Community Gardens and Libraries: A Perfect Pairing

Library lawns are growing in popularity as sites for community garden projects

Libraries are often lucky enough to have a free plot of land to bring garden programming to their community. We will explore what it takes for a library to begin a community garden and some examples of successful community gardens already in place.

The modern world has created a divide between people and nature. Increasingly, people don't know how or where their food originates. Many people feel disconnected from the natural world, and some have never planted a garden.

But as author Michael Pollan puts it, "the garden suggests there might be a place where we can meet nature halfway." A community garden can introduce people to nature, plants, and growing food in an approachable way. Engaging with a garden can teach people about the interconnected world and provide a rewarding experience and skillset.

Libraries are often lucky enough to have a free plot of land to bring garden programming to their community. We will explore what it takes for a library to begin a community garden and some examples of successful community gardens already in place.

Starting a Garden

A community garden is a piece of land cultivated by a group of people, either individually or collectively. These gardens are commonly found in urban settings, but similar ideas exist in rural communities.

Libraries offer an excellent setting for a community garden. They already provide books and classes on gardening, so they are a perfect location to experiment with those ideas.

A community garden can range widely in size and scope, depending on the land and resources available by a given library. Gardeners can cultivate even a few square feet into an educational opportunity for the community. Participants can construct a full-scale community garden if a library has more room to spare.

Constructing a garden might be intimidating to some, but even someone with no prior experience can make it happen with the community's help. Businesses and community members will often donate their time, tools, and labor to help bring a community garden to life. By reaching out to the right people, a single library staff member or community member can organize the implementation of a multi-bed community garden.

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Bring Gardening to Your Community

Even without a full-fledged community garden, you can still bring the joy of gardening to your community. Many libraries run on limited space and may not have a dedicated area for a community garden.

Seed exchanges are an excellent way to bring the community together through gardening. At the beginning of the growing season, residents can come together to trade, sell, or give away seeds to their neighbors.

Seed libraries are a common library resource. Community members can donate extra seeds, or the library can acquire funding to procure a collection of seeds. When residents want to try a new plant variety, or if a first-time gardener needs a starting set of seeds, the seed library is there to provide them.

After "checking out" the seeds, the gardeners are encouraged to replenish the seed library as their plants produce more. This should keep the seed library perpetually stocked at little to no monetary cost.

Workshops and classes are the most direct way to educate your community about the joys of gardening. Libraries may be able to partner with their local cooperative extension office to obtain a master gardener that can teach classes. Still, any knowledgeable community member could serve as a teacher. Typical class and workshop topics include:

  • Gardening in Small Spaces: The Square-Foot Garden
  • Growing Plants with Hydroponics
  • How to Grow Your Food on a Limited Budget


Librarians or community members can implement most of these programs for little to no cost. In many communities, volunteers may be happy to perform the initial labor necessary in starting a community garden.

Libraries can connect with a local high school or college for ongoing upkeep. In exchange for using the library grounds for educational opportunities, the students can keep up with the garden maintenance. Or, for a small garden, an interested staff member or volunteer can perform the upkeep.

A call for seed donations can make setting up a seed library practically free! And as mentioned, a local cooperative extension office can assist with setting up classes or workshops.

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Community Gardens in Action

Over 200 libraries around the country have implemented hands-on gardening programs. They range from educational gardens to massive plots given to community members on a first-come, first-serve basis. Many of these gardens were started by the ingenuity and dedication of just one library staff member or community member working in tandem with their local library. By calling on volunteers, universities, and businesses in their local community, these garden programs could get off the ground without much participation from the library.

In Rindge, New Hampshire, the Ingalls Memorial Library successfully started a Teen Garden for their small town. Donations from local businesses made the project possible. They received the wood for raised beds from a local hardware store, the soil from a landscaping company, and a trustee's herbs and starter plants. At no cost to themselves, the library was able to have a positive impact on countless teens in their community.

The Salt Lake City Library is home to The Plot, a community garden that consists of 18 raised beds, each of which contains 32 square feet of space. They also operate a seed library that serves nearby libraries.

The Miami Public Library operates a community garden on its property. They work in the garden with the help of children from the Boys & Girls Club. This provides an educational experience for the kids, and the library can use the produce for cooking classes.

With a bit of creativity, perseverance, and help from your library, you can bring the wonders of gardening to your community.