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How To Start A Community Garden

A few days ago I was walking past a vacant lot near my home and remembering the "bird lady" that lived on the lot when I was a kid. On the now empty lot sat a large and imposing 3 story house that I can only describe as a poor man's Victorian.

It had some of the same details and shapes of a Victorian home but it never quite had the charm of a Victorian. It was covered in dark green shingles, always in need of a paint job and appeared to always be ready to collapse. In it lived a little old lady who was the subject of a lot of gossip and rumors created by the neighborhood kids. Most of which resulted from the fact that she would sit in her window and stare out into the distance for hours. It didn't help that her roof was home to a massive amount of pigeons that she fed daily. There were so many that they would cast a large shadow as they flew around and around the house startled at the slightest noise.

A few years ago the "bird lady" passed away and her house was demolished and nothing was ever done with the lot and it's just been empty and a place where dog walkers take their dogs on their nightly strolls. Last year I was dog sitting and took the dog out to the lot for a walk, while the dog was doing it's thing I stood near where I remember the side entrance to the house was.

As I stood there I closed my eyes and tried to remember what the house looked like and specifically tried to remember if the bird lady ever had a garden. I remembered that she had hollyhocks and a lot of green plants that I can't place, perhaps hostas? Anyway I definitely remembered the hollyhocks because they attracted a lot of bees and you'd have to swat at them or crouch and run if you were walking along the sidewalk near that house. Last spring I sowed hollyhock seeds in my garden in memory of bird lady. A few days ago when I was passing by the empty lot I saw my Alderman was out campaigning for re-election and he was walking past the empty lot and it hit me:

"What we need on that lot is a community garden!"

I didn't approach my Alderman then because I knew that he would be making his way to my house soon to ask for my vote so I ran home and collected my thoughts and I was more than ready to make my case when he and his entourage knocked on my door.

I let them go through their routine of how he was up for re-election and how for the first time he had some real opposition and how he'd done so much for the community-yadda, yadda, yadda. I made it pretty clear that my support would be dependent on the development of the empty lot into a green space for the community. I know that politicians promise us a lot and often don't deliver but I think I've found my pet cause for the spring. I've already been doing some research with the help of Google and have found some good information on that details the steps to undertake to get a community garden started and maintained. For example they recommend:

Step 1. Organize
Step 2. Decide on the Garden Goals
Step 3. Survey the Site
Step 4. Research and Gather the Resources
Step 5. Design the Garden
Step 6. Plan the Work to get the Project Started
Step 7. Dig In!

I was surprised to learn on this website that Chicago has free plant distribution days for community gardens and the amount of resources out there for information and funding-I guess this is where our tax dollars go. Who knew? Check out the Open Lands website if you're in Chicago and would like to start a community garden or to get ideas on who to contact in your area to get one started.

If you've already done something like this and you have any advice or tips on things I should do or people who I should contact feel free to leave a comment on this blog entry. I'll post again when I have an update on how this is going.

On my other blog I have an entry on a terrarium created by Ania Mitros using an old Mac. I came across her website a while back while researching information to get a terrarium started and book marked her site. The recent popularity of the new Mac ad campaign sent me searching for that bookmark and I e-mailed Ania and asked if she wouldn't mind answering a few questions about her terrarium. You can see the blog entry at this link. Check out the pictures and see if you're inspired to do something similar.


  1. I love that you planted hollyhocks last year in memory of the bird lady. :) And I can't wait to read more about your spring project!

  2. Yeah, it was a bit of a compromise with planting something she had with planting something I'd like. So I went with black hollyhocks. If my memory serves me she had cottage colors and I remember calling them "old lady flowers" when I was a kid. I think the "black" will help balance out the "old lady" feel of hollyhocks though.



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