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Do you know what Garden Bones are when creating a great Community Garden?

Our community is putting in a demonstration community garden to encourage people to grow food. Well, the first thing off the top of my head was “make it beautiful.” Yep, make the garden so beautiful people will be inspired to start growing more edibles. The old days of putting a kitchen garden at the back of the lot is not the way to grow food in urban areas.

We lack space and want to hang out in our gardens, so we have to MIX it up and get a bit creative.Make our kitchen gardens part of our landscape! Why can’t they just BE the landscape in our cities?

How does one do that?

Start with Garden Bones!

There is no “one” way, but there is certain Garden Bones that need to be present. I have found over the years, if I had to pick one person to help me design a great edible community garden it would be “Rosalind Creasy” the Queen of Edible landscaping!

Rosalind Creasy

“As far back as 1970, Rosalind Creasy was a pioneer in the field of edible landscaping. Her work has since revolutionized the way that many of us think about gardening. Cooking from the garden, eating organic, and eating fresh are all possible and not as hard as you might think.

Rosalind Creasy has been doing this for at least 40 yrs!!

Way before all these urban “coined” terms were up and running, she was ahead of the times with growing food on city lots in the 70’s. Shoot she was doing this before I even finished high school and owned a city lot to attempt edible landscaping!She knows a lot more than I do + I am grateful to her for setting the foundation for some of the stuff that I do on my small city lot. I have found her books very helpful, but I live in zone 5. Our growing area faces harsh  winters,which means,I have had to learn how to create my own approach.

On her web site, you can see some of Rosalind’s best tips on making the most of your home garden, along with various recipes and advice.

Rosalind’s new book, Edible Landscaping, was published in November of 2010 and is now in its fourth printing.

Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy

Everyone knows; I am not a purist, but this lady hit it “spot on” when it comes to edible landscapes. We don’t have a lot of space in the city, so we have to “integrate” our food growing among our other plants and make it attractive. I use my WHOLE yard to grow food. Her books are a wealth of knowledge, but she does live in paradise-California. They can grow food year round without worrying about snow!

Have you seen the entry way to her home in California?

Photo by Rosiland Creasy Entrance to her Garden..I want to go in that garden, don’t you?

Her story of how she changed her city lot into an “edible landscape” is inspiring  to those of us trying to grow more food on our city lots.Read more about her city garden(here)

If you look at Rosiland Creasy’s Edible Garden it has “GOOD BONES” and that is what makes it so beautiful. What are good Garden bones?

” the key to a successful landscape design isn’t the greenery that catches your eye. It’s the unchanging structural framework that organizes and supports those flowers and shrubs—what are known as the “bones” of a garden. Some of these may be natural—large trees, stone outcroppings, or a pond, for instance. But it’s the constructed, architectural elements—such as walls, fences, patios, pools, pathways, and arbors—that really add definition to an outdoor space and make it useful for everyday activities” 

So what about an edible urban garden or designing a demonstration community garden? It needs Good Bones, but they may not be the same as those that you would put in a traditional landscape. An Edible landscape incorporates as many food growing plants as possible on a city lot. The goal is to try and pick those food plants that your family/neighbors /community enjoy eating. Each person will have “likes” and “dislikes” so the idea of a community demonstration garden would be to introduce those that a local homeowner would find useful to grow on their city lot.

If you want to “inspire” people to grow food than you have to make it BEAUTIFUL! Over the years, I have found certain Edible Garden Bones that help make your food growing attractive to your neighbors and family. Here are some that I have found helpful…



Rosalind Creasy Garden Citrus growing on arbor trellis over path leading to secret garden.

The first element a Community Garden site needs is an entrance. I would select a material and stay with it throughout the site. If it were a large site, I would consider more than one entrance. It all depends on the sidewalks or walking areas around the urban location. Let’s say the community garden demonstration site was one big rectangle surrounded by sidewalks, well, I would have three different entrances to show different ways to landscape a front yard or entry to an edible garden.

An arbor may be as simple as 3 pieces of wood or….

Formal with brick paths and edible bushes at the entry (these are not edible in the photo)….Maybe lower bushes if you want to be able to see into the garden but not at ground level….I would replace traditional boxwood with blueberry bushes. Now that would be beautiful in the spring with flowers + in the  fall with red leaves.

I could see a community holding a contest to find an artist to create several arbors out of metal! WOW! I sure like this one.

I believe the key would be to have inviting entries to the garden that people would be able to walk through…Possible vines growing on the arbors that are neatly kept each season.

