Forks, N.D.

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 6

Where: Alerus Center, 1200 42nd St. S.

Info: Pre-registration required. Admission $45 if registered by March 20, $55 after. Closes April 3. Register at Fee includes lunch, two keynote programs and choice of three other sessions. Program choices: Growing Cacti, Propagation by Cuttings, Orchids, Peonies, Shed Construction, One-day Water Features, Turf and Tree Diseases, Adding Enjoyment to Garden, New Plants, Plant Problems, Tomato and Potato Problems, Easy Organic Gardening. Keynote speaker: Jan Coppola Bills, “How to Garden with Comfort, Ease, and Simplicity.” Sponsored by NDSU Extension and Grand Forks Horticultural Society. For more information, call 701-780-8229.

Let’s Get Growing

Alexandria, Minn.

When: 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. April 6

Where: Discovery Middle School, 510 McKay Ave. N.

Info: Registration 8 to 8:45 a.m. Admission $30 if pre-registered by March 27 at, or $35 at the door, includes lunch, keynote speaker and choice of 4 sessions. Program Choices: Backyard Chickens, Begonias, Common Garden and Soil Myths, Drip Irrigation, Exciting Tree and Shrub Varieties, Lilies, Milkweed and Monarchs, Outdoor Cooking, Shade Plants, Easy Ways to Improve Your Landscape, Fruit, No-Till Gardens, Peonies, Hydroponic Gardening, Growing Vegetables in Containers, Landscaping with Native Flowers and Grasses, Dutch Ovens, Sun Perennials, Extend Season with Plastic Mulch, Growing Garlic, Strawberries, Summer Bulbs, Landscaping for Birds, Ornamental Grasses, Seed Saving, Nuisance Wildlife, Apples, Ferns, Lawn Care, Honeybees, Annuals, Great Tomato Race, Vegetables for Beginners. Keynote speaker: Carrie Larson “New and Exciting Annuals for 2019.” Sponsored by University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners of Douglas County. For more information, call 320-762-3890.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler’s Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at [email protected]

Plants & Garden Flowers

If you’re looking to add some character and greenery to your spaces, you can’t go wrong with garden flowers, house plants and trees. Whether you’re looking for indoor plants, outdoor plants, house plants, flower plants, trees, annuals or perennials, The Home Depot has something for everyone.
Plant Your Own Style with Indoor Plants & Outdoor Plants
House plants, trees, flower plants, garden flowers and indoor plants are great for upgrading or accentuating your decor. From succulents, snake plants and air plants to aloe vera plants, fiddle leaf figs, ZZ plants and monstera plants, we have many house plants, flower plants and indoor plants to make your spaces sing.
If you love outdoor plants, garden flowers and flower plants, plant flower bulbs to add some beauty, flair and cut flowers in your future. You can establish a long-term foundation for your flower garden with perennials, which come back year after year. Or renew your garden flowers each year with our annuals for seasonal appeal.
Annuals can grow in flower beds, along borders, in container gardens and hanging baskets. Annuals like petunias offer prolific blooms and strong growth over the season. You’ll liven up any space with the spectacular colors of annuals.
When choosing perennials, be sure to check their height, size, growth patterns, colors, peak blooming time and ideal soil conditions. Make sure perennials are compatible with your region’s climate.
Trees & Shrubs
Nothing screams the great outdoors like evergreen trees and evergreen shrubs. You’ll feel like you have your own personal forest with our wide selection of trees and snowball bushes. These bushes are very popular and relatively easy to care for. Plus their bright white flowers can provide a nice contrast to the colors of your garden flowers.
Check out our How-To Guides if you have questions or are unsure of how to care for or plant your garden flowers.

London Community Gardens

Registration for new gardeners will open on January 6, 2020 through our recreation program guide,online, in person, or over the phone.

To register:

Online – visit our recreation registration portal, click on “register for programs” and then click the Community Gardens tab on the left hand side. You can then choose a plot within your chosen garden location. To see a map of plot locations within each garden please click on the links in the chart below.

By phone – call (519) 661-5575 to speak with customer service staff.

In person – please visit on of our recreation locations listed below:

Locations with Monday to Friday Hours
8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Canada Games Aquatic Centre, 1045 Wonderland Rd. N.

Carling Heights Optimist Community Centre, 656 Elizabeth St.

Citi Plaza, 355 Wellington St. Suite 248, 2nd Floor

Kiwanis Senior Community Centre, 78 Riverside Dr.

North London Optimist Community Centre, 1345 Cheapside St.

South London Community Pool, 585 Bradley Ave.

Locations with Extended Hours

Wheelchair accessible, barrier free plots are listed under each garden where available. If you would like a raised planter bed within a registered non-accessible plot, please contact us directly by email or phone at (519) 661-5336.

