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O'Connor Community Garden - a paradise on tennis courts

The O'Connor Community Garden is hosted by O'Connor Uniting Church on what was previously two tennis courts.  The garden is run by Canberra Organic Growers Society.

O’Connor Community Garden is hosted by O’Connor Uniting Church in Canberra, on two former tennis courts.  The garden is run by the Canberra Organic Growers Society (COGS), which looks after a dozen or so community gardens in the ACT. 

How did the garden come about?

The Canberra Region Presbytery had been encouraging churches to think “asset-based outreach” – how they can engage with the community, using their churches’ assets.  A member of the church council had an idea to establish a community garden on two tennis courts that had been idle for 20 years.  After research into community gardens, the church member suggested that COGS, which already had a structure for and considerable experience with community gardens, be approached to develop and run the garden.  The church council met with COGS representatives, and a decision was made to go ahead.  Work commenced at the beginning of 2006.

Why did the church get involved?

The church supported the community garden project because it saw it as a form of outreach to the local community, and a good way to steward the land for which the church was responsible.  Church members felt that they had an obligation as people who love God to take care of God’s creation and to express warmth and generosity to the broader community.

What goes on at the garden?

The garden covers an area of approx 1,000 square metres, and is fenced with a high chain wire fence.  It consists of fifteen individual plots, and a strip around the perimeter for the communal planting of fruit trees, berry canes, herbs, climbing annuals such as peas and beans on the fence, and for small individual plots for perennials such as asparagus and rhubarb.  There are regular working bees at the garden.

What is the organisational structure of the garden?

O’Connor Uniting Church has a memorandum of understanding with COGS.  COGs looks after the management of the garden.  The garden has its own committee, and a liaison person is both a member of that committee and the church council.  COGS has a set of garden rules governing the running of and conduct in its community gardens.

How does the garden link with other activities of the church?

The garden connects with other parts of the life of the church in multiple ways:

  • Soon after the garden was established, the gardeners organised a morning tea for the church congregation as an expression of thanks
  • Gardeners attended a seminar on “greening the church” hosted by the church in September 2008
  • Gardeners were involved in activities at the church’s Day of Celebration in September 2010, and there were tours of the garden
  • Some garden members have asked at the church about weddings and baptisms

Who is involved in the garden, and what community partnerships have been involved?

There are up to 30 members of the community garden.  Only two of these are members of the church.

What are the funding needs of the garden and where does the funding come from?

The garden has not relied on any funds from the church.  Costs have been covered as follows:

  • A $21,000 federal government grant was obtained for the installation of two water tanks
  • COGs paid for site preparation and for communal tools
  • The church liaison person and his wife donated the garden shed
  • The MOU between the church and COGS requires that COGS pay for any mains water usage
  • Gardeners provided the materials to construct their own beds

What challenges were faced in establishing the community garden, and how were these addressed?

Church members were initially concerned that the garden would get out of hand – for example, the area would be untidy and not adequately cared for.  When church members first saw the truckloads of manure that were brought in at the start, they were a bit concerned!  However, as the garden was established and started operating, these concerns were allayed by the clear garden management structure and rules put in place by COGS.

More information

Address: Corner of Brigalow & Scrivener Streets, O'Connor, ACT 2602
Garden website: http://www.cogs.asn.au/cogs-gardens/oconnor/
Church website: http://oconnor.unitingchurch.org.au/
Garden contact: see http://www.cogs.asn.au/contact/
Church contact: Peter Crimmins, ph 02 6247 5272