The key is beautiful + inviting

Midwest folks have to start growing edible landscapes of their own! This arbor is simple and inviting. I would use edible bushes on both sides of this arbor.

This photo was taken from “Art of an Entrance” (read more here)

Since this is an urban edible community garden, it needs to have “edibles” in place of these non-natives. The key is to provide an element of mystery at an entrance. You don’t ever want them to see your whole garden when they walk through the door. That is good design. Leave a bit of a mystery, and you will encourage them to return every time. Who said growing food should not have an element of discovery???

2) Paths

You need to mark out your paths and decide where people will walk…..where will your areas be, how will it be divided. It all depends on what you want to grow and showing people how to create paths with recyclable materials is a great way to encourage people not to dump their waste in land fills. The key is to be consistent and use the same materials or ones that work together…

natural garden paths using recycled materials from other sites??


using the materials artistically can be fun!

concrete from other sites….. They don’ t have to match and sometimes you can find seconds locally. Who says pavers have to be the same size?

I tend to like the idea of wood chip paths since you would always have an abundance of woodchips from the city + they are good for the soil. Easy to keep the space neat and free of clutter.

3) Raised Beds 

A site needs to appear neat since it will be visible to the public, I would utilize raised beds. I am a bit tired of seeing wood boxes as the only alternative for raised beds. Raised beds are anything off the ground. They can be 6 inches or up to your waist on legs! You are growing above ground-seems like a lot of possibilities??????

raised beds can be edged with many types of materials…

Raised beds are great for food growing on city lots. Our soil is not often the best so creating raised beds throughout the community garden would be a great way to show how people would be able to grow food on their city lot and amend the soil.

organic gardening edible landscaping permaculture

There is a great video on creating swales on a site. Due to lack of access to water at a community garden might need to learn how to include raised beds with swales ….would be useful!

(read more here and watch their video on creating a swale to catch water) Now this is one way to get a site going and  harvest water. This would help keep water on the site when it rains!

DIY Projects For Your Home-InspireLifeTime (26)

Old city bricks for raised beds can be used creatively with designs since no one said a raised bed has to be square! I prefer curved lines in gardens since they are more relaxing. I believe it would be interesting to step outside the box and show raised beds “do not” have to be square, 4 x 4  and made of wood.

concrete reused for raised beds

the possibilities with curves is endless + just as long as you can reach across the bed to garden!

Interesting use of metal for raised bed in one city lot…

4)  Perennial Plants for Good Bones 

Structure when growing season is over or before it begins each season

a) Edible bushes

b) Dwarf Fruit Trees ( I would utilize dwarf since most city lots are unable to have full-grown trees

c) perennial vegetables

espaliered fruit tree

Espalier Fruit Trees for Potager Gardens- this is something , I would incorporate and love to learn from someone else in our community!

5) Gathering Place /Socializing Area

There needs to be a gathering place in an urban community garden….or any edible garden. You have to eat!

A place where workshops /lectures could take place possibly by local Master Gardeners or local Gardeners? A place for workers to hang out and rest on work days. Possibly you would have more than one area to gather or socialize during work days….

A Community Garden needs to be a place where people love to gather, learn and grow food. A place that invites you in and a place you want to stay…..Good Garden Bones will make this happen. For more reading on how to create an edible landscape/urban community garden for growing more food (read here)


Laying the path for a great Community Garden was done here in New York back in the 70’s….

“We are now witnessing an amazing convergence between the 1970s-era urban community garden movement pioneered by Liz Christy (read  more here about community garden movement) in New York and Alice Waters (read more about Alice here)’pioneering and influential fresh food efforts in the San Francisco Bay Area”

Great ideas never die they  just reinvent themselves-don’ t you think?

56 replies »

    • LOL + you have a fresh canvas to work with this year! I can’t wait to see what you have been doing in your space-bet you are warm down there!

      • It’s already “sweat by noon” weather. Thankfully it’s not yet “sweat by 8am”! It staying light later allows for weekday evening garden time after kiddo bedtime, so I’m making progress!

      • WOW! Global warming must be happening-they are saying our Wednesday could be near 70! How in the world will I get spring lettuce…I am having to change my growing scheme these last few years..rethink how I do things:-)

      • I’m not getting any lettuce this year. The pill bugs ate all the sprouts and it’s too late in the season to sow more. I also didn’t make room early enough for beans. I may try and sneak some in still, but we’ll see.
        I did pick up some wave petunias and thought of you!