2020 London Community Gardens Availability (Click on garden name for a plot map)

Community Garden Available Plots or Full
Ann Street accessible garden 1 accessible plot available
Berkshire Full
Blackfriars Full
Carling Heights accessible garden 1 accessible plot available
Dillabough Plots available
Ed Blake accessible garden 1 accessible plot available
Glen Cairn accessible garden 3 plots available
Kiwanis accessible garden Plots available
Meadowlily 2 plots available
Meredith 4 plots available
Nicholas Wilson accessible garden Plots available
Proudfoot accessible garden 5 plots and 1 accessible plot available
Reservoir Full
Riverforks Plots available
Thames Park accessible garden 1 accessible plot available
University Heights Full

London is home to 17 community gardens located on municipally owned land. Over 450 gardeners are active within the gardens, which are located on green space in neighbourhoods across the city.

Community gardens are a great asset to our city! They provide residents with many opportunities including access to healthy and low-cost food, healthy physical activity, skills enhancement, the development of meaningful relationships, and building cross-cultural partnerships.

To see a map of London’s community gardens, .

To access a full list of London’s community gardens, including location and details, .

2020 Gardening Season

Plots are rented on a geared-to-income basis. The rental fee ranges from $15 to $40 for a plot of approximately 200-400 square feet for the season (May 1st – November 30th). Plots may vary slightly in size. Gardeners are responsible for opening their garden plots up in the spring and putting their plot “to bed” in the fall. The City of London Community Gardens Guidelines outlines the gardener’s responsibilities. Please read before you request a garden plot.

Standing height raised beds are available upon request. Wheelchair accessible plots are listed by garden and are available through our registration. Please contact us for more information.

The fee structure is based on a total combined household annual income of:

* We cannot guarantee rototilling will be complete by garden opening, May 1st. Rototilling is weather dependant.

If you have any general questions about community gardens, email [email protected]


On September 1, 2015, City Council endorsed the London Community Gardens Program Strategic Plan (2015 – 2019) and the Year One Implementation Plan. The Strategic Plan is attached as a PDF document on this page. (Note: please email to have a hard copy of the 2015-2019 Strategic Plan mailed).

How a Derelict Space in London Became a Community Garden and Cafe

Shoreditch in East London can often feel like a stressful mass of tourists—home to 17-year-old Supreme heads queuing around graffitied corners, endless warehouses-to-office conversions, and cafes serving cereal in avocado skins. But take a turn off the popular Brick Lane market street, and you’ll discover something hidden in plain sight: an entirely volunteer-run garden, bursting with artwork and allotments. The Nomadic Community Gardens are situated in one of the busiest areas in the capital, and yet, despite having visited the area hundreds of times, I have never once heard of them.

The Nomadic Community Gardens, a volunteer-run outdoor space in East London. All photos by the author.

It’s here that I find Hayley Edwards, otherwise known as the Roving Chef, slowly cooking vegetables on a stove. Her eatery, the Roving Cafe, has been based in the Nomadic Gardens for almost three years now, and serves anyone who manages to scope out the mysterious green pastures. She works from a lime-green Piaggio Ape that stands in front of a makeshift cafe, decorated with fairy lights and colourful paintings. Beside it is a table hidden among the bay trees. During the summer, Edwards makes three different types of salads, all named after “the boys” who run the garden, and in winter she sells homemade soups. The set-up is simple but effective.

“I didn’t want it to be a coffee cart, it’s a cafe, because it’s a bigger picture than serving coffee,” Edwards tells me, as we sit in the shade of one of the garden’s gazebos. “I wanted to be at ground level and not looking down at somebody. It makes it homey.”

The Roving Cafe Piaggio Ape and cafe structure, situated in the Nomadic Community Gardens.

Edwards’ culinary background spans countries and locations. After training in hotel management and working front-of-house for restaurants in England and France, she put the cooking on hold to become personal assistant to acclaimed (and notoriously shouty) chef, Marco Pierre White. “It was fantastic,” says Edwards, clutching a bottle of water in the heat. “I did it for years. It was amazing. I learned so much, and it was really hard work.”

“It was full-on but Marco gave you respect,” she continues. “The people who couldn’t cope in that kind of environment weren’t suited to that kind of environment.”

Hayley Edwards cooks vegetables on the Piaggio Ape’s stove.

Despite gaining a lot of knowledge from the experience (the phrase “be respectful” appears numerous times as we speak about White), Edwards’ PA work began to get in the way of home life, and she decided to branch out into something different. Namely, a return to sharing her food and cooking skills with others.

“I did some private dining,” she says, “and then in 2009, I started the Roving Chef, and off the back of that, I started giving cookery demos in Borough Market as their resident chef for five years.”

Edwards began her cooking classes and decided to launch Roving Cafe as a moveable cafe on the back of an Italian three-wheeler. The idea was to park up at different locations around London, and it wasn’t until someone mentioned the Nomadic Gardens that she realised she may have found a permanent spot.

“I first ended up on Bethnal Green Road, and had a tough time,” explains Edwards. “Bethnal Green Road wasn’t ready for a hot little Italian van like me, but I have to give things a go. While I was there, three people who were related to the Gardens mentioned the space, so I thought I’d check it out.”

