What is community gardening?

This term covers a very broad range of activities and green-spaces... it can include

  • Allotments, especially when people co-operate to create spaces for anyone to use and enjoy. We have Rock Allotments nearby and some of our garden volunteers are keen allotmenters there.

  • Community gardens can be within a closed community, like a hospital, prison or workplace. Sometimes these are easier to develop and take care of because the co-ordinator knows the needs and abilities of the users.

  • They can be in very open spaces, like by a bus-stop - or in a public park like at Nightingale.

  • Many are in temporary spaces before buildings are built, these can be called 'meanwhile gardens'.

  • And some are being created in former bowling greens, like the Nightingale one.

Community gardening is different to gardening in your own space for your own friends and families. The gardens are often different from those you might visit that are being created and looked after by a team of staff and sometimes volunteers. Usually, for a community garden:

  • You decide as a group what to do - which can be a little challenging, especially if the needs, wants and experience of people in the group are very different. Part of the group will be the 'owners' of the land - in our case, the City Council.

  • You work as a group, even if at different times, to create and look after the garden.

  • You work together to find the resources to create the garden - which can mean fundraising, scrounging and generally being very resourceful. This does, however, mean that lots of people can feel ownership of the garden, even if it is 'just' donating seeds, plants and other resources, making lots of tea or explaining to others what is going on.

  • The features in the garden evolve more slowly, partly because of the setting and resources available, but often as a deliberate strategy so more people within the community can have a say into what is created and how they might get involved. Common advice is 'everything will take at least twice as long as you think... sometimes even longer!'

  • You can take more 'risks' with features in the garden, trying out new ways of doing things and changing them if they don't work with the setting or the people who want to use the space. If resources are limited, you usually get a more interesting result. For example, at Nightingale Garden, we were very limited for water when we started. But we also were unexpectedly donated resources like rhubarb, strawberries, redcurrants and prunings and logs from the main park.

  • You share with other community gardeners, not only spare resources but also your successes and failures. We often share plants and materials with other projects, including through Queen Edith's in Bloom.

Many people really like the idea of a community garden helping to build a community around and within it - making new links between people. Gardening and related activities can be great for health and wellbeing, especially for people who are at risk of social isolation for any reason.

The project at Nightingale is led by volunteers who have no particular training in either community development, horticulture, therapeutic projects. We learn alongside other volunteers and try to keep what we do safe for everyone.

Speaking with other community gardeners, it is really important to keep it fun - and have lots of opportunities for social interactions. Lots of hot drinks and biscuits in the garden (even cake)... people who like to bake are ALWAYS very welcome. At the Nightingale Garden, we try to have some fresh fruit available too and at some times of the year grow our own.

Examples of community gardens:

These are local projects of all kinds:

  • Clay Farm Garden, very close to us in Trumpington. New drop in gardening on Saturdays 10 to 12.

  • Challis Garden in Sawston - must go to visit - Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays 10 to 12 and events.

  • Community garden at Hannover and Princess Court (near St Paul’s church in Newtown, Cambridge. They meet on Tuesday mornings from 10 to 12 and are working closely with Botanic Garden staff to make lovely gardens to share with people living in the locality and people who’d just like to sit on a bench and enjoy some nature.

  • Empty Common in Cambridge (Blog) - a wonderful place in Cambridge - we share volunteers and learn lots from them. They meet from 10.30 am on Sundays, which is partly why we meet in the afternoon. They have been going longer and are much better at food production and wildlife gardening.

  • Growing Spaces projects from Transition Cambridge - lots of opportunities for all sizes and kinds of gardens. They have just recruited a new co-ordinator.

  • Ramsey Walled Gardens - in Ramsey. Volunteers meet on Weds and Saturdays and the gardens are open on Sundays. We want to visit.

Locally, we have set up a group called 'Queen Edith's in Bloom', to help network between existing projects and encourage new ones like Wulfstan Way Raingardens. We are now part of RHS' (non-competitive) Anglia in Bloom. In 2017/2018, we have helped parent volunteers and staff at Queen Edith's primary school to make a new school garden.

Here are some community gardens that are further afield but particularly interesting:

  • Abbey Gardens in East London, which started as a public art project. We want to visit.

  • ActivGardens project at the People's Community Gardens in Ipswich. Two Nightingale Gardeners have visited this - it is a huge and varied site, which is very well integrated with local social enterprise.

  • Big Lunch Extras' gardening projects throughout the UK. Too many to mention. Two Nightingale gardeners are being mentored through this scheme, now called Eden Communities, which is based at the Eden Project and funded by the Lottery.

  • Clapton 'Poppy' estate gardens in Hackney.

  • Daubeney Road '10 x Greener' (meanwhile) community garden and street planting, in Hackney, London.

  • Dalston Curve Garden - sounds great and would like to visit it.

  • The Green Backyard in Peterborough. Also the Olive Branch Community Garden and West Raven Community Garden, also in Peterborough.

  • Incredible Edible Network gardens - too many to mention, and worldwide. Several local community gardeners have made a pilgrimage to Todmorden where it all started.

  • St Anns Allotments in Nottingham - grade 2* listed (oldest and largest Victorian allotments in the world) and very interesting educational and leisure projects. We want to visit.

  • Summerwood Community Garden in Nottingham. Two Nightingale gardeners have visited it. It is very varied, across several former allotments, and includes bees and cider making.

Social and therapeutic gardening

There are masses of projects (hurrah!), including some locally. Here are a few, as we come across them and remember to add them:

  • Lindengate, Bucks

  • Headway gardening group. Great 15-minute film about Cambridgeshire-based therapeutic gardening for people who have a brain injury, who learned alongside community-recruited volunteers. It includes one of our volunteers. Shows why gardening is so good for people - and they like it too.

Last updated: 27 May 2019