By Emily Martyn
When listening to people’s concerns about your proposed garden it’s very important to stay calm and respectful as best you can. Hearing someone criticize your idea for what may seem to be unimportant reasons can often make you feel under attack. However, the focus should always be on building consensus. Ask for suggestions of how the idea could be adapted to suit their concerns rather than going on the defensive, making fun, or becoming condescending. If it is clear that the person critiquing your plan is not willing to be flexible, let them know that the garden committee will discuss their concerns and that you will agree upon a way to address them. It doesn’t happen very often, however, if you face a particularly aggressive group, it might be worth stating at the outset that personal attacks and aggressive behavior (shouting, name calling) are not permitted in the discussion.
They attract rodents
Emphasize that it’s important to you as well that the garden is a clean and safe place to visit.
Rodents are attracted to spaces where they can find food, water and shelter. You will prevent them through good planning. The set of rules that all gardeners will agree to should say that all produce will be harvested in a timely fashion, standing water will not be allowed, and dense plant growth will be kept to a minimum.
If you will be composting in your garden, poorly tended compost bins can also attract rodents. Tell community members worried about rats that your composters will be lined with wire mesh to keep rats out and rules for good compost management will also be included in the guidelines.
If compost turns out to be a real deal breaker for your community or housing provider, consider starting your garden without compost for the first season, until they have been convinced that you will maintain it. Or you could consider composting with worms, a method which is less likely to attract rodents.
If other rodents (i.e. squirrels) are a problem, agree to have a community brainstorm about ideas for protection, but agree that squirrels are not a reason not to have a garden.
They are an eyesore
Gather pictures of beautiful and well organized community gardens. Share them with your community and tell them that you want their input on how the garden looks so that it is a place everyone can enjoy.
To prevent the garden from looking run down if people don’t care for their plants, suggest a rule in the garden guidelines to address this. For example: gardeners must maintain communal spaces and tend to their own plot at least every 2 weeks or they will receive a warning and may not be invited to participate in the garden again the following year.
Suggest planting a floral border around the garden so that flowerbeds will be the first thing passerby see. Invite some of the people resistant to the garden to participate in the upkeep of these floral beds
They increase loitering and crime
Collect information to promote the social and health benefits of the garden – group gatherings, relaxing space, and “weeding workouts”.
Gardens have actually been found to reduce crime, as they foster a sense of mutual respect among community members, lead to the formation of neighbourhood associations, and increase the number of eyes on the street. A space with gardeners, children and residents passing through it at all times of day is much less likely to have criminal activity than an underused area.
If you have Community Police in your area, you can offer to connect with them to have them help patrol the area in the evenings. If crime is a real concern, consider having your garden in a well-lit area with a locking fence surrounding it, though this may reduce the community engagement in the site.
If a particular group of individuals is focused upon in resistance to the garden, pull together partners to develop an advocacy plan.
We’re using that space for something else
This complaint can best be addressed by careful planning. Have as many people as possible at site planning meetings to ensure the garden site will not conflict with dog walkers, sports or children’s play.
If people are resistant to give up any space for the garden, appeal to their sense of goodwill by agreeing to have one garden bed that is growing food for donation to a local food bank or charity.
Gardens are too exclusive and elitist
Share information about the process of getting a garden bed and emphasize that it is open to anyone in the community who is interested.
Include images of gardeners that reflect your community in the garden pictures you display. This will further help to deepen the idea that the garden will be a place everyone can enjoy together.
Ask for suggestions about how it can be a dynamic community space, perhaps by including a sitting area, fire pit, kid’s space or other amenities the community can enjoy together