Finding your place in a shared garden space

The days are getting longer, the sun is feeling warmer and dreams of green are returning to Edmonton; it’s gardening season, baby! (Well, almost…)

Gardening is a rewarding hobby. Getting your hands dirty, understanding the work and patience that goes into food production, and tasting the difference in homegrown produce is both a humbling and gratifying experience. Plus, you can’t get food more local than your own backyard.

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Growing food on the balcony is a great option, but I love the additional space I gained by joining the Urban Eden Community Garden. Photo: Elyse Williams

Spring is an especially exciting time of year for gardeners. Dusting off tools, checking bed structure and planning out rows of fresh greens are all part of the fun. However, the true magic really happens when these spring chores are shared amongst a community.

Shared garden spaces cultivate stronger relationships between neighbours, instill pride and ownership in communities, and inspire people to learn new, rewarding skills. They also promote biodiversity, create habitat for pollinators and support healthy, sustainable lifestyles. Not bad for a bit of dirt!

Finding the Right Space for You

In Edmonton, we are lucky to have multiple styles of shared gardens that you may join as a novice or expert. Choosing the right space for you will depend on what sort of gardening experience you’re looking for, so here are a few points to consider before exploring the options:

  • Size: How much do you want to grow? What is your commitment level or time budget for gardening or volunteer hours? Do you need to have your very own space, or is sharing an option?
  • Location: Is the space easily accessible for you to maintain a watering and maintenance schedule? Can you get to the garden on foot or bike, or will you need to use a vehicle or public transit?
  • Access: Does the garden supply tools, water and storage space? Can you freely access the garden on your own time or is there a schedule? What other resources may be available (books, people, etc.)?

 Shared Garden Options in Edmonton

Garden plots bursting with veggies mid-summer at Urban Eden Community Garden. Photo: Elyse Williams

After you’ve thought about what kind of gardening experience you’re looking for, you can start the search for that special plot of earth that will host your harvest. Below are three options for shared garden experiences in our city:

 Community Gardens: There are over 80 community gardens in the Capital Region co-ordinated and supported by Sustainable Food Edmonton (SFE) and the City of Edmonton. Finding the site nearest you is super simple on the SFE Community Gardens Map, where you’ll also find information like membership fees and requirements, plot size, tool availability and gardening style. In most cases, you will have your own plot or portion of a bed to plant what you wish, and will be responsible for maintaining it on your own (though other members may be happy to help, if you ask). Contact garden co-ordinators to inquire about becoming a member, or if the opportunity is right, blaze a trail and start your own garden with your neighbours!

 Yard Sharing: Everyone loves homegrown produce, but not everyone has the time, ability or desire to get their hands dirty and sow the earth. The Yard Share program, facilitated by SFE, matches up registered land owners and gardeners for communal gardening projects. This mutually beneficial system gives gardeners space to work and land owners a beautiful yard (and likely a sample of the rewards!). Keep in mind that there are at least two sets of wants, opinions and feelings to consider when using this shared yard approach. Make sure you and your partners are on common ground when it comes to accessing and transforming the space, using water, bringing guests, etc. (SFE has some useful templates to help guide your agreement)

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Volunteering at a farm or garden is a great way to absorb knowledge from the people with expertise. Photo: Elyse Williams

 Volunteering: Volunteering is a fantastic option if you’re new to the world of gardening or want to get more involved in the community. Learn the basics of planting, fertilizing, maintenance and harvest from experienced gardeners and farmers, then later apply it to your own plot. Check out the University of Alberta’s Green and Gold Community Garden, the Edmonton Horticultural Society, Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton, Prairie Urban Farm or Sustainable Food Edmonton for opportunities to get involved year-round. 

No matter what path you choose, participating in a shared garden space is sure to improve your season. Set yourself a new goal this summer (maybe planting something you’ve never tried or going organic?), and let your fellow gardeners help you reach it. Get to know your neighbours, share produce and teach each other. After all, it’s not just vegetables growing in these shared garden spaces.

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