Every spring, as the ground thaws and the soil becomes workable, Waconia’s Ginny Karki listens to the siren call heard by all gardeners and leaves her home to start digging in the dirt. She likes to experiment each year with different and challenging plants. “I love the outdoors, and I like to see things come up and see what happens when I do my own planting,” Karki says. “It’s fun to have it all and to try different recipes with what I grow.”
But Karki doesn’t garden on her own property; she rents space in one of the many community garden plots offered throughout the southwest metro.
Community gardening is not a new concept. In fact, Eden Prairie started offering public growing plots in 1977. The idea behind it is simple: public gardening is “the ability for residents or people who live within the city who do not have room or space within their own property to garden,” says Stuart Fox, Eden Prairie’s parks and natural resources manager. “It’s public land that’s provided for individuals to garden on.” Some churches also provide gardening space.
Though each city has its own specific rules, the requirements to be a community gardener are simple and generally similar community to community. Overall, everyone is welcome, seasoned gardener or not.
People interested in joining are required to fill out a registration form and turn it in to their community recreation department. Then, spaces are allocated, usually with priority given to the previous year’s gardeners and waitlist. Those assigned a plot are responsible for it between spring and fall of that year. Gardeners are expected not to neglect their plot, which means regular weeding and keeping plants from creeping into other gardens. Some communities, such as Chanhassen and Eden Prairie, also restrict the use of synthetic pesticides.
Plots are usually open for use by mid-May, depending on the weather. Once spaces are assigned, gardeners are free to have at the land and plant what they’d like as long as it’s legal and out of the ground come fall. While it’s not uncommon for gardeners to dedicate some space to flowers, vegetables are usually the most likely inhabitants of the plots. “I grow a lot,” says Chanhassen community gardener Patty Emery. “Tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, beets, sunflowers, zinnias, squash, carrots, snap peas …”
Emery, like many communal gardeners, has to carefully plan out her garden to ensure that all those plants will have enough room to grow while simultaneously staying in the limits of her space. Her plot in Chanhassen measures 10’x10’, on the smaller side – plots in Victoria, Waconia and Eden Prairie measure 10’x20’, 10’x15’, and between 20’x30’ and 20’x40’, respectively.
Chanhassen brings in a certified Master Gardener volunteer every spring to teach courses like “Small Space Gardening” or “Vertical Gardening” to help members get the “most bang for their buck” in the small space. According to outdoor recreation program manager David Wabbe, Waconia is also trying to secure a Master Gardener volunteer, perhaps, he says, to teach a course on vegetables or visit each of the city’s five community gardens to answer questions.
City staff also commonly include amenities like soil tilling, plot preparation, and water at each planting site. “It’s a great set up because the hoses and everything are there to use,” says Wendi Alessio, a three-year member of Victoria’s communal gardening program. “It’s just a really good place to have a garden.”
Amenities, however, are just the beginning of the reasons why people are increasingly attracted to community gardens. Organizers say that waiting lists are made almost every year. “The interest in community gardens has just been sky-high,” says Jill Sinclair, Chanhassen’s environmental resources specialist. “We have had our gardens fill up every year with a long waiting list.”
So, what exactly is it that makes people love community gardening so much? A lot of things, it turns out, including the opportunity to work outside, grow healthy food inexpensively, spend time with family, and enjoy the simple pleasures of gardening. “People are starting to realize that they want to live a healthy lifestyle and this is easy,” says Wabbe. “It’s an easy way to get the entire family involved in a gardening effort, provide an opportunity to be outside with their families, and a good learning environment and experience for children.”
Many of the gardeners also appreciate the unique social network a community the garden provides. It’s one, they say, that wouldn’t be forged if they were working on their own in a home garden.
For example, Alessio says she has been able to learn from and share information with her planting neighbors in Victoria. She was having trouble with the leaves on her tomato plants so she asked the gardeners around her if they had any suggestions based on things they had done in the past.
“It was nice to talk to other people and say, ‘Hey this is what mine are doing’ and they say, ‘Yeah, so are mine.’ So then you don’t worry that you’re doing something wrong. Everyone always has such good tips!”
Or, with the advantage of having gardening as a common ground, there is an opportunity to make some unexpected friendships like those that transcend generational and language gaps. “I garden out there with my mom and my grandma and it provides us a chance to do something together and have a common interest,” says Holly Kaufhold, Victoria’s recreation supervisor and a community gardener herself.
Sometimes getting your hands dirty means meeting new neighbors, too. “There’s a family in our garden that doesn’t speak English, but we all speak garden,” says Emery, the vegetable gardener in Chanhassen. “We trade carrots and tomatoes and don’t need to talk to understand and appreciate each other’s gardens.”
Ginny & Myron Karki (left) tend a community garden plot in Waconia
Join the Garden
Becoming a member of a community garden is easy. Use the information below to get started.
Olson Community Gardens
Located in Chanhassen (at the corner of Kerber Blvd. & Santa Vera Drive)
76 plots available
Price is $25
Visit ci.chanhassen.mn.us for further information and to download registration form. Registration is by mail only.
Pioneer Park Gardens
Located in Eden Prairie at 8940 Sutton Drive
28 plots available.
Prices $54-$108, depending on plot size; senior citizen rates are available
Visit edenprairie.org for further information and to download registration form.
Victoria Community Gardens
Located in Victoria (behind the Victoria Recreation Center, 8465 Kochia Lane)
25 plots (raised beds)
Price is $50 per plot, no registration fee.
Call the Victoria Recreation Center at 952.443.4255 for further information on registration.
Brook Peterson Park, Clearwater Mills Park, Interlaken Park, Waterford Park & Bent Creek Park
Located in Waconia (visit waconia.org for specifics on location)
96 plots total among the five parks
Price is $25
Contact City of Waconia Parks and Recreation at 952.442.0695 or waconia.org for further information on registration.