We need to see more sustainable native landscaping in public spaces. Sustainable practices should be the standard in community gardens, pocket parks, churches, school gardens, greenways, cemeteries, and corporate campuses. If each of us adopted a public space to steward, we could influence a far larger segment of the population and make native gardening main stream.
Step by step how to install a public garden
When undertaking to create a garden in a public space we all want to dive right in and get some plants in the ground. However, before starting I wish more people would stop to ask some very important questions about the site.
Questions to ask:
What is the budget? Who is paying for each item? Who is applying for grants?
Who is maintaining the garden forever? Are their maintenance staff or a volunteer group? How much training do they need to do proper maintenance?
How many staff are on board? Are the people who will be using and maintaining the space all in agreement that this is what they want?
What signs will there be? How will visitors be educated about the garden?
What is the installation timeline? Is this a spring or fall planting? Does the installation need to be split into stages?
How will the garden be protected? Who is picking up litter? Will the garden be spared any future development? Is there a maintenance budget?
How will the garden be used? Will the visitors be returning often or infrequently? Does the garden need features like picnic tables, play space, bike lanes, etc? Should the garden be wheelchair accessible or is there any other accessibility requests?
Sharing the above questions with the project leader before the initial site visit can help them be prepared for the visit with answers ready.
At the site note soil moisture, irrigation options, shade patterns throughout the day, foot traffic through the site, area to be planted, hardscapes, possibility of garden features like benches, views from inside the building, emergency access needs, where mulch can be delivered, dangerous areas, and any specific plant requests. Take lots of pictures from every angle. Ask for a site map that is to scale.
Draw up a landscape design that incorporate as many sustainable features as possible. The designed garden should also be easy to maintain. Plant lists can include information about where to get the plants. Including images of the mature plants can help the maintenance team become familiar with the plants. Write up short and long term maintenance plans. Maintenance plans can be copied from other projects or tailored to each site’s unique needs. Create a budget and get approval on the plan.
Public garden installation day is usually a big to do. Invite everyone who is in any way involved to come help with installation. Especially, get the maintenance team involved in the installation. Sometimes having a big crowd of native garden novices can make a project take even longer, but everyone with dirty hands at the end of the day will be one more person who will care about the garden.
Education at site
Signs in the garden help a lot with educating the public about what is going on in a garden. If a garden is used by a regular group, like at a school, an educational activity or presentation would be useful. Informational messages may also be sent out to staff with garden updates. Beginning education before the garden is installed can increase enthusiasm and decrease surprises.
Set up times for maintenance inspections throughout the first year. This inspection is not a time to do maintenance but rather to walk around the garden with the maintenance team and identify any maintenance problems that need to be addressed. Sometimes I find making weed bouquets during a maintenance inspection to be helpful as a memory aid. Ask the head of maintenance to be ready to take notes on inspection days.