If you've got a vacant lot, a stretch of unpaved alley, or any other undeveloped land in a sunny spot, you're ready to launch a garden that the whole neighborhood will both enjoy and benefit from. Planting flower and vegetable seeds is a great way to improve the soil (as well as the view!) of any setting, not to mention the benefits it brings in the form of pollinating insects, fragrance, color, texture, and -- in the case of food crops -- flavor!
Your community garden can be as formal and organized as you want, but you may want to start the first season with just a few committed gardeners and a couple packets of seed. Once the neighbors see the transformation of "empty dirt" into a flourishing garden, they'll be eager to join in! Here are a few ideas for easy and quick gardens:
Wildflower Garden - Plants that are native to the United States tend to grow more readily and have less trouble with pests and diseases than others, so they are a great choice for an open community garden -- particularly if you want it to be organic. Look to native perennials such as Echinacea (Coneflower), Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan), Heliopsis (Oxeye Daisy), Lanceleaf and Large-flowered Coreopsis, Lupinus, Monarda (Bee Balm), Gaillardia, and Asclepias (Butterfly Flower). But, bearing in mind that some perennials will not flower the first year from seed, mix in some native annuals to create a big show the very first summer: the annual forms of Rudbeckia and Gaillardia, Helianthus (Sunflower), Cosmos, and Salvia, to name just a few.
Kids' Garden - Have the kids in your neighborhood ever seen (let alone eaten?!) a squash blossom? Do they know that pumpkins and other veggies begin life green? Start a vegetable garden with crops so easy that children can and will grow them! Beans, Squash, Corn, Lettuce, Radishes, Broccoli, Beets, Potatoes, and Garlic all make a great kids' garden, plus helpful flowers that chase away pests and encourage "good bugs" to visit the garden: Sunflowers, Marigolds, Petunias, Four o'Clocks, Calendulas, and Nasturtiums.
Charity Garden - Keep your local food bank or soup kitchen stocked with nutritious fresh vegetables by growing heavy-bearing varieties such as Cucumbers, Squash, Beans, and Peppers. Remember to chop up and plow under the bean plants after harvest; they enrich the soil for next year's garden!