Hope and Good Cheer: Inspiring Examples of Gardeners Getting Together

Wonderful things happen when people choose to be proactive in their communities.

group of female gardeners with boxes of vegetables

Mike Harrington / Getty Images

All too often, we only hear the bad news. But as a garden designer and consultant, I see the amazing progress that can be made when gardeners get together—and get things done. Here are five small but significant personal stories from 2021 which have given me hope. These inspire me to continue doing all I can to get the word out about what happens when we start growing.

The 12-Year-Olds Who Started a Community Garden

Adults often underestimate what kids can do. I was involved with one project earlier this year that was driven by two twelve-year-olds living in a small northern England town. The two girls with a passion for eco-friendly living wanted to be able to grow their own food. But they did not have any outside space of their own, and the list for local allotments was so long that they would've had to wait years to get started.

So the pair spoke to their teacher about using a small abandoned space next to their school's parking lot. The teacher reached out to me for advice and together we determined who owned the space. The owner agreed to rent the space and the kids (with some help from their teacher) were able to raise sponsorship to pay the rent and start growing food on the site.

The Street That Tackled Flooding Together

Another inspiring story involved a group of neighbors in England whose small cul-de-sac road flooded fairly regularly in wet weather.

Reaching out to the local council, they got together to create and plant roadside rain gardens. They also galvanized homeowners to take steps in their own front gardens to reduce surface flooding and to catch and store rainwater.

The Man Who Got His Neighbors Together and Started a Front-Yard Farm

In Illinois, one enterprising gardener decided to speak with his neighbors about using their grass-filled front yards to grow food. Here's what I wrote about this project on my website:

"Though this gardener does have his own garden, he was frustrated by lack of land. He wanted to do more—and came up with a great solution. He offered to tend his neighbors' front yards, using these underutilized spaces to grow food collaboratively. He offered to undertake the work in return for the use of the space. And everyone will share in the food he grows.

"Expecting one or two of his neighbors to agree, he actually found that six neighboring properties were happy with this arrangement. Many people would like to grow their own, but feel they don’t have the time. And this gardener found that people were more than willing to adopt this front-yard farming idea. One neighbor even wanted to join him and help to grow the food in return for learning more about the process."

The Supermarket Staff Who Grew Together on Their Lunch Break

Inspiring examples of gardeners getting together don't need to be large schemes that involve lots of people or large-scale projects.

I was inspired this year by a group of four supermarket workers in Maine who started a small container garden behind their store. They grew so well, sparing what time they could during breaks in the workday, that they grew enough not only for their own healthy lunches, but also to make salads and sandwiches for a number of their colleagues.

They also encouraged other workers to join in. Next year, eight of the staff members from the chain store will be working on their (expanded) little garden.

The Mothers Who Worked Together to Raise Children and Plants

mother holding baby and fresh carrots

Jessie Casson / Getty Images

Another small-scale story that I loved this year was that of three women from a mother-and-child group in Vermont who have set up a small co-operative offering free daycare services and plant therapy in their neighborhood. 

Struggling to find the time to look after their kids and grow their own food, they not only found a solution for themselves, but also managed to help out a few other parents in their neighborhood. In doing so, they provided a place of relaxation and companionship for some lonely elderly residents in the area.

The mothers raise children and plants, selling produce and young plug plants and compost to other gardeners in the area to cover basic costs. They take turns on daycare duty for a handful of children and tend the garden around their part-time jobs.

These stories, in my opinion, show just what can be achieved when people are proactive, take matters into their own hands, and work together to make their own lives—and the lives of those around them—just a little bit better.