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Festival day at Jindivik community garden in Victoria

Bushfire community gardens and a manual

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Community gardens are about community and getting hands into the soil says PENNY WOODWARD.

Community gardens can be all about community so that the gardening is almost secondary; or their primary purpose can just be to allow people to get their fingers into the soil, in their own patch of ground.

Now there is a free Manual that tells you how to establish a community garden in your neighbourhood no matter what your reason for setting it up.

The gardeners that Pam Vardy and I wrote about in our book Community Gardens were desperate to get their hands into the soil, to be able to grow their own culturally significant food and to have somewhere to escape from their high rise flats. The contacts and friendships came later. In sharp contrast to this, the bushfire community gardens that I have written about in the Jan/Feb 2014 edition of Organic Gardener were created specifically to nurture and bind communities that had been hit by massive dislocation and despair after the Black Saturday fires. The article is called The Healing Gardens.

In these gardens, from the very first meetings and the design process, through the choice of plants and hard structures, to the actual construction and planting, the aim was to bring people together. Once the gardens were constructed, with the help and guidance of not-for-for profit group Sustainable Gardening Australia (SGA) and ongoing funding from the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust, the gardens and gardeners organised lectures and workshops, celebrations and festivals that continued to draw in new people from the bush fire affected regions. All adding to the cohesiveness and healing of these communities.

Part of the funding also went towards a Community Garden Manual. Elaine Shallue from SGA wrote the text of the manual and describes the sense of community in these regions after the fires. “Individuals took the lead within their communities so that the greatest momentum for renewal came from within. Neighbour helped neighbour, friendships were forged, acquaintances became connected and together the community started to recover. Recognising the strength of this regeneration, communities looked for ways to augment these newly forged bonds. It was in this spirit of community renewal that the Community Based Gardening Project was conceived.’

This Manual describes in great detail everything you need to know to establish a community garden anywhere in Australia. Full of sensible advice from finding the right plot, to insurance, planning, contacting the wider community and forming working groups, as well as design, choosing plants, placement of tanks, compost bins and shelters and much much more. And the really good news is that it’s free. Download a copy from the SGA website or there are limited number of printed Manuals available for Victorian based organisations and groups (cost $15 postage) or if neither of these work for you, they also have CDs with hi-res printable copies for anyone else hoping to set up a community garden (cost $5 postage). Please email for further details.