7. Let’s start building!

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You might think that it has taken a lot of effort to get this far are you are right, but time spent in planning is time well spent. You don’t then have to waste your time correcting the mistakes of bad or non-existent planning.

Now your group has identified its needs, obtained land and designed the community garden. At last, it’s time to start building.

Aesthetics are important

Most community gardeners quickly become expert scroungers. Building materials, old garden seats, discarded enamel bathtubs repurposed as water gardens and other things are easily recycled in community gardens.

Remember when you’re collecting recyclables that you will get on best with council and neighbours if you store materials tidily and maintain a high level of visual aesthetics. It's best to collect only those materials you have immediate use for. The place should not look like a junkyard.

Aesthetics might not affect the productivity of your garden, but the perceptions of neighbours are real considerations in the management of community gardens. Anyway, materials stored tidily are more accessible.

List materials needed

In planning the construction phase of your community garden, identify the materials, equipment and resources you will need.

Look for local businesses that might donate some of them. Perhaps council has old park benches at its depot they will let you use. For those you have to buy, consider grants and fundraising events.

Construction tasks

In the construction phase, we carry out a number of tasks:

  • garden bed construction
  • soil fertility improvement
  • pathway construction
  • nursery building for plant propagation
  • compost making
  • propagation of plants for our first planting (this can start as soon as you secure access to land; the young plants can be looked after by a gardene until they are ready to plant)
  • building a storage shed and a shelter for the gardeners to sit under out of the rain or hot sun.
Garden construction starts with building the garden infrastructure of paths, structures such as a shelter, installing water tanks and other basic and necessary components. Then, garden beds can be built and soil improvement begin in them to ready the plots and shared garden areas for planting.

Shelter

You will quickly find that community gardens are more than spaces where people grow food. They become social gathering places.

This makes the construction of some kind of shelter a task of equal importance to that of building garden beds and planting them out. You will need somewhere to escape the weather, to relax, to brew coffee or tea (maybe herbal teas from the garden). There may be no space for a shelter in some tiny, inner urban community gardens.

Paths

As a safety precaution with children, a barrier of concrete reinforcing mesh has been fastened over a pond in the Waterloo Community Garden at Waterloo Uniting Church, inner-Sydney.  An old bathtub has been used for the pond. Food plants such as water chestnut, duck potato and watercress can be grown in garden ponds.

As a safety precaution with children, a barrier of concrete reinforcing mesh has been fastened over a pond in the Waterloo Community Garden at Waterloo Uniting Church, inner-Sydney. An old enamelled bathtub has been used for the pond. Food plants such as water chestnut, duck potato and watercress can be grown in garden ponds.

Pathways are important. They enable you to move around your garden easily, to get a wheelbarrow where you need to take it and to harvest plants without trampling the garden.

If you succeed in getting a large enough grant, consider paved pathways. These require less maintenance.

Too often, you visit community gardens and see the gardeners getting frustrated with pulling out kikuyu and other invasive grasses from their poorly made paths and their garden beds because of the poorly made garden edges.

Well constructed gardens are low maintenance, low-frustration gardens.

Paths for educational gardens

If your garden is to fulfil an educational role or is part of an educational institution and you expect frequent visits by large numbers of people:

  • plan your main access paths wider than usual to accommodate larger numbers
  • design gathering places where people can gather around a guide to listen to them
  • design sitting circles—circles of bench seats—where visitors can sit to listen to their guide or to participate in workshop activities
  • plan a covered workshop/sitting area protected from sun and rain by a roof and from cold winds by a wall or barrier of some type; ensure that there is a bench or table where people can sit and eat.

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