Roughly 374 kilometres south of Sydney, close to Twofold Bay, is the Garden of Eden.   St. George’s Uniting Church set up the native garden in 2006 to enrich the community life in Eden NSW, a coastal town famous for its once legendary pod of killer whales. Today Eden is home not only to a thriving whale watching industry but also to an award-winning community garden where locals grow organic produce, attend permaculture workshops and hold movie nights. Neighbouring towns have taken notice of the Garden of Eden’s success, inspiring them to cultivate their own patch of paradise in the Bega Valley Shire.

“Good community gardens have strong community connections,” says Jessica Morthope, Director of the Five Leaf Eco-Awards that bestowed four prizes on the Garden of Eden in 2010. Morthope, who studied Zoology, Biology and Marketing at the Australian National University, also works as a Consultant at the Uniting Earth Ministry. She advises churches all around Australia on how to start a community garden.

According to Morthope, it’s surprising how community gardens differ from one another depending on the locality that they reflect.  “So it’s really useful to go and see them and talk to them,” she says.  “Find out what was good, what was hard in their particular context and learn from all of that so you don’t necessarily have to make all of the mistakes yourself.”

Morthope reveals these five secrets to setting up a successful community garden:

1.  CHOOSE A LOCATION THAT’S AS VISIBLE TO THE PUBLIC AS POSSIBLE.  Everybody who walks past a garden that’s right on the road will know straight away that it exists and can quite easily find out what’s happening and how to get involved.

2.  CONNECT WITH THE COMMUNITY. “You need to think about what your target community is and how best to reach them.” In Western Australia, the Swan View Community Garden helps provide nutritious meals to disadvantaged families in the area by donating its produce to the Salvation Army Foodbank.  It has also provided a garden venue to a speech and motor skills therapy project for children.

3.  ESTABLISH RULES AND EXPECTATIONS OF BEHAVIOUR. Making sure that everyone involved in the community garden understands expectations of behaviour is important. “It will help you to prevent conflicts by having all of that clear as soon as possible,” Morthope explains.

4.  BRING DIFFERENT ELEMENTS TO THE GARDEN. How about a pizza oven or perhaps a children’s playground?  The Port Melbourne Uniting Church in Victoria runs a number of activities in its community garden, including seasonal gardening for preschool families on Wednesdays during school terms and social cooking using garden produce every second Friday.

5.  ENCOURAGE BIODIVERSITY. Little native beehives, for instance, can assist with pollination, allowing you to get even more produce from your community garden.

All images of Jessica Morthorpe in the Quakers Hill Community Garden, courtesy of Lyra Villafana