Community gardens not only make use of empty land and nurture plants, they also foster friendships, bring a sense of community and increase fitness, writes FIONNUALA FALLON, horticulturalist and gardening correspondent for the Irish Times since 2011.
THEY’RE CALLED COMMUNITY gardens, and over the last decade they’ve been appearing in old car parks, city squares, green-field sites and rubbish-strewn areas of wasteland as well as in the grounds of community centres, nursing homes and sheltered housing complexes.
Yet despite their increasing ubiquity (it’s estimated that several hundred community gardens now exist around the country), it’s still surprisingly difficult to define exactly what they are.
One popular belief is that they’re unique to large cities, yet as the Co Carlow-based horticulturist and community garden expert Dee Sewell (greensideup.ie) points out, these gardens are also being established in small towns and villages around the country.
In the last number of years, Sewell has overseen new community garden projects in Bagenalstown, Leighlinbridge, Goresbridge, Ballyfoyle, Millennium Court and Derrinturn, training participants in the necessary horticultural skills while also offering advice and expertise.
Another common perception is that they’re used primarily for the production of fresh garden produce, which is often, but not always, the case, as there are community gardens where the emphasis is instead on creating a decorative space or a sensory garden, or even on growing flowers for the local church.
So perhaps the easiest and most commonly used description is, in the end, also the best; that a community garden is simply an outdoor space that is gardened communally. And just as the reasons that motivated the creation of these community gardens are as richly diverse as those who tend to them, so too are their many benefits.
The obvious environmental rewards aside, studies have shown that these gardens improve, in myriad ways, the quality of life of all those who garden them. In particular, they’ve been found to promote psychological well-being by fostering friendships, social interaction, social inclusion and a greater sense of community.
Similarly, they’ve been shown to encourage better physical fitness and healthy eating, through regular exercise (all that digging, hoeing and weeding) and the greater consumption of fresh, locally grown and often organically produced fruit and vegetables.
In Ireland, some of these plots are as small as your average suburban front garden while others stretch to a couple of acres, and they’re being run by a diverse mixture of religious orders, residents’ groups, charities, volunteers and students, with the help and backing of the country’s town, city and county councils, and the support of VECs and organisations such as GIY Ireland and St Vincent de Paul.
Funding is coming both from within the local communities themselves as well as through a variety of funding bodies.
One example is that of St Michael’s Estate in Inchicore, Dublin, where as part of the long-planned physical and social regeneration of this 1970s estate, the regeneration board recently hired the Dublin-based landscape architect and UCD lecturer, David Andrews ( commondesigns.wordpress.com), to run a community-led workshop helping participants to design, build and plant their own community garden.
The result is a once-neglected plot of land that’s being transformed into a communal outdoor space. There is a food growing area, a children’s garden, herb garden, bamboo hedge, several nut trees and box-edged flower borders as well as a propagation area, compost bays and a water storage tank.
“The plan now is to involve as much of the community as possible, to draw people in and get them interested,” says Andrews, who runs a variety of similar community-led courses around the city.
A different example of a community garden is that of Glor na Mara in Bundoran in Co Donegal, which was created six years ago at the instigation of two dynamic Mercy Sisters, Assumpta Butler and Mary Kate Hagan. Both women were motivated by a desire to provide a means of “reskilling the local population, of sowing the seeds of a local, sustainable economy”, of educating people regarding the planet’s dwindling resources as well as restoring people’s connection to the natural world around them.
The kitchen garden that they worked so hard to create with the help of professional gardener Klaus Laitenberger (the nuns also provided the two-acre site) is now a thriving, gloriously colourful, organically managed and hugely productive space that’s tended by an annually rotating team of gardeners drawn from the local community and headed up by the horticulturist Ingrid Foley.
Article from The Irish Times, Sat, May 5, 2012
Although I was born and bred in Charlestown, I´ve lived a lot of my adult life overseas. While living in Boston, I developed an interest in organic food and so, when I moved back home to South Sligo, all I wanted to do was grow my own vegetables. I love gardening, cooking, and of course my ducks and hens.