Design the Garden
When you’ve defined the mission and goals of your project, you can begin to design the physical space to best meet those needs. Every People’s Garden has its own unique design based on its specific location and type. If you have the time, go with your planning committee to visit other nearby People’s Gardens and get a feel for different layouts. Site location and ownership, soil quality and drainage, access to a water source, exposure to sun or shade, capacity to expand over time, and having a secure place to store tools and equipment will affect the design of any community garden.
Most vegetables need at least six hours of direct sunlight to be successful, and some need more. Be sure you’re not in the shadow of nearby buildings or trees if planning to grow food.
Water is essential for all life yet receiving too much or too little can be detrimental to plants. Water is crucial when growing food so be sure to have access to a water source. Make sure that the land you’re growing food on has proper drainage – if the soil is often waterlogged consider gardening in raised beds or containers. In locations without a water hook up, consider installing a rain barrel to capture rainwater or plant native plant species that require minimal watering, if any.
One of your most important tasks is to test the soil of the site. Whether you’re gardening in containers, raised beds, or directly in the ground, you’ll want to be sure your soil is healthy before you plant. Research the history and past uses of your chosen site. Once the past uses have been determined, take samples of the soil and have them analyzed to find out soil type and quality. EPA has step-by-step guidelines on how to do this. Consult with your state environmental agency, local health department, or county’s Cooperative Extension office to learn how to take a soil sample and to determine what kinds of samples you should take. The quality of the soil can have an effect on the design of your garden.
Select Seeds and Plants
When your planting area is ready, you’ll need seeds or plants or a combination of both. You can choose to pick up seeds at a local garden store or order through a seed catalog. To create a healthy garden, be sure to choose plants that are native to your growing zone and are non-invasive species
There are many wonderful seed companies all over the United States, and most will send you a catalog for free. Here are some resources to help you select the right plants:
The 2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location. The map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree F zones. Enter the ZIP code of your community garden to find out its plant hardiness zone.
If growing food, search Cornell University’s Vegetable Growing Guides for information on the different needs of common vegetables.
Native species of trees, shrubs, grasses, vines and perennials are an integral part of a healthy ecosystem, providing important food and habitat for pollinators and migratory birds. The term “native” refers to all species of plants naturally occurring, either presently or historically, in any ecosystem of the United States. Use the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center Native Plants Database, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping in the Chesapeake Region Database, and Pollinator Partnership’s Ecoregional Planting Guides to build a healthy landscape with native plants.
The NRCS PLANTS Database provides basic information for plants of the United States and its territories including checklists, distribution maps, images, fact sheets, attributes, status, references, and links to additional information.
It’s extremely important to educate yourself about invasive plants. Check the USDA’s Forest Service Invasive Plants List to learn whether a plant is invasive before purchasing or planting it. An invasive plant has the ability to thrive and spread aggressively outside its native range, and a naturally aggressive plant may be especially invasive when it is introduced to a new habitat.