When she arrived, the Gardens derelict, and a far cry from the community space it is today.

“There was nothing here in the Gardens,” Edwards remembers. “No fence. Crack heads underneath the bridge.”

However, thanks to the hard work of a small community of people, the run-down space developed into an area filled with plants, artwork, and sculptures. The Gardens are now home to street art classes, a theatre and events space, and other private businesses selling everything from toiletries to food. I do spot a group of teenagers smoking weed, and the allotments are still a little scrappy in parts, but it’s impressive to see what was essentially a wasteland in a gentrified area of London become something open to tourists and locals alike.

“Everybody and anybody walks through that door,” says Edwards when I ask her about the demographic. “From the die-hard hippie that made his own house to even a few City boys.”

It was atmosphere of the space, she tells me, that drew her to the Gardens. “I thought, ‘People believe in me here,’” says Edwards. “It’s not that I wouldn’t put the energy in but when people are on your side, even though you’re quite different, that’s a green light to go for it.”

However, with the positives, come some challenges. The space is open to anyone, and Edwards has struggled with finding the right approach to helping the homeless community that can frequent the Gardens.

“This has been an eye-opener,” she says, “because I’ve come from a very privileged background.”

In response to seeing some of the poverty in this part of London, Edwards began working with Refugee Community Kitchen, a charity that serves food to refugees and homeless people in Calais and the UK. Although Edwards says that she “doesn’t want to do anything political,” she concedes that she also doesn’t want anyone to go hungry. She donates cakes to the organisation and has helped host two fundraising dinners in the Gardens.

The strength of the Nomadic Gardens community is something that has kept Edwards from moving—even if the location has come with some difficulties (no fridge, and no heating in the winter, to mention a few). “The positives outweigh the negatives,” she tells me, “Everybody’s represented in the garden and I would say I’m the white, middle-class moment. I’ve been called ‘Tory girl.’ I’ve been told not to be here because I’m a private business. You’re given these challenges but you’ve just got to work with it.”

As I leave, I ask Edwards what she’d like her cafe to achieve. “It’s about the bigger picture,” she concludes. “It is about selling teas, coffees, salads, and everything, but also about making a bigger contribution. There’s a feeling of inclusion. I love going round to and saying hello to people and being said hello to.”

She pauses. “Hopefully, it will encourage areas to do their own little garden.”

Anyone know of any derelict spaces in London that could do with a roving cafe?

A green oasis in the midst of streets, estates and inner city bustle, Culpeper Community Garden is one of the most valued green public spaces in Islington

Culpeper is a beautiful public open space which is both a city park and an environmental community project. Managed by and for local people, it is an award winning project where people from all walks of life come together to appreciate and enhance their environment.

Surrounded by roads and a busy shopping area, Culpeper is often described as ‘an oasis’. Children and adults alike love to explore the pathways, ponds and wealth of plants. It’s a perfect place for a picnic or simply for relaxing.

How to find us

Culpeper Community Garden
1 Cloudesley Road
London N1 0EJ


020 7833 3951

Opening hours:

We aim to open during daylight hours

(but we depend on volunteers)

A communal effort
Our organic garden comprises a lawn, ponds, rose pergolas, ornamental beds, vegetable plots, seating and a wildlife area. It contains 50 plots including 2 raised beds for disabled gardeners: these small gardens are for community groups, children, and for people living nearby who do not have gardens. Tending the garden is a communal effort by garden members and volunteers.

Award winning

Over the years Culpeper has been recognised as a model of excellence. We regularly receive awards. In 2018 we won Gold at the Islington in Bloom and a special award for best wildlife garden. In 2017 we received an ‘Outstanding’ rating from the Royal Horticultural Society. In 2009 we were one of the first voluntary organisations in the UK to be given PCASSO level 1 certification for good governance. In 2014 on Culpeper was safeguarded as an open space ‘in perpetuity’ though a Fields in Trust initiative to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond jubilee. This was with the full support of Islington Council who have always backed us, even if they have not been able to fund us for a good many years.

The Royal Horticultural Society, awarding us ‘outstanding’ in the London in Bloom competition, said, “Culpeper is an outstanding example of community gardening in the city… It’s social and therapeutic horticulture at its best.”

Support the garden with a donation and help keep the garden growing

Our registered charity number is 1176277

Community Garden Ideas – Ideas For Garden Club Projects

Now that your garden club or community garden is up and running with an enthusiastic group of avid gardeners, what’s next? If you’re stumped when it comes to ideas for garden club projects, or you need community garden ideas that keep members engaged, read on for a few suggestions to pique your creativity.

Ideas for Community Garden Projects

Here are some popular garden club project ideas to help spark your creativity.

Community wildlife certification – This is a major project done in partnership with the National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) Community Wildlife Habitat Program, which encourages citizens to create wildlife-friendly communities. The National Wildlife Federation’s website provides suggestions for homes, schools and communities to create NWF-certified wildlife habitats.

