Gardens are inherently living, breathing entities filled with vibrant life. Why, then, do some of them feel like please-don't-touch museums? If your school or community garden is starting to feel this way, there's a chance you may have beaten the fun out of your garden (or never built it in in the first place). Hint: if you haven't heard laughter in awhile or, frankly, no one is ever even out there enjoying the garden, then you may be a quart low on fun. Here are some ways to put some smiles in the aisles.
1. Loosen up. If you've gotten a bit hung up on perfect (perfect beds, perfect rows, perfect image), then you may not have left some room on the edges for creativity, and the kinds of people (of all ages) who like to cut loose a little may frankly not feel comfortable. Now, by loosen up I don't mean it needs to be a free-for-all, but perhaps encouraging more open-ended, non-master-planned experimentation will get the creative juices--and people--flowing again. Make sure you truly welcome children as well. Wide paths so they can run a bit, butterfly nets, a place to dig, and kid-sized tools (we have them at our store and online) all send the message that this is a fun, welcoming place.
2. Add some art. Art punctuates gardens in unique and exciting ways, personalizes them in ways that show age and cultural diversity, and provokes conversation and connections that build community. Art is very subjective, however, and one person's tacky is another person's terrific. If you put the call out for art, get ready to suspend judgment (except for some public decency standards) and brace yourself to accept some elements in the garden that you may not personally like. Oh, and, by the way, don't just think about children's art when you think of school gardens. Art might be a way to include the hand of grandparents as well, especially if they live long-distance or are not physically able to help in the garden.
3. Get creative with your gatherings. If your workdays and garden chore assignments are starting to feel ho hum and boring, try high-energy teams and challenges (and wholeheartedly embrace the people who step forward to lead these kinds of things), and stay upbeat in your communications. Why simply help harvest lettuce when you can have a Halloween be-heading? (Admittedly, this is a bit gory-sounding, so use good judgment.) Why not bury some hidden treasures for when you ask folks to come help dig holes for fence posts? Why host a basic potluck when you can throw a Fashion Show Fiesta ("wear your favorite greens") right there in the garden?
Swing by my store on Briarcliff Road in LaVista and check out our gardens in the back. We play with the chickens during work breaks, and we sometimes host small gathering backs there, complete with a bonfire and a drumming circle. We also continually add new features and experiments, like the mailbox garden and the gourd tunnel this summer, which just about everyone posed under at one point or another (such as my wife, son, and I, pictured above). In short, we try to keep it fun, and that helps it feel even more alive. Which is, of course, only natural for a garden.
Dig in to our website for more tips, and let us know on Facebook how things are growing for you.