Citizen gardening of public areas

What would happen if ...

What about if citizens occupied public green spaces (and took care of them)?  Could Nature help to decorate the city?

Tomatoes would replace geraniums in municipal planters, mini gardens would appear on sidewalks and in public parks. These plants, fruits and vegetables would be a common good ...

It is possible, you will find out how! And maybe you'll be inspired by these pioneers in our big cities.


Objectives of the Good practice 

  • Improvement of the soil (reduced desiccation, aerated soil, ...) and increase of biodiversity (biotope for insects).
  • Decoration of the urban district.
  • With not much money, the inhabitants can create a garden right in front of their house.

Objectives of the leader who implements this practice with his public

The creation and the maintenance of a shared garden (in a crowded square, on the sidewalks of a busy street or in the public planters of the City), represents a good metaphor of public space participatory management. It increases the sense of responsibility for the urban district.

Choosing to occupy a public space can generate collaboration with the local authority (and therefore have a greater impact in the long term), and can also raise questions among the residents and visitors of the town.

Through the activity of gardening we have activated a public space with free and open involvement, addressed to the entire neighborhood. Indeed, a garden requires continuous maintenance, the fact that these gardens are in open public spaces and that everybody can benefit from its vegetables, develops consciousness in the community of the possibility to act directly in the public space, modify it, take care of it by respecting its public function. In this way the public place becomes the place of each and everybody.

These open gardened spaces also become a medium for creating social cohesion. In a big city (which tends to be anonymous) inhabitants have a better chance to come in contact with their neighbors.

Objectives of Grundvig program « Adult education » which matches with the practice :

Education to sustainable development.

Active participation and citizenship (Citizen participation is at the heart of this practice because the planters were planted by the habitants and will be replanted and maintained by them. Also, it is the public space that has been selected to participate actively in the life of the city.)


List of equipment required for practice

1. Public spaces available, existing or additional.

Thus, the neighbourhood may also provide additional planters. These possible additional planters can also be recycled items (cans, wheelbarrows, etc..) or self-build (eg with pallets).

2. irrigation solutions: If there is no public irrigation nearby, residents in the area can offer their water. It is also possible that it is the local authority employees who are responsible for watering.

3. To publicise this activity, communication media may be necessary, for example: information panels installed in the gardened areas, or messages to people (blogs, postings...) to “challenge them” to garden the city and all communication media (internet, flyers, ...) to inform people of the initiative which is taking place.

List of equipment required for each participant

1. Gardening tools.

2. Seeds or plants.

3. Eventually (if self construction of planters), craft materials and building materials.



It is not always necessary to create a formal association or have designated officials. Decisions can be taken collectively by using new technologies to communicate: email, social networks. That’s the way it worked for “the open space”, the garden in a public park led by the Italian urban garden (see contacts section).

However, creating a legal resident association will be required if the local authority requires, for example, signed agreements. Thus, the experience of sponsoring planters on the public space conducted in Berlin (see contacts section).

Knowledge (direct or indirect) in gardening and garden design are preferable, but it is not essential for all participants to be experts (a few of them is enough, others will learn by doing).


1. Choice and preparation of the garden:

  • Making contact with the local authority to act together.
  • Selection of the appropriate open public space to be gardened (these spaces can be either public planters, public square, tree pits, and any open public space such as, why not, a roundabout!).
  • Contract with the borough office (not necessary but recommended) to ensure the agreement and define the conditions (kind of plants allowed or forbidden, who provides water, soil, plants, more planters…).

2. Creation of the garden:

Choice of the date to organize the collective open day for creating this “garden”. Publicise a date in the neighborhood, for example by internet and flyers (these are means of communication that can reach many people, also people interested in doing a garden). It is possible that nobody will come, but it also possible that 10-15 people come and among them, for sure, there are some who could be very interested.

3. Think about the length of the garden:

Take some precautions in order to create a long-lasting urban garden in a public open space, such as bringing organic material to a park with a not very fertile soil.

Protect the garden from dogs by putting up a net and put up paper signs with simple instructions on how to take care of the garden. People who pass by or who live there may wish to try gardening in that open space or at least they will respect the garden.

Search for organic methods in order to fertilize the soil: dung, natural fertilizers or a bed of cardboard.

4. Start recognize the garden:

When it is time to pick the vegetables, it is possible to organize a small neighborhood party where vegetables are offered to the people.

Moreover the practice of putting up signs with instructions about taking care of the garden gives knowledge to people on how to garden and how to take care of the urban garden, passing on the idea for the common good.

To go further - further recommendations and good practices

Discuss with other groups who have had similar experiences.

Involve schools, recreation centers.

Conduct research on the experiment, evaluate, improve knowledge.

Associate this good practice to other ones which may be very complementary: a brunch in the garden ; make seed bombs; create gardens without ground...



Objectives and indicators:

1. Citizen involvement and creation of social links

Positive indicators: number of places invested, number of participants acting on the public space, supporters, involvement of residents in addition to the initial participants.

2. Awareness of the "public good" and respect

Positive indicators: keeping open the gardened areas, sharing (produce is available to all, plants can be given).

Negative indicators: vandalism or neglect.

3. Quality planting

Positive indicators: availability of different plantations, lack of prohibited plants, hazardous or inappropriate aesthetics of these areas.

Negative indicators: poor plant health, neglected plants, poorly maintained spaces.

4. Sustainable development practices

Positive indicators: ecological cultivation practices (compliance soil and biodiversity), reflection on SD applied to the production of food and nutrition.


Variation in the implementation :

The inhabitants are challenged by an anonymous gardener

A garden in France tried this good practice with a humoristic variation during the implementation. Here is the story of the implementation. To start the process, we created a small imaginary character ... His name is Hidden Planter! It occurs at night, in Planter’s public spaces he sows the seeds and plants vegetables, leaving a message to children and adults of the village. The “Hidden Planter” provokes people and invites them to take revenge and plant for themselves vegetables for their own consumption in the city.

Gardeners have made this character alive: letters to students at the school, Mayor's letter on the website of the city, posters, stencils, signs.... Gardeners conducted workshops planting in the street with the school, leisure center, traders, associations, adults... This action brought about the introduction of edible planters in the village streets, these planters are managed by the inhabitants in cooperation with the community: everybody, sprinkles and harvests: that is the rule of the game.

Other variations

A fairly close action is entitled "Incredible Edible" (cf. section “Links”). The nuance is that people invest (at least initially) in spaces that do not belong to the municipality. Planters and plantations are located on the edges of windows, thresholds of houses, private (but open) gardens, private (but accessible) sidewalks. Signs promoting "free food to share" inform passersby that everything that grows there is offered and available to all.

People can also re-vegetate the public space in city gardening directly on the sidewalks : no need for planters or tree pits!