Historic preservation – If you have historic sites in your community, beautifying the area is one of the most rewarding garden club project ideas and a great way to showcase spectacular heirloom roses or perennials. Contact your local historical society or cemetery district to inquire how your organization can help.

Garden tour – An annual or semi-annual garden tour is a fantastic way to showcase the beautiful gardens in your area. Ask garden club members to serve as greeters or tour guides to keep the flow of traffic moving smoothly. You can also create self-tour handouts to pinpoint specific plants or highlight a garden’s unique history. Charge a reasonable fee to turn this into a major fundraising project for your organization.

Host a flower show – According to the National Garden Club, a flower show is both social and educational and, most importantly, spreads the word about the endless pleasure of gardening. A flower show is also a perfect way to raise funds while connecting with potential new members.

Garden Club Ideas for Schools

Need some ideas for school garden projects? Here’s some to help get you started.

Host a mini-garden show – Encourage school kids to participate in your organization’s flower show, or help them create their own smaller version. What better way to show off a handcrafted bird house or those avocado seed projects?

Arbor Day celebration – Honor Arbor Day by planting a bush or tree at a location such as a park, school or nursing home. The Arbor Day Foundation offers a number of suggestions; for example, you can make the day extra special by creating a skit, story, concert or short theatrical presentation. Your organization can also sponsor a craft show, host a block party, schedule a class, visit the oldest or largest tree in your community, or organize a hike.

Protect a pollinator – This program offers children an opportunity to learn about the critical role that bees and other pollinators play in food production and a healthy environment. If your school is willing, a small wildlife garden or meadow is extremely rewarding.

Otherwise, help kids create pollinator-friendly container gardens using plants such as:

  • Bee balm
  • Alyssum
  • Salvia
  • Lavender

Plant a hummingbird garden – It doesn’t require a lot of space or money to create a garden that attracts flocks of hummingbirds. Help kids select plants that hummingbirds love, especially those with tube-shaped blooms so the hummers’ long tongues can reach the sweet nectar. Be sure the garden includes sunny spots for basking as well as shade for resting and cooling. Although the birds are highly attracted to red, they’ll visit nearly any nectar-rich plant. Remember, no pesticides!

A community garden is a single piece of land gardened collectively by a group of people. On a rooftop of the United Nations headquarters in New York City, the United Nations began to promote food gardens by setting an example and creating a garden in the heart of the city.

In 2015, cooperation between interested members of U.N. delegations and community organizations officially opened the U.N. Food Gardens. These gardens do not only promote international cooperation among U.N. staff but also help promote United Nations sustainable community gardening projects around the world.

They use similar practices as their international developmental counterparts, such as turning food waste into sustainable fertile soil. They also serve as an outreach program. United Nations programs and international charity programs use a similar tactic. By showing a successful garden in one part of a city, town, or village, maybe the idea will be adopted by other communities and countries.

FAO Role in Community Gardening Projects

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations is the biggest promoter and leader of the community gardening projects around the world. To promote and spread this idea the instructions of sustaining a successful community garden are accessible on the FAO website.

The instructions are separated into 12 parts. They cover everything from securing funding, motivating the community, planting the correct fruits and vegetable, instructions on how to properly care for them and selling the extra for profit. The most important step is step number 12 that covers the motivation of participants. For teachers, it is recommended that they suggest special days in a season so that the students can look forward to each season. This aims to create a sense of ownership over the garden by giving the children assignments like watering or weeding the garden. It will also give them the knowledge and tools to begin their own garden later in life.

The Example of Dangerendove

FAO community garden projects can be found all around the world. Not only do they help to provide food and income to communities but they have also been able to break down social barriers. In 2014, an article was written about one of the greatest successes of the FAO’s community garden projects. This story occurred in a small town named Dangarendove in Zimbabwe.

The FAO provided over 40,000 farmers, out of which 90 percent were women, on over 800 farms, with seeds and fertilizers. One of the women interviewed for the article describes that the biggest difficulty is not taking care of the garden but keeping up with the demand for their products. Traders come from villages all around to buy their products by the cratefuls. Approximately 200 cratefuls are produced each week earning the village around $3,000.

Due to the success, the men of the village have begun to take part in the gardening process, taking roles and responsibilities that were once delegated only to women. The success of this program demonstrates that providing food and economic security can do much more than just feed the people and provide money.

Latin America and Community Garden Projects

Many other communities are starting to realize the benefits of community garden projects. In Latin America, rapid urbanization of many Latin American countries in the late 20th and in the early 21st century has caused demand for fresh fruits and vegetables to decline. In Brazilian favelas, in large urban communities sometimes called shantytowns, that often lack access to clean water and sewage and have high crime-rates due to lack of employment, the formation of community gardens has begun.

In 2008, the Formiga Favela in Rio de Janeiro was pacified (a term used to refer to favelas that have been returned to government control) and the Formiga community garden projects have been initiated soon after. These projects have not only helped to provide food in this impoverished area but also to provide employment to the people that live in these communities.

Community garden projects are feeding and employing people, but they also improve social equality. However, their biggest impact is that they put power in the hands of individuals.

