An ‘informal chat’ during a working bee at Figtree Community Garden one Sunday morning sowed the seed of an idea for a collaborative research project on community gardening.
Associate Professor Jenny Cameron from the University’s Centre for Urban and Regional Studies and Fig Tree Community Garden’s Craig Manhood were discussing some funding Fig Tree had received from Newcastle City Council to run workshops to help support and strengthen new community gardens.
“I said to Craig, that rather than run workshops where you get an expert to come in and give advice and guidance, why not run it so that the new community gardens learn from each other’s experiences” says Jenny.
Over two Fridays in May 2010, 22 community gardeners from eight operating community gardens (and three community gardens-to-be) took a bus trip visiting each garden, all located relatively close to the centre of Newcastle.
At each garden, participants discussed how each garden operates and the sort of things that can happen to community gardens once they are up and running. These conversations were audio-recorded and then transcribed and organised into themes such as finding the right approach to managing community gardens, hints for keeping gardens ‘ticking over’ as well as subjects like kids in gardens.
The themes are shared through a Community Garden Manifesto and through a PlaceStories website where the community gardeners talk about the themes and their own community gardens.
While growing food is the main reason for establishing a garden, most have enjoyed the added result of building a community along with the garden. Meryl Dunton-Rose from Tighes Hill Community Garden explains, “It has been great to see who is in the neighbourhood, and the new people that come and join in. We had no idea who lived in this area, but we have met so many people since we started this.”
Since its inception, the Tighes Hill garden has branched out into a social hub for people in the area with a book club and children’s playgroups emerging from it.
“The project started off as a combined Fig Tree Community Garden and University of Newcastle initiative, but now I hope that all the community gardens involved see themselves as part of the project,” says Jenny Cameron. “This project is based on the idea that we are all researchers, we are all interested in finding out more about how the world works.”
The Community Garden Manifesto is available online here.
The story of each garden that contributed to the project is available online here.