Our Mission:

The Rock Prairie Master Gardener Association, located in Rock County, Wisconsin, is the 42nd association of the Wisconsin Master Gardener Program.

This blog is used to distribute timely information to association members regarding volunteer opportunities, MGV highlights, and other social tid bits.

Horticulture related information is to be directed to the Horticulture Educator or the Plant Health Advisors.

This blog is not for garden related questions.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Garden sharing - a movement gaining momentum

All of us have heard of community gardens - many of us have been involved with them. The community garden movement has swept the country, giving gardeners a place to grow their crops, and promoting a sense of community.

Garden Sharing is a relatively new concept that has grown legs and is racing across the country. It, too, promotes a sense of community and provides gardeners a safe, secure place where they can grow their vegetables.

Garden Sharing is like community gardening - but much more personal. The backbone of the movement are the people next door, across the street, or down the block. Your neighbors. What could be more simple?

There are usually just two parties to each shared garden - although there can be more.
  1. The homeowner who has ample space and equipment with which to grow a garden and really wants to but for one reason or another lacks the time,
  2. the gardener who wants to grow a garden but lacks the space (and/or) the equipment.
Make a plan - As in every human endeavor there will be expectations on both sides. Meet. Talk. Share those expectations. This will prevent potential conflicts or legal problems down the road. Make lists, if that helps you think, and make sure everyone understands everything at every step in the planning process. Below is a list that may help you with your plan.
  • If the garden is gated and locked, who will have keys?
  • During what hours can you work in the garden?
  • What will you grow?
  • Who gets to eat the produce?
  • What should the garden look like and what will make it aesthetically pleasing?
  • Will the garden require construction of raised beds and/or trellises. If so, who pays to build them and fill them with soil?
  • If plant debris is to be composted who is responsible for the compost bin?
  • May you bring friends to work in the garden with you?
  • Who will care for the garden when you are away?
  • What happens if the garden is neglected?
  • Where will gardening supplies be stored?
  • Who pays for the water and soil amendments?
  • Will the garden be organic or can certain chemicals be used?

Project duration

When you begin sharing, it’s also important to know in advance how you will stop sharing. Here are some questions to discuss:

  • Will the arrangement be indefinite, for a defined period, or will you agree to reassess after the first season?
  • Under what circumstances might you or your neighbor want to end the arrangement and how much notice must you give?
  • Will you restore the yard to its original state if you end the arrangement? If you construct raised beds and bring in soil, will you leave those or take them with you?

Risk and Liability

Homeowners may be concerned about liability when they invite others onto their property. It’s critical for you and your neighbor to discuss how you can reduce the risk that someone will be injured.

List ways someone could get injured (everything from stepping on a rake to being struck by a falling branch) and strategize about prevention. Discuss who you want to be liable in the event that someone is injured. Your state’s recreational use statute might protect your neighbor from liability, though it’s not clear whether such laws would apply to all garden-sharing arrangements.

Your neighbor may want you to sign a liability waiver agreeing that you will not sue them. Or, to the extent that your neighbor feels they are benefiting from your gardening activity, they may be happy to take the risk and rely on the likelihood that their homeowners insurance will cover the cost of a gardening-related injury.

Potential Legal Barriers

The primary legal barrier to your plan may be laws or covenants against growing vegetables in the front yard—unfortunately, some city landscaping ordinances or homeowners associations (HOA) try to prevent the appearance of blight and overgrowth by requiring you to have low-lying ground-cover or neatly trimmed shrubs.

To find out whether you are subject to such a regulation, you can check your city’s landscape ordinance or call your city. You can also take a look at the rules governing the use of your neighbor’s property, often found in a document called the Declaration of the Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs).

Another way to find out is to plant the vegetables, then wait and see if the city or HOA can be bothered to ask you to remove them. This approach comes with some risk—some cities have threatened to fine residents up to $1,000 for landscaping violations that go uncorrected, and HOAs can do the same. It’s unlikely, but still possible.

If your city or HOA does have such a rule and insists on enforcing it, perhaps you could organize a “Give Peas a Chance” campaign and advocate to have the rule changed, like residents of Sacramento did.

Such rules are archaic and predate our society’s growing awareness of problems such as farmland depletion, the carbon footprint of industrial agriculture, and other concerns about food security. People everywhere have decided to grow food, not lawns!


If you are thinking about selling the vegetables you grow, there is a long list of other legal issues to research. It’s not impossible, but it will open a legal and regulatory can of worms for both you and your neighbor. Best to keep the arrangement simple, so that the only can of worms you have to open is your compost bin.

A growing trend

Garden sharing is rapidly becoming more popular in the US with the recent emergence of the Edible Estates movement (edible front yards not lawns), projects like the neighborhood gardens that are part of the Vermont Community Garden Network, as well as the UK where groups like Food Up Front and GroFun (Growing Real Organic Food in Urban Neighbourhoods) have been gaining ground. Be a force for change. Start a shared garden in your back yard.

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