– Nicholas Anthony DeMarco
Photo: Flickr

Sharing is caring!


  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Pin
  • Reddit
  • Yummly

Want to learn how to start a garden, but not sure where to begin? In this post I’ll cover the basic steps of gardening, and provide links to more detailed information so you can garden with confidence and have fun doing it. Get ready to enjoy some of the best tasting fruits, vegetables and herbs you’ve even eaten.

How to Start a Garden – 10 Basic Steps

  1. Decide what you’d like to grow
  2. Choose a location
  3. Plan your garden beds
  4. Invest in basic garden tools
  5. Test your soil
  6. Prepare the soil
  7. Choose the right seeds or transplants
  8. Plant with care
  9. Nurture your garden
  10. Enjoy your harvest!

#1 – Decide What You’d Like to Grow in Your Home Garden

Rule #1 – If you won’t eat a crop, don’t grow it in your vegetable garden. (I break this rule for flowers. Edible or not, I like to see at least a few in every garden.) Focus on the fruits, vegetables or herbs that your family enjoys the most.

Make sure your top choices make sense for your area. Figure out your gardening zone and estimated first and last frost dates. If possible, talk to successful gardeners in your area to find out which crops grow well and which don’t.

See “USDA Hardiness Zones & Your Microclimate” for a more detailed explanation of how growing conditions affect garden plans.

In my northern garden, crops that take over 100 days to mature or high temps are a gamble. For example, we enjoy watermelons, but I stick to varieties like Blacktail Mountain (70 days) instead of Carolina Cross (90 days). My southern gardening friend, Amber, has challenges with crops like peas, which prefer cooler temperatures, and vine crops like cucumbers, which are prone to mildew in high humidity.

If you only want a small garden, don’t attempt to grow something like a giant pumpkin, which will spread over a very large area.

Do you want to plan for storage vegetables, or only enough to eat fresh? It’s probably best to start your garden mainly with fresh eating in mind, but some vegetables are extremely easy to store. See The 5 Easiest Vegetables to Store for more information.

#2 – Choose a Location to Start Your Garden

Most fruits and vegetables need full sun, with a minimum of five hours of direct sunlight per day for fruiting. Greens, herbs and root veggies will grow in partial shade. Southern gardens may benefit from late afternoon shade, whereas northern gardens likely need all the sun they can get.

Think about how you will access the garden for picking, watering and caring for your plants. Out of site often equals out of mind – and a neglected garden. Avoid high wind areas and frost pockets (low areas where frost is likely to settle).

Watch out for wildlife, pet damage and children’s play areas. When we first moved here, our neighbor’s dog would randomly visit and dash through the garden. This was very hard on new seedlings. Now the dog is gone, but the deer and wild bunnies come to visit, so we plan accordingly.

See Keep Deer Out of Your Garden – 5 Deer Deterrent Strategies and 6 Ways to Use Garlic in the Garden for tips.

For more ideas on gardening in limited space, see “Small Garden, Big Yield – 10 Tips for a Great Harvest“.

#3 – Plan Your Garden Beds

Once you know where you want your garden, decide on the type and size of garden bed(s). Raised beds are attractive and may make it easier to work in your garden, but they also dry out more quickly. In very dry areas, sunken beds can be used to gather available moisture.

Think about planting your garden in blocks or beds of plants instead of single rows. Beds should be 3 to 4 feet across – narrow enough that you can reach the center from either side. Beds should be roughly 10 feet long or less, so you’re not tempted to step into the bed and compact the ground.

Within the garden beds, place plants in rows or a grid pattern. The goal is minimize walkways and maximize growing space. You only add fertilizer and soil amendments to the planting area, saving time and money. Work with companion plants to attract beneficial insects and improve yields.

Start small, and make sure to give each plant enough room to grow. The seeds and transplants are tiny, but full grown plants can get huge. Overcrowded plants have difficulty thriving. A small, well-tended garden can produce as much or more than a large, poorly tended garden.

Rectangular or square beds are the most common, but you’re only limited by your imagination and building skills. Most raised bed kits are rectangular, but you can also plant your garden in found items like old livestock water tanks or sections of drain pipe.

Vertical Gardening

If you grow up you can squeeze more crop in less space. The best book I’ve found to date on the subject is “How to Grow More Vegetables, (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine“.

I trellis/fence or otherwise grow vertically my tomatoes, beans, peas, cucumbers, and occasionally other crops. Check out Transform Your Landscape with Vertical Gardening – 10 Reasons to Garden Up Instead of Out for more details.

Don’t have a yard or soil for your garden? Consider grow bags or containers to start your garden. Self-watering containers are a lot more forgiving than terracotta flower pots, which tend to dry out quickly.

#4 – Invest in Basic Garden Tools

The right tools make working in your garden a pleasure instead of a chore. You don’t use a butter knife to chop up raw carrots, and you shouldn’t use dull or flimsy tools to work in your garden. Basic gardening equipment includes:

  • Garden hoe
  • Scuffle hoe
  • Dirt rake
  • Leaf rake
  • Garden Shovel or D handle Shovel
  • Hand tools

For a full list of my favorite gardening tools, check out, “My Favorite Gardening Tools – Save Time, Boost Yields, Enjoy Gardening More”.

