One in four churches want to create community gardens, report finds

A quarter of churches are keen to use their outdoor space for community gardens. That’s the finding of a new survey by Christian Research. 

The news comes in the run up to the world famous RHS Chelsea Flower Show, where Bible Society’s Psalm 23 Garden will be on display. 

The garden is intended to promote the idea of creating community gardens, themed on Psalm 23. These can be done in existing community gardens, school yards as well as church grounds. 

Churches are well-placed to do this. According to the report, some 63% of churches either have the public visiting them for social events, or have a public thoroughfare through their grounds. 

One church that’s already doing this is St Mary’s Church in Lewisham, London. Its therapeutic garden is full of verbena, achillea, cranesbill and hydrangeas in mid-summer. 

But it wasn’t always like that. In 2012, it was ‘intimidating’ and ‘unpleasant,’ a place ‘where nobody wanted to go,’ as vicar, Fr Steve Hall, explains. ‘It had become a druggy area that was misused by people with aggressive dogs, and people with drink problems’ he says. ‘It was a threatening and unpleasant environment.’

Everything changed when staff at The Ladywell Unit, a mental health hospital next door to the church, asked if some gardening could be arranged in the church grounds for patients who were well enough to start going outside. 

Now, people from the Unit garden there every week, office workers take their lunch break on one of the benches, and wedding photos are taken there: a far cry from the scene eight years ago. 

Fr Steve says, ‘The atmosphere is peaceful, it’s beautiful and calming. I think it’s therapeutic for anyone who comes in. We are slap-bang in the middle of Lewisham High Street. It’s busy. This is an incredible oasis of peace and calm.’

Christian Research discovered that churches would like to follow in the footsteps of St Mary’s, and do more gardening if they had guidance on what to do and how to reach out to their community. 

That’s where our resources come in. Launched at the Show in May, the video and downloadable resources will feature advice from Fran Clifton, head gardener at Sir Harold Hillier Gardens. 

She says, ‘The best advice is to work with what you’ve got. You don’t need to change everything. Creating a community garden doesn’t have to cost the earth. You can achieve a lot using what you already have, whether that’s lawn or trees, and can create a haven both for wildlife and for people.’

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