Longing for space in a community garden

Early morning

Before even moving to my new town last December, I inquired about getting a plot at the local community garden.  I’ve declared first on the waiting list since April.  It’s late June and still, I wait.

But I’m in active waiting mode.   I visit the gardens (three of them) almost every day, meet the gardeners and go home declaring to myself that they’re “My people!”  Yeah, I want in.  Badly.  And not just so I can grow food, which will be fun but honestly, only secondary to my main purpose – getting to hang out with and learning from my new gardening neighbors, many of whom are experts employed at the adjacent USDA Research Center. (“The World’s Largest Most Diversified Agricultural Research Complex”!)

Besides, I just love being there.   It’s lush and noisy with the sounds of insects and birds.   When the demolition and construction work at my house feels most threatening my sanity, the community gardens are where I escape to.

One gardener grows no food at all – for humans. Just for pollinators.

Gardeners here are pretty serious about the actual gardening but they also hang out a bit in their ramshackle shelters.

Plots here are filled with interesting STUFF.   No worries about design or tidiness.

And I’m IN!

I tell ya, it’s all about networking.  I finagled an invitation to a nearby block party and damn if wasn’t having dinner with the plot-renters whose mostly-unused plot I’d been eying for weeks, which they offered to let me use this season – eureka!  To return the favor I’ll be helping them with the ornamentals around their home.   And this afternoon we’ll meet up at the garden and I’ll claim my very own rows…then figure out what I can plant this late in the season.  Which my Rant partner Michele assures me will be no problem, especially here in Zone 7.

Challenges Galore

But this is gardening, and there will be challenges, starting with the lack of a water source.  (I know!!!)  But people have been gardening here for decades, with little or no complaint about the lack of running water, using mainly “rain-harvesting” in hundreds of containers strewn about, supplemented by the occasional schlepping of water containers during droughts.   My first reaction was “Let’s get the city to dig us a well!” but I’ve learned that these gardeners are fine with the solutions they’ve devised, so I’d better adapt – they sure have.  That way, no organized efforts and governmental intervention is needed, and the philosophy of these gardeners seems to be decidedly libertarian.

Another big challenge in any veg garden is wildlife, and here there’s lots of tall fencing, with more of it belowground to keep out the smaller mammals.

Then there’s shade from too many nearby trees, but I’m told my plot will be plenty sunny.  Yes!


  1. Warmest congratulations on your new plot!! I love community gardens too and my car automatically swerves onto the side of the road whenever I see one. It’s fun to talk to the gardeners tending their plants and I always get new ideas and veggie recommendations.

    You still have plenty of time to enjoy a fine harvest! In fact, I’m still about a month away from my autumn/winter carrot planting and I’m in zone 5B. The baby kales for the winter harvest have just been planted and I’m continuously sowing fresh salad greens, more cucumbers, cabbage cousins and bush beans.. Oh, and a thick bed of super sugar snap peas for autumn.. It’s a great time of the year, enjoy your new plot!!

  2. Congratulations! Many of our community gardens in Cleveland have waiting lists & we were lucky for 7 years to have a plot in our nearby one (it helped that we supplied the water). Now that I garden in our own personal garden, I miss the comraderie & the assistance. Plus, the push to keep the beds tidy. 🙂

  3. Sounds like a great opportunity, though I’m very curious to hear how the water thing works in practice. We were part of a community garden for a while and the other gardeners were perhaps the best part.

  4. When I was gardening at a weekend house, I initially used a sprinkler on a timer. But I gave that up after a few years. In the Northeast at least, climate change means increased precipitation. With a heavy mulch, I never needed to water my vegetables.

    So Susan, you’re a mulch lady. Mulch heavily and you’ll probably be fine.

  5. I absolutely love the sense of community these gardens bring. The one time in three years Capital District Community Gardens ever bothered to call me to volunteer I saw a community garden located in the shadows of Empire State Plaza. It was 7PM on a warm June night. People were not only tending their plots but sitting back reading newspapers, sharing cold drinks and SOCIALIZING. When they saw me advising a newly transplanted city person with her garden they approached with the same curiosity of the first white man seen in the Amazon. Some were watching with intrigue not knowing who this guy was others full of questions mostly wanting to know “Am I doing this right”? My answer was if you are having fun and getting tomatoes at the same time then the answer is yes. It was a grand mix of young mothers with tots in tow, yuppies, wannabe foodies and elderly couples. The gardens were gorgeous, not in a design sense but more a shabby chic cottage garden sense with no rhyme rhythm or reason other than the neatly marked plots…….