Don’t buy cheap plastic tools if you can avoid it. Shop yard and estate sales for bargains on real metal tools, or visit your local garden center. Get tools that are the right size for you to reduce the risk of injury.

Good tools will save time and effort, and your back. Keep tools clean and sharp, just like you should treat a good knife. To learn how to keep your tools in good condition, visit “Cleaning and Sharpening Garden Tools”.

#5 – Test Your Soil

Before you start building your garden beds or planting, you need to know something about your soil.

Is your soil acidic, alkaline or neutral pH? Do you have sand, clay, silt, rocks, or a mix of all four? Is there a risk of soil contamination from nearby structures, roadways or other sources? Does it have a good amount of basic nutrients?

Some of these characteristics can be determined just from looking at the soil. Others may require home tests or professional lab tests. (For instance, lead contamination from old house paint or nearby roadways with heavy traffic is a problem in some areas.)

Most garden crops prefer soil with a pH around 7 (neutral), although some like conditions that are slightly acidic (potatoes, for instance) or slightly alkaline (brassicas). Balanced nutrient levels are also important, as is the presence of organic matter.

See “Soil Testing – 5 Easy Tests for Your Yard and Garden” for easy home test options. In the U.S., you can contact your local cooperative extension office or land conservation office for assistance.

#6 – Build Your Soil

If you’re starting with sod, you’ll either need to cut it up in chunks and repurpose it, till it in, or lay down wet newspaper or cardboard to smother it and build a bed on top. Preparing in fall is best, but don’t let that stop you from starting in spring.

Most plants prefer a deep, well-drained, fertile soil rich in organic matter. Once you start a garden, you’ll gain a new appreciation for healthy soil as it improves year after year. Healthy, vibrant soil = healthy, vibrant plants with built in disease and pest resistance and more nutrition.

Each year I add a combination of different types of organic matter, including compost, worm castings and mulch. You can learn more about soil building in the post, “Feed Your Plants, Soil and Microbes“.

#7 – Choose the Right Seeds or Transplants

My favorite seed sources can be found in the article, “My Favorite Seed Sources, Seed Storage and Germination“. Dave’s Garden Watch Dog is a great place to check out a company before you order from them.

To learn which plants grow best directly seeded in the garden and which plants are better as transplants, visit the seed starting calendar. If you want to grow specific varieties, especially heirloom varieties, you’ll probably need to grow your own transplants from seed. Starting your own transplants is a great way to save money, too.

You can view my seed starting setup and more detailed information on tomato transplants in Grow Tomatoes from Seed – Save Money, Get More Varieties.

If you’re not ready to tackle growing transplants for your garden, here are some tips to help you spot the best plants at the nursery:

  • Look for pots that are roughly equal in size to the plant. Big plants in tiny pots are more likely to be root bound (with roots tangled and growing in circles inside the pot) and suffer from transplant shock when planted in the garden.
  • Watch for signs of stress such as insect damage or yellow leaves. Many stores now set up seasonal plant sales in their parking lots. Even with regular watering, baking asphalt is hard on seedlings.
  • Ask whether or not your plants or seeds were treated or sprayed with potentially harmful chemicals such as neonicotinoid pesticides. Pollinators are critical for fruit set in the garden, so you don’t want to buy plants that may harm them.

#8 – Plant with Care

Most seed packets and transplant containers come with basic planting instructions. Once you’ve done the ground work (literally), you just need to jump in and plant. Just give it a try and you can learn the rest as you go.

Rules of thumb for planting in your garden:

  • Plant seeds roughly 3 times as deep as the diameter of the seed, unless otherwise directed on the package. Some seeds require light for germination.
  • For transplants – most transplants are planted at the same depth they were growing in the pot. The exception is tomatoes, which can be planted deeper or trenched in. See “How to Grow (Lots of) Tomatoes Organically”.
  • Wait until danger of frost is past to plant heat loving plants such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, okra, etc.
  • Young plants are more tender than older plants, so they may need protection or hardening off when they are planted outside.

We have printable calendars to help you plan your seed sowing in the article, “When Should I Start My Seeds? Printable seed starting calendar”. The 5-Minute Gardener: How to Plan, Create, and Sustain a Low-Maintenance Garden is a good reference for those who are short on time.

You can also click here or on the image below to download this handy pdf excerpted from the USDA school garden program that shows planting depth, plant spacing, days to germination and days to harvest for a variety of common garden crops.

#9 – Nurture Your Garden

There’s an old saying that says, “The best fertilizer is the gardener’s shadow.” If you’re not prepared to make time in your schedule to tend to your plants, you may be better off hitting the farmer’s market, or sticking with extremely low maintenance items like sprouts or herbs. Depending on the size of your plantings, time requirements may range from a few minutes per day to a full time job.

