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Review by Penny Woodward

This excellent manual is the product of a collaboration between The Helen Macpherson Smith Trust and Sustainable Gardening Australia (SGA). The manual is written by Elaine Shallue and came out of the work undertaken by SGA and local communities to establish community gardens in regions affected by the Black Saturday bushfires. Both the manual and the establishment of the community gardens were funded by The Helen Macpherson Smith Trust.

Elaine  describes the sense of community in these regions after the fires. “Individuals took the lead within their communities so that the greatest momentum for renewal came from within. Neighbour helped neighbour, friendships were forged, acquaintances became connected and together the community started to recover. Recognising the strength of this regeneration, communities looked for ways to augment these newly forged bonds. It was in this spirit of community renewal that the Community Based Gardening Project was conceived.’

This Manual describes in great detail everything you need to know to establish a community garden anywhere in Australia. Full of sensible advice from finding the right plot, to insurance, planning, contacting the wider community and forming working groups, as well as design, choosing plants, placement of tanks, compost bins and shelters and much much more. As well as the clear and easy to follow text, there are beautiful photographs from the five different community gardens; people, plants and places, that bring the bring the practical written words alive. And the really good news is that it’s free. Download a copy from the SGA website or there are limited number of printed Manuals available for Victorian based organisations and groups (cost $15 postage) or if neither of these work for you, they also have CDs with hi-res printable copies for anyone else hoping to set up a community garden (cost $5 postage). Please email for further details.

I hope Elaine won’t mind if I quote from another section of the manual. It is so beautifully expressed at the same time as being realistic and fundamentally down-to-earth:

Building a community garden is among the most Utopian of all community projects. It is initiated by the dreamers, built by the visionaries and embraced by the communal. The community garden itself is a microcosm of the very community within which you have chosen to live. It give you and the other garden members a very real sense of belonging and purpose. But it may also, at times, cause you angst and not a little frustration when conflict does occur. How you deal with this conflict will reflect the strength of the organisational structures that you have put in place and the commitment and maturity of your garden community. All problems have a solution; they just need people willing to seek them out. Patience and perseverance, the very traits that helped you through the lengthy processes that you have just compeleted, are the same attributes that will ensure the success of your community garden, well into the future.