      • I love petunias- I love the fragrant ones in the evening when I am enjoying the garden + that perfume smell-AMAZING!!! Just fills the whole garden. I have a tray of heirloom petunias growing under lights for fragrance and they do reseed nicely in my yard, but I have to move some this year. I sure hope I get some lettuce-spring without lettuce:-( too sad-but…it is spring and no snow!

      • Try that “Jericho Lettuce” it stands up to the heat in my garden all summer-we get some horrible, humid hot summers. It never tastes bitter either. I am starting some now in hope that it will hold up to the heat again. It is pretty-too!

  1. Beautiful post, Robbie! So glad to hear that you’re part of a new community garden. You’ve mentioned in the past that you wanted to organize with like-minded gardeners and now you are doing it! I’m sure you will be a great inspiration for them. You’re a pro at edible gardening! 🙂

  2. Ah Ha! Now I understand why I find so many community gardens unattractive; the beautiful aspect has been neglected.Love your idea for blueberry borders. I have cranberry (chilean guava borders but blueberry ones would be just as good.

  3. Thoughtful post Robbie, jam packed with lovely ideas, I really like the community meeting table near the end, I can imagine some very interesting conversations sat around that table.

    • Thank you:-) Julie-you are so right there would be great conversations around a table in a community garden! It needs to be a big table for everyone must be included:-) + sharing food-perfect community garden:-)

  4. What a fascinating and inspiring post packed full of ideas I love those wavy, metal raised beds.
    We have a garden writer in this country called Alys Fowler whose book The Edible Garden would poobably appeal to you. I heard her talk recently and she was inspirational.
    Keep up the good work Robbie!

    • Hi Chloris:-) It may be near 70 on Wednesday-we go from below zero to almost 70 in one week. I am struggling with getting my spring lettuce going this year! I thought of you the other day as my spring blooms were poking through the snow. We are catching up:-) I have heard of her before and want to read some of her books. What an artist in the garden:-)

      • + I know those wavy metal raised beds are neat. I checked into that material ( Cor-Ten) and trying to find it is not as easy as it looks.I love the patina it develops:-) I’ve seen it used to make containers:-)

  5. Some wonderful inspiring photos and ideas Robbie. Community gardens are such wonderful resources.

    • Karina:-) they sure are + I can take no credit for all those lovely photos of other gardens:-) Those were gardens from other places + what inspirations they were to me yesterday as I sorted through them-looking for the perfect photo of what my “imagination” needed to see!

  6. So many ideas here Robbie! I own several of Rosalind’s books, of course, because I love books. I agree with you – a vegetable garden, or any garden, must be beautiful. Adding the arbor to my Potager made such a difference! Of course, it is rotting but I can’t live without it and am devising plans to support it with metal until the Trumpet Vine can become a living arbor (which is/was my intention to begin with). And I have a good collection of bricks, pavers, stones to work on my main path this year. I worked with a community garden here in Clayton but I can tell you, it was not beautiful – in fact, it would almost make me cry each time I visited. I added flowers but no one seemed to appreciate. The entire garden was the community and well, frankly some worked harder than others but reaped the same reward. The weeds were overwhelming and the philosophy? Well, it reminded me of a factory farm! I walked away. The community garden where I work now is beautiful – it has great bones. All raised beds with strict rules on maintaining your space (bed). All the beds are individual and it’s nice to see the personalities. There is a lovely gate to walk through and a centerpiece – a raised bed in stone. The paths are all pea gravel – what a difference!

    • Kathy-that seems to be the most common comment about “community gardens” they become “eye-sores”…hmm…that is what made me think of bones. I have had to deal with that in my front yard since I don’t think my neighbors would appreciate me tearing up all my grass and putting in square boxes for edible gardens. It needs to fit into the landscape of the “neighborhood” or block. You have to reach a balance. That got me thinking about “bones” …just like when you purchase a home they say look for “good bones” in a house. Something to work with and add to. Same as gardening:-)
      I rode by a few of our community gardens the other day on my way home from a bike ride on the river and noticed they leave all the dried up vegetables standing in the garden!Not pretty:-( If they leave native plants up for birds they are winter interest, but dried up corn…not a good idea-an eye-sore:-) Sure hope they make it a beautiful garden:-)

  7. Love those entrances! Of course, so important (inviting) but hadn’t thought about it that way before! Makes me want to build something like that for our garden!!!