Nab weeds when they’re small with a scuffle hoe – or use them as groundcover, food or medicine.

A rule of thumb for watering is that plants need around one inch of water per week during the growing season. If you don’t get rain, you’ll need to water.

Over watering is as bad as under watering, so always check the soil before turning on a tap or hitting the rain barrels. Soil that is too wet can cause seeds and roots to rot. Foliar feeds like compost tea can be added to give plants extra nutrition and a dose of healthy microbes while watering.

Bugs are more attracted to plants that are stressed or in some way deficient, so if you have healthy, well-nourished plants, your pest problems should be minimal. If you have a problem, chances are there’s an organic solution. If you’re going through all the effort to grow your own food, why would you want to put toxins on it?

For more detailed information on controlling everything from slugs to rabbits, check out Natural Pest Control in the Garden.

#10 – Enjoy Your Harvest

As crops mature, make sure to harvest promptly for best quality. Leafy greens like lettuce are typically “cut and come again”, which means you can clip off the leaves and they will regrow for another harvest.

Pick beans and peas every two to three days. Harvest sweet corn when cobs are well filled out and silk is dark. Harvest tomatoes and peppers green, or allow them to ripen to full sweetness and flavor.

Flavor is typically at a peak when the morning dew has cleared, but before the afternoon heat has settled in. Sample and decide what tastes best to you. See How to Grow and Cook Nutrient Dense Foods for harvesting and storing tips.

One of the reasons I love gardening is because if things don’t work out right the first time, there’s always next year. There are dozens of different ways to do just about everything, but you won’t know what works best for you and your garden until you try. If a plant/crop does poorly the first time you plant it, try again. I usually try a crop for at least three years before I give up on it, because different varieties grow best under different conditions.

Gardening is also good for your health. It can fight depression, reduce stress and improve your diet. See “Dirt Therapy – 8 Reasons You Need to Have a Garden” for more information.

More Gardening Information

I invite you to visit the Common Sense Gardening page for a full listing of more than 80 gardening posts on the website. There’s advice on everything from seed starting to preserving the harvest, including our Free Gardening Journal Templates.

Still have questions about how to start a garden? Leave a comment and I’ll do my best to help.

Originally published in 2012, last updated in 2019.

Ready to start a garden?

When to Start a Garden

Give your new plants a head start in life with properly prepared soil and the right amount of sunlight.

You could do what a friend of mine did: She threw some topsoil on top of an unused wooden sandbox, let her 6-year-old choose the seeds (strawberries, green beans, watermelon) and watered haphazardly. Net result? They ate a lot of green beans, and most of the rest of the plants were no-shows.

So maybe you’d want to start a garden the right way instead—do the planning, test the soil and cultivate the ideal soil conditions for the plants you choose. Here we’ll show you how to start a garden—any size!—from scratch. All it takes is basic garden tools. A sod cutter to remove the grass and a rototiller make the job go faster but aren’t necessary.

Track the sunlight

Measure the sunlight

Take photos of your garden location in the morning, early afternoon and evening to see how much sun it gets. Vegetables and full-sun plants need six hours of daily sun; partial-sun plants three to six hours; and shade plants two to three hours.

The amount of sunlight your garden gets will determine which plants you should choose and when to start a garden. You’ll have the widest selection of plants to pick from if you place the garden in full sun to light shade. Vegetables require full sun.

You probably have an idea where you want to plant flowers to enhance the landscape. If so, pick plants suited for those growing conditions (like full sun, partial sun or shade). Take photos of the proposed site throughout the day so that when you shop for flowers, you’ll have a reference of how much sun the area gets. If you’re flexible on the garden location, choose a spot that suits the sun requirements of the plants you want. Take a trip to a garden center to see what plants are available for your zone and how much sun your favorites will need (visit for a plant Hardiness zone map).

Unless you’re planning a rain garden, avoid gardening in low spots in the yard where water collects. In the fall, low areas tend to be frost pockets, which can shorten your growing season. A well-drained area will yield the best plants.

Outline the garden bed

Mark the bed

Mark the garden bed and make sure you’re happy with the layout before you start digging.

Use a garden hose or landscaping paint to mark the perimeter of the garden bed. Avoid creating tight angles that would make it hard to mow around the garden. Gentle curves look more natural than sharp corners. And make the size manageable—you can always add on later if you decide you want a bigger garden.

Don’t dig yet. Wait at least one full day so you can look at the site from various vantage points (like your deck or living room) and at different times of the day. It’s a lot easier to change the shape or location now than after you’ve started digging. Once you decide on the layout, call 811 to have underground utilities marked (for free!). You’ll have to identify irrigation lines on your own—they usually run in straight lines between sprinkler heads.

Test the soil

Soil test

Send the soil sample, paperwork and a check to your local extension service. The service will mail back a report telling you the nutrient content of the soil and the type and amount of fertilizer to add. A lab report tells you what nutrients are needed for your soil.

A soil test will tell you whether you need to add amendments such as lime, nitrogen, phosphorus or potassium to the soil.