    Now Capital District Community Gardens organization itself……..another story altogether of do gooders not really wanting the volunteers they say they do.

    The TROLL

    • Boy, do I hear you on the “do gooders not really wanting the volunteers they say they do” comment. I tried to get a plot at a neglected community garden in an urban area where I regularly walk while my daughter takes skating lessons at a nearby arena. Some plots were beautiful and bountiful, but I was distressed by the amount of rotting veg in the gardens and the unused or untended plots. Before the next season, I contacted the organization responsible for the community garden and requested a plot and/or offered to come and help out at the garden because I have gardened successfully for years. I was told that they did not need help and plots were not available for the affluent suburbanites because they were for community members, many of which were recent immigrants. I responded again with the the offer to come and help gardeners with their plots and offer advice about what grows in our region, since many plot owners were recent immigrants not familiar with our zone. I was once again told to go elsewhere and that my help was not needed. I still visit the garden and nothing has changed. There are still vacant and neglected plots, and veg continues to rot on the vine…such a waste!

  6. Before our irrigation district turns on the water in the Spring, I water by hand out of plastic-lined fruit bins that we leave out over the Winter to collect rainwater. You could also use a large plastic garbage can or other receptacle. I just dip my 2-gallon watering cans in and go. But it wouldn’t work much past June around here.

    Community gardens sound like fun for social gardening, but I have to say, much of my enjoyment in the garden is having the space to myself and my own thoughts, a respite at the end of a day of working around people. If I ever move to a place in the city though, I would definitely seek out the community gardens.

  7. When I lived in Santa Monica I heard the wait time on plots in the community garden could be as long as ten years! I love the idea of community gardens but I am the sort of person that needs to have my garden right outside my front door.

  8. If you’re up for another move, we’d love to have you at our new community garden in St. Paul. Zone 4B, yeah, but the people sure are nice.



  9. I love the plot designated to pollinators (I try to do that, too!) I also try to do some seed saving by letting a few plants go to seed. Congrats and I hope you have a wonderful time this summer digging into community gardening. It’s been fun, productive, and very educational for me these last few years joining a new garden in my neighborhood.

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  11. Lucky you. Congratulations. Sounds like so much fun. I should probably check out the community gardens here.

  12. Susan – you are welcome to come by the Fenton Community Garden in nearby Silver Spring, MD (diagonal from my house) where I have a plot to check out the cistern system installed there. We do not collect rain water (due to mosquito/disease concerns). Instead, the cistern is filled by garden volunteers from a nearby fire hydrant. We have a gage that we hook up with the water hose when it is filling up that measures how much we use and the garden fee we pay is basically for the yearly water budget.

    Note that this is NONpotable water so we do not pay the sewage treatment tax on it, but we have to remind folks constantly NOT to drink from hoses (which is a bad idea in any case) and when rinsing their garden produce or washing hands, it should be done again at home in clean, treated water.

  13. Here in west-coast suburbia I have a plot at a 2.5-acre community garden that’s been around since the 1970s. Although it has survived, it feels like one issue or another comes up to threaten its existence every few years. It’s next to the library parking lot, so over the years there’ve been rumblings about building a parking garage. Now the plan is to move a small section of the garden to build a road connecting 2 parking lots (and take down the shade trees). At the same time, the fees at the garden have gone up every year. The annual fee was 15 cents per square foot in 2005 and will rise to 75 cents/sf next year (the staff recommended $1/sf ). Every time a gardener leaves, the plot is subdivided, so over time the plots are getting smaller. That’s good, because a lot of new gardeners abandon the plot after the first flush of enthusiasm. It’s also good to get more people involved in gardening. But on the downside, the city’s policies are encouraging experienced gardeners to cut back or leave. People have been requesting a community garden on the other side of town (where most renters live) for years, but no land has become available, and it’s not a priority for the city. So the external politics are exhausting.

    Being in the garden itself, however, is a joy. Even gardeners who only have time to stop by for a half hour after work comment that being in the garden after a stressful day is magically relaxing. The garden is encircled by a path that’s popular with dog walkers and exercisers, and in summer groups of preschoolers come through once a week. At the height of the season, photographers wander the gardens and artists set up their easels. My garden is on the perimeter, so passers-by stop and ask questions about gardening or comment on one plant or another. I always have plants to give away, so I have lots of repeat visitors. Most fellow gardeners at least say hello.

    A “big” plot here is 200 square feet. Recently I learned that allotment gardens in Britain are a lot bigger — one person said she and her spouse had 2 plots, each 25 x 150 ft => 7500 sf!

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