Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
April, 2009
Regional Report

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Networking for support and celebrating the bounty are integral to Philadelphia's The Spring Gardens community garden in Fairmount.

Greening Up Without Obvious Gr$$$n

Your idea is exciting, hopeful, mutually beneficial -- creating, expanding, enhancing a community garden or neighborhood park. Don't let an empty pocketbook deter. Look around. Shake some hands, listen and share ideas, find common ground. Cultivate unusual resources.

"You can't do it alone," advised Melissa DeRuiter, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's senior director of development. And it's not all about money. At a Philadelphia Green Skills Conference early this year, DeRuiter discussed various creative solutions and savvy practices to sustain a vision, a project for the long haul.

Success lies in getting people involved in your idea, DeRuiter explained. "People give to people -- people will give what they can if they have faith in you and your vision, if they feel a connection."

Fundraising is one aspect. "Raising money is a lot like gardening," she said. Both involve "growing" relationships.

Support of all kinds -- financial, in-kind, volunteer -- encourages others to donate and participate. Acknowledge all support. In brochures, e-mails, and mailings, list small individual donations and donors as well as grants, large contributions and contributors. Publicize in-kind donations such as woodchips from an arborist, trash bags and brooms from the hardware store, beverages from the grocer, tools from Parks and Recreation. List volunteers names, all with their permission of course.

"Finding the right partners in your community" is another key component to success, DeRuiter said. Collaborate with nonprofits, schools, government agencies, and elected officials as well as individuals and businesses. Come from the position of enlisting help to create change and address a need, not being needy.

Be ready to overcome skeptics. When people say it can't be done, it usually means it has not been done BEFORE. Remind people of the positives. Detail the changes -- involving families, growing healthy food, having safer streets, beautifying the block -- you WILL be making together. Even better if you point out pluses that relate to the nay-sayers' interests.

Think Outside the Box
In Philadelphia, the Francisville Neighborhood Development Corp. has a win-win relationship with the Family Court. Through the probation officer, offenders doing community service sentences can be assigned park and garden maintenance work, explained Penelope Giles, FNDC director. What an opportunity -- creating new land stewards AND potential community project volunteers.

Organize small projects that encourage older folks and children to participate. Picking up litter and sweeping the sidewalk can bring people together in accomplishment yet not be exhausting.

Communicate Simply and Clearly
"Describe your project in simple terms," advised DeRuiter. "Stories are often the most eloquent, persuasive description. Once you have your story, you can communicate it."

Train your mind to look for potential, support-generating opportunities. Have a brief, concise "elevator" speech ready about your project for the next time you see your counsel person or business executive at the ball game.

For instant AND resounding impact, organize an event that combines fun with work. How about a Spring Garden Party to lay out planting beds, share lunch together, AND listen to the block's musicians jam? Here's a multifaceted opportunity to build relationships in your community, get your project noticed, and develop teamwork among neighbors and other people already involved.

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