By Sherri Hall:
The idea of having a community garden, one in which a group of people care for collectively, is becoming a trend throughout the United States. Some planned communities may already have such a garden in place. However, associations that don’t might be considering adding one but just don’t know where begin.
According to Terry C. Wagner, ARM, a community manager with RCP Management Company in Cranbury, New Jersey, a community garden can serve multiple purposes in a planned community. “Most communities don’t allow vegetable gardening or extensive flower gardening, so a community garden serves as an added amenity to those residents who want the convenience of the community environment but still want to engage in gardening at a higher level,” said Wagner.
A community garden also serves as a source of pride, adds value to the community and gives residents an opportunity to work together in a shared hobby, she added.
However, as with anything, there are pros and cons to having a community garden. One of the minuses would be not having enough space for all residents to have a plot of land to garden on, Wagner noted. “Someone’s always going to be upset if there aren’t enough plots and they miss out on that season of growing,” she said.
In that case, she explained that the plots need to be distributed in a fair manner and someone must manage the distribution process. Rules must also be in place to maintain the gardens in an attractive state as well as penalties for plot holders who don’t adhere to those rules. “It takes a lot of management and oversight to make sure that the garden looks good to the community at all times,” said Wagner.
On the plus side, a community garden brings the community together. “It’s a great amenity that a lot of associations don’t have,” noted Wagner.
She added that some communities have garden clubs but don’t have community gardens. Having a community garden can offer the opportunity to create a garden club or committee and have the land to work on together.
With regard to structuring a community garden, Wagner said that the land should be set aside, fenced in, and each plot should be clearly marked with boundaries so that everyone knows which plot theirs is.
“Residents should be offered the opportunity to apply for a plot on a first come, first served basis,” she noted.
If there are not enough plots for everyone in the community to have one, Wagner said the best way to handle that is through a lottery so that each person gets an equal chance in receiving a plot that year. She also suggested implementing a rotation system in order to give other residents an opportunity to have a plot, such as being required to wait a year after having one before being able to apply again.
As far as managing the garden, Wagner noted that most communities have a landscape or related committee. Either this committee or the board of trustees would originally set the guidelines regarding the plantings allowed. The committee should then have an open mind to suggestions and appeals from the gardeners themselves. The committee should also be able to take input from the association’s landscaping company so that the garden is continually maintained and overseen to make sure that everything is running well and that there are no disputes.
According to Wagner, associations should not charge a fee to residents for garden plots since the garden is considered an amenity, which would be included in the monthly assessment. “To my knowledge, associations don’t incur any cost for having these gardens,” said Wagner. “It is incumbent upon the residents to maintain their plots.”
She noted that the residents are responsible for keeping their plots clean and neat, doing the fall clean-up work, removing dead plant materials and staking materials, etc.
Of course, the rules should be written out and the board may want to adopt a resolution regarding the rules for the community garden. Those rules should include items such as specifying the types of plantings allowed and the timeframes for planting them, what type of staking they can use, what clean-up work is required, whether mulching is necessary, the dates gardening can begin and when the plots should be ready for winterization.
In addition, Wagner noted that there may be rules limiting the hours residents are able to work on their plots depending on the location of the garden so that activity at the garden does not disrupt other residents. She explained that the rules are subjective to each individual community.
Penalties for not adhering to the rules may also vary depending on the infraction, said Wagner. For example, if a resident is having a hard time keeping up with weeding, the committee may offer to help or have the homeowner split the plot with someone else. A more severe penalty would be removing the plot from that person and giving it to the next person on the list.
With regard to insurance, Wagner explained that use of the garden should be covered just as any other amenity within the community, such as the tennis court or pool.
According to Wagner, if an association is planning on building a garden that isn’t already in existence, it’s important to be aware of the location and the drainage implications. The association should ensure that there is proper drainage so that water runoff is not going to become a nuisance or a hazard.
In addition, the association should also consider restricting the use of pesticides in the community garden and allow for organic growing only as some residents may be allergic to various chemicals. Since it’s not an independent garden, limiting the use of these products can help keep residents safe, noted Wagner.
Overall, community gardens are gaining popularity even in high rise communities who opt for rooftop gardens. “More people want to live in the convenience of a planned community but would also like to feel that they are contributing environmentally to the regreening of areas that have been developed,” Wagner said.