Why Do Community Gardens Fail?

Community gardens are popular but at times can encounter some issues. Gardens often provide a natural sanctuary in an urban environment. There’s nothing like spotting trestles of colorful flowers and rows of delicious veggies amidst a landscape of tall buildings, concrete sidewalks, and storefronts.

Gardens can also reinvigorate an area by giving residents a sense of connection not only with the land but with each other. Members of any community can roll up their sleeves and help to create a more harmonious feeling of fellowship by exchanging and sharing ideas, as well as by working hard to transform their surroundings.

In a world fraught with environmental issues, community gardens are also a great way to give back to nature. They can generate life-giving oxygen and produce a healthy ecosystem.

So, why then do community gardens fail? Community gardens are more than just a series of vegetables, fruits, and flowers. They involve an interplay between members of a neighborhood or area and townships and cities. Ordinances, rules, and regulations often govern the ways in which community gardens are structured. Community gardens also heavily rely on the volunteer efforts of residents as well as the strong bonds created between them.

I’ve often admired the great things that community gardens have done to revitalize neighborhoods and get people invested in the ways in which their cities, towns, and villages operate. What I didn’t know until recently, was all the work that happens behind the scenes. There’s a lot that happens to create a burgeoning community garden, and much of it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process that involves many people and important decisions.

Location, Location, Location! 

It may be a great idea to begin creating a community garden amongst your friends and neighbors right away, but specific things must happen in order for it to thrive. One of the first obstacles to an awesome community garden is permission from your city, township, and village or if you live in an unincorporated area, the county.

There are specific laws that govern what land can be used for certain things, and this type of zoning includes gardens and other community-led initiatives. Believe it or not, there are people who may not see the benefit of having a community garden right next door. They may feel that a garden would intrude upon their property, encourage littering or bring about people and the foot traffic they don’t desire in their area.

That’s why it’s important to understand where such an undertaking can happen and how it can impact your fellow neighbors and even local businesses. It is also important to keep in mind that a lot that gets little natural sunlight, water or has little arable soil will not generate good results.


Before you go through the trouble of submitting paperwork and getting permission, it is important that you define exactly what your community garden will and will not do. There is a distinction between a community garden and an urban farm.

In recent years, urban farming has gained traction as an attractive alternative to blighted and underserved areas. However, a community garden is vastly different. It is usually run by a group of dedicated volunteers from a neighborhood or through a community-based organization to beautify an area, grow plants, fruits and vegetables for personal use or for charitable purposes.

Urban farms, on the other hand, are a way for communities to engage in the beautification process of a neighborhood while dispensing the fruits, veggies, and flowers they produce for profit. However, in some cities, like Chicago, community gardens are allowed to also sell what they produce, as long as what they sell is an auxiliary to the core mission of the garden and not the primary purpose.

Meeting of the Minds

I’ve always believed that any initiative is only as good as the people that back it. The same concept applies to community gardens. Community gardens have to be made up of a group of individuals who are dedicated to making the garden a sustainable project.

There also have to be written rules regarding the garden’s day-to-day operation, including if members pay dues or if the initiative is sponsored. A committee whose sole purpose is to plan and execute the community garden should be created. This meeting of the minds will help rather than hinder the vision of the garden by providing constructive criticism and new ways to improve.

Working as a collective can give residents and community members a sense that their voices are being heard and that their ideas matter.


What kind of plants should be grown in a community garden?

The kind of plants grown in a community garden depends on a few factors. Strawberries, for example, require up to 6-10 hours of sunlight to flourish. If your community is located in an area that doesn’t have strong sunlight or is often overcast, you may have to think more about hardier types that need less light. If you live in an area with lots of rain or has a dry climate, you have to consider what would thrive there and how often you will harvest.

Tomatoes, potatoes, and garlic are often easy to grow and harvest and don’t need as much tending as say kale or artichoke. If you live in an area with variable seasons, plan ahead as to what to plant in the cool months that may be low-maintenance and easy to grow such as beets, carrots or spinach. However, all of this will depend on how your own unique community will manage its garden.

How To Keep Thieves Out Of Community Gardens?

It’s an inevitable part of life that we have to protect our homes and valuables from being pilfered. A community garden is no different. Tasty veggies and gorgeous flowers can be easily plucked from their places by thieves who want to unfairly benefit from your community’s hard work.

Although a community garden is a place that provides endless beauty and pleasure to an entire area, the fear that a season’s worth of digging and tending can be wasted due to one wily thief isn’t entirely unfounded. In addition to stealing veggies, flowers and other plants, thieves can abscond with a variety of materials, including expensive gardening tools.

Wheelbarrows, spades, and trowels may seem like things that won’t interest most people, but can often come up missing. Replacing these items can be expensive. To deter thieves, a community garden can invest in a few low-cost methods.

Secure all items after their use

After leaving for the day, make sure any items used are secured in a shed or other place that isn’t easily accessible. Don’t leave out things in plain sight where someone passing by could be tempted to come in and steal.

Buy a gate or other barrier

Installing a gate or chain-link fence that can be locked can deter thieves on two levels:  First, a thief may not go through the trouble of trying to get into a locked area and arouse suspicion, and second, a gate or barrier serves as a visual deterrent for any would-be thieves.

Place spiky or thorny plants around the perimeter

Not only will can this discourage two-legged thieves, but it can also discourage those of the furrier kind. Rabbits and squirrels are great at carrying off things like carrots and cucumbers and a spiky plant will give them the right kind of incentive to not do so but without any lasting damage.

What happens if someone abandons a community garden?

Community gardens depend on the work of volunteers. Without their help, gardens can quickly become neglected. Devoting time and energy to creating viable plants is not something that is desired by everyone. To ensure that people are more inclined to do their part, many community gardens take dues and committees routinely communicate with gardening members to address any concerns.

However, scheduling conflicts, family obligations or an impending move can impede any member from fulfilling their obligations. At some point, even the most dedicated may find themselves unable to tend to their local garden. To combat this, some community gardens implement individual plots. These are areas that often belong to whole families or a single individual. This kind of arrangement can increase community participation and discourage abandonment.

Eyerly Family

The Eyerly Family is a family of 8 that loves gardening. Over the past several years we have been applying what we learn about gardening to our own 16x16 raised back yard garden. Our garden is very prolific and we grow a wide variety of vegetables which we love to eat! Click here to learn more about the Eyerly Family.

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