    • I can only take credit for featured image all the photos in this post were from others+ their amazing ideas! I was so inspired by their images:-) We do need more it brings u together:-)

  8. What a beautiful and invigorating post Robbie! You are moving forwards in leaps and bounds with your engagement with the local community. I love it! Thank you SO much for sharing what you are doing here. I know it must be hard to find the time to blog about these busy days but there are so many people out here that can see this post and think “maybe “we” could do this…” and your idea spreads. BIG (and cold) hugs from Tassie 🙂

    • Fran-I have dreams that each community would have a community garden, but I doubt it will be one that remains in our community. They keep using the land for houses + it is not a bad thing, but you need to think about food growing. I am busy on some other projects in the greater Quad City area, I can only hope they change some minds with their site:-) I can help them the best I can but I get the impression they are not thinking about it as a site that will remain long term. I guess, the best thing is that if they inspire a few more people to “tear-up” that wall to wall carpet on their property and grow more food-well-it was worth the effort!
      As I researched, I noticed a lot of cities are changing for the future , but I am not certain this area will:-( All you can do is hope they see the need for food growing in urban areas:-)
      Fran-We just have to keep spreading the word + through our work in our own gardens share + grow over our own cyber community garden-Hugs over the cyber fence:-) Organic Sister!

      • The thing about being “comfortable” is that most people don’t want to rock the boat. They only start thinking about “food” as something that they might have to start thinking about when it starts to hit them in the hip pocket. You must live in a reasonably affluent area but as we both know, the times they are a changing and those of us that know how to grow food will be soon “most interesting” to those of us who can’t! Right back over that cyber fence to your organic sister 🙂

      • I agree totally:-) No wealthy community hear but people that are in charge seem to not be feeling the financial difficulties of “organic” food. We do have several large lots that are devoted to CSA growing. I was thinking we need “jobs” in our area for the future and it is more than likely going to be growing food. Check out this company-you will love this “out of the box” thinking-the future of our cities. It is called plantagon- out of Sweden. I’ll put the website here when I am done watching my grandchild. I may do a post of this company for I believe it is the future + where the jobs will be for city dwellers!

      • Sharing is most certainly caring Robbie. The people in charge are not above being put “out-of-charge”. It’s all in the way that the community decide to share their communal “voice”. If enough people start making enough noise about something, change happens. Those “in charge” are only up there because we put them there…

      • Awesome website both in content AND the site! I am bookmarking them for when I can spend a bit of time to check them out Robbie. My early mornings are pretty much limited now. Cheers for the excellent share. I really love the look of this site. It isn’t often that 5am sees me excited about much these days 😉

    • I hope it works out + it inspires everyone to start growing food + flowers together:-)I will volunteer- if they need help:-)

      • Good stuff, Robbie. We were using apples from our tree months after harvest and beets, onions and garlic from our garden just weeks ago. I also discovered three apples that I had sliced and put in the freezer a year earlier. I decided to try them in apple crepes. Surprise: they were delicious. I didn’t know that apples could be frozen and still taste good a year later.

      • Wow-that is so neat to use apples from a freezer! I put in 7 dwarf apple trees last year + now you have inspired me to try this:-) I have been eating my frozen raspberries from my garden last year in my yogurt this week, but to think I can use my apples in cooking:-)

      • 7 apple trees! Way to go.
        I can’t swear for all apples. We have those rare Wolf River heritage apples, and I was very surprised that they kept. I didn’t even remember putting them in the freezer.

      • Yep, I am putting two dwarf plum trees in the yard next week- I ordered them! It is “surprises” like putting apples in the freezer that teach me “about” MOST of what I learn in life-LOL

  9. Thank you for stopping by and then following. I have done the same now that I see so much information that I need, I have a postage stamp yard that I rent but want to make wonderful. Unfortunately, previous owner terraced with creosote logs.I’m looking into ways to replace them inexpensively since I don’t own the land but know I cannot plant anything edible there. I’m afraid there has been years of leaching into the ground.

    • You can do a lot with a postage stamp but I know it is a lot of work to do what you want to do-hang in there and over time it will be your own paradise!:-)

  10. These photos are so dreamy, Robbie!! If I had space I’d allow my mind to run away with ideas! I have to let it all be dreaming these days–no garden to speak of, no time this year. My front yard is a rock garden filled with beautiful blooming shrubs and flowers, but won’t be able to veggie garden–I’ll be gone too much. I’ll just have to come look at your blog to get my fix! 😀

    • LOL-Mandy- I have no doubt your book coming out in September will take up most of your growing time this year-Congrats! When you slow down it will be easier to get back outside:-)
      I am still here growing and keeping the food:-)

  11. I think these ideas work well with any garden. My garden doesn’t have too many bones. It’s a bit of a squid. My arbor will look better when it’s finally covered with the honeysuckle and looks less like a construction accident.

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