Placemaking: Designing a Garden for the Community

Shannon McWalters
Gardening Matters

The following information was adapted from “Placemaking: Designing for Community”

The benefits of a community garden are countless. From increasing a sense of community ownership and pride, building community leaders and stewards, and teaching youth where food comes from, to even bringing together multiple generations of people, community gardens can provide a vital element to any neighborhood or community. Designing for a community involves understanding five important steps.

#1: Follow some basic community gardening ethics

  • Design for low waste.
  • Design for integrated soil management — grow biomass for mulch through on-site composting. Think about crop rotation and crops that fix nitrogen in the off-season.
  • Design for sustainability — use recycled materials or local materials. Avoid importing soils and materials.
  • Design for water management systems.
  • Design for sun access.
  • Design for native planting.
  • Design for biodiversity — community gardens can be a part of a city-wide network of native animal habitat. Plant species and design infrastructure to encourage this.

Designing with these basic ethical factors will assist in creating beautiful spaces for positive neighborly connections while contributing to the safety, security, and sustainability of your community garden.

#2: Determine needs and wants

It is an essential starting point for community gardeners to clarify their aims and objectives before commencing on a more detailed planning and design process. An established planning group including diverse community members is essential to this brainstorming process.

#3: Analyze current conditions

To get a better understanding of what’s going on at and around the site, follow these steps of thoughtful observation based on the natural landscape features to understand the existing physical conditions of your garden site and community:

  • Obtain a base map of the site. Make a few copies and write on the maps. In Minneapolis, Google Maps and the Hennepin County Property Tax Website are invaluable resources.
  • Measure your site and make a to-scale site map. A 100’ tape measure is helpful in this endeavor.
  • Conduct a site analysis — design for the specifics of sites, clients, and cultures. Who lives near the site? What are their gardening needs? Indicate existing features such as pathways, trees, streets, buildings, and fencing to name just a few. Is there a school or elderly home near the site? What languages are spoken nearby? These are just some of the things to think about.

#4: Consider design characteristics and principles

First it is important to consider the characteristics of the spatial functions/elements you will be using in your garden for the planning of the growing spaces, paths, border, or structures.

Applying these design principles to your desired garden features will create a space that is not only beautiful but can represent the many cultural and natural characteristics of your community.

FORM is the shape of any element that you are putting in your garden.

COLOR is found throughout all seasons, in all planting materials, and in all manufactured building materials.

SCALE is the relative size difference when deciding where to place elements in your garden.

TEXTURE is an experience through sight or touch that can add mood or emotion to a garden.

SCENT can be experienced through flowers, fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Place along garden edges or along walkways.

#5: Tools

Choose the logistical systems that support your community’s goals and reflect the needs and resources available. Community organizers, landscape designers, and planners can assist in this process. See the Resources section to contact planning assistance.

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