Test kits are available at home and garden centers, but use a university extension service or a state-certified soil-testing lab instead to get the most accurate results. Enter “university extension service” and your state in any search engine to find the nearest lab. Contact the lab to get the necessary paperwork to submit with your sample. Test fees are usually $15 to $20, and results take one to two weeks. Dig down 6 in. and scoop up a trowel full of soil. Take samples from 5 to 10 areas in the garden and mix them in a clean bucket. Wait for the soil to dry (this can take several days), then mail it to the extension service. Retest the soil every three to five years.

Edge the garden

Cut out the edge

Slice and then dig around the edge of the garden bed to make it easier to follow the shape as you remove or kill the grass.

Now that the prep work is done, you can dig and plant your garden in a weekend. The first step is edging the garden bed. Use a square shovel or an edger to dig down about 6 in., slicing through the grass roots around the garden bed. After making the slices, dig around the garden edge at a slight angle to remove a 3-in. swath of grass and create a small trench. This keeps the sod cutter or herbicide from going into your yard when you remove or kill grass in the garden.

Remove the sod

Sod cutter

Cut away the sod in the garden with a power sod cutter. Remove the sod and use it in your yard or turn it upside down and start a compost pile.

The grass has to go—you can’t just till it under or it’ll grow back and you’ll never get rid of it. Digging up turf is hard work, so do yourself a favor and rent a power sod cutter from a rental center. Set the blade to cut just below the roots and slice the grass into long strips. Then roll the sod into easy-to-carry bundles. Use the sod to fill bare spots in the yard or compost it to use later in your garden.

Ways to Get Rid of Grass

A sod cutter is the fastest way to remove grass, but you can kill it and till it instead. Here are three options:

  • Herbicide. Spray with a non-select herbicide. Spray the herbicide after you’ve edged the garden so the weed-and-grass killer won’t run into the lawn. If anything is still growing after seven days, spray it again and wait another seven days.
  • Plastic. Stake down clear plastic that’s at least 2 mil thick over the garden for six to eight weeks to kill the grass.
  • Mulch. Place your mower deck on its lowest setting and cut the grass. Then cover the area with at least 2 in. of newspaper, cardboard, leaves or wood chips and keep them wet. The covering and grass will naturally decompose, giving you rich compost, but this process takes several months.

Keep out grass


Borders provide an attractive finish, stop grass from creeping in and make it easier to mow around the garden.

Add a border to keep grass in your lawn from invading your garden; it’s hard to get rid of once it does. Home and garden centers sell a variety of border and edging materials.

Strips of steel, aluminum or heavy-duty plastic work best on fairly even terrain and are unobtrusive. Pavers form a wide border that allows flowers to spill over and provides a flat surface to mow over. A raised stone wall contains the garden and looks attractive, but it’s the most expensive option. Be sure your border extends at least 4 in. into the ground to keep out grass.

Fertilize to suit your soil

Spread fertilizer

Spread a slow-release fertilizer on the garden using a handheld spreader for even coverage.

Your soil test will tell you the type of fertilizer your garden needs. Fertilizer labels list the three main nutrients needed for plant growth. A 10-20-10 formula, for example, contains 10 percent nitrogen (N), 20 percent phosphorus (P) and 10 percent potassium (K).

Buy a slow-release granular fertilizer that contains the appropriate percentage of the nutrients your soil needs. If your soil only needs one nutrient, don’t bother adding the others (some fertilizers contain just one nutrient, such as a 20-0-0). Apply the fertilizer just before planting.

Enrich the soil

Improve soil

Work organic matter into the soil with a rototiller or a shovel. Organic matter improves drainage and adds nutrients.

Adding organic matter such as compost, manure or peat moss increases drainage in clay soils and water-holding capacity in sandy soils. It also makes the soil more permeable, which encourages root growth and attracts organisms that leave nutrients in the soil. There isn’t one best type of organic matter, so buy whatever’s the least expensive in your area.

Spread 2 to 4 in. of organic matter over the garden. You can work it into the top 6 to 10 in. of soil with a shovel by digging down, then flipping the load over to mix the organic matter and soil. But a faster, easier way is to use a rototiller.

Consider a Raised Bed

If it’s almost impossible to grow plants in your soil (heavy clay, poor drainage, rocky), a raised garden bed is the perfect solution. It lets you bring in good soil and create the ideal garden bed. It also lets you garden without bending over as far or working on your hands and knees. Limit the size of the bed so you can reach all the plants from the border, and build it at least 12 in. deep to fill with topsoil.

To begin, cut the grass in the area and cover it with cardboard or layers of newspaper to kill it. The paper will decompose into organic material. Then build the bed and fill it with topsoil, mixing organic matter into the top 6 to 10 in.

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Garden rake
  • Spade
  • Wheelbarrow

You’ll need a hose, a garden trowel, a pitchfork, a rototiller, a sod cutter and a hand-held spreader.

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • Border
  • Fertilizer
  • Mulch and/or peat moss

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *