Photo and story from Mary Beth McQuaid, Youth Services Librarian, Ingalls Memorial Library, in Rindge, New Hampshire (pop 6,200)
“The Teen Garden was started in 2018. I’m the Youth Services Librarian, and with support from my director, Donna Straitiff, we began a garden!
It all came together fairly quickly, and wasn’t too difficult! We spoke to the town about adding a raised-bed garden on our property, and they didn’t have a problem with it. We were able to get wood donated by local business Belletete’s, soil was donated by KDI Landscaping, and herbs and small plants were donated by a trustee. My dad, who is a town resident and is talented with woodworking, was able to build the garden itself.
Once it was built, my Teen Advisory Board (and siblings) came together to plant the garden! Every week or so we would weed it during meetings, and we would alternate who watered it. I also live locally, so I was able to run to the library and make sure it was watered if needed.
It grew quickly and was successful- we had a quite a harvest of different herbs and flowers. It was a lot of fun, and seeing it grow was really satisfying!”
Join the movement! Based on research Let’s Move in Libraries conducted in Spring 2017, 246 public libraries in the U.S. and Canada have already offered outdoor, immersive, hands-on gardening programs: Programs in which community members themselves garden. Even more have joined in since then! Use this webpage to get the information you need to join this movement to combine food, nature, lifelong learning, the environment, and community building.
Free tutorial. On May 13, 2019, Let’s Move in Libraries is teaming up with the Person County Public Library in Roxboro, North Carolina, to create a free tutorial on how to get started developing a garden at your library. Download it here.
What types of gardening programs can I offer? The sky is the limit! Here are some of the gardening programs libraries across North America have offered:
” Seedy Saturdays (seed exchanges with a rep from Seeds of Diversity)
– Workshops on tree pruning, composting, seed saving, flax growing, etc. etc.
– Plant swaps
– Learn to Build a Raised Bed (the bed is now used by the library)
– Jack and the Beanstalk storytime (told the story, then little ones planted scarlet runner beans in the raised bed garden).
– Kids’ programs about seeds (what are they… seeds under microscope… try to guess what the seed becomes); toddler sessions involving seed planting and learning about soil/gardening; middle schoolers helping with library flower and veg gardens
– slide shows of people’s perennial gardens
– cooking programs focusing on fresh, local garden produce”
Seed saving, gardening basics for kids, Seed library
A summer-long lecture series on gardening topics; we also tied into a volunteer day with the local middle school to have a group of students put together container gardens for the library.
Fulton County Library System has offered container gardening programs.
Partnership with our local county extension office. They provide a master gardener to instruct the class. The classes usually are a combination of lecture, demo, and hands on experience. Past events: Growing Plants from Seeds, Container Gardening, Growing Vegetables in Florida, Plant Clinic, Transplanting.
We also had a seed exchange program for a couple of years after we received donated seeds from a major seed company. “
Loudoun County Public Library in northern Virginia offers programs for both adults and youth. While many programs are presented in partnership with the cooperative extension (more details below), library staffers have also presented their own programming, as well as collaborated with other local groups–e.g., Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy to present topics related to gardening for wildlife/creating a habitat garden.
“What to plant and when” presented by local extension agent
What do librarians have to say about how they got started with these programs?
Our first programs were lectures/workshops given by local master gardeners and small farmers – basically to meet a local interest in gardening. All four library staffers live rurally and grow gardens (ranging from small herb gardens to an acre of organic garden) – so we had in-house knowledge 🙂
We started a seed library in 2016
Not speaking to past programs, this year’s series was a consequence of teaming up with local Master Gardener Volunteers from the county Extension (one of which happened to be a staff librarian here at the library).
Respond to library trends/ interests
Customers expressed interest in gardening programs. History of being well-attended programs.
See the story about our library on the ALA Public Programs Office website. Opening paragraph: Loudoun County Public Library (LCPL)’s programming partnership with the Loudoun Office of the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) has thrived for years. The partnership grew out of a very successful collaboration with the Loudoun Master Gardeners, a subset of the VCE Agriculture and Natural Resources Division.
In 2018, LCPL worked closely with VCE to provide an even greater diversity of horticultural, environmental and agriculture-based programs to county residents. These new programs have been marketed to residents in the suburban portion of the county, providing an opportunity for VCE to expand awareness of their portfolio of services countywide, while providing patrons access to highly trained professionals in their field.”
Our local extension agent is an avid library patron. There was also a need, as our town has a garden club, community garden, and is a Tree City.
Add your voice! Use this form to help us build this Program Idea page.
Virginia Cooperative Extension (including Loudoun County Master Gardeners)
Loudoun Soil and Water Conservation District
Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy
Banshee Reeks Chapter of Virginia Master Naturalists
Library staffers with green thumbs.
Other things to consider, according to librarians:
Consider your audience. Are you introducing gardening to beginners? Are they gardening for pleasure, or trying to supplement their food source? Think about barriers people might face, and try to minimize them (i.e. Are you in an urban area? Can the library facilitate access to a community garden? Would container gardening be more accessible? Can you encourage seed-sharing to keep down costs?). Also consider growing organic, and modeling environmentally sound practices.
Subject knowledge, interest from community members, do you have materials in the collection to support the program, budget
Topics of interest to the local population should drive your choices – are you urban or rural? What are your local socio-economic conditions? Are people gardening for fun or to live? Lining up speakers is pretty easy, especially if you have a budget, but if you want to give out starter kits, door prizes, or other physical materials costs can quickly add up.
Do you have staff who are personally interested and knowledgable in gardening. Not necessary but helps to keep a gardening program going if continued maintenance is required, i.e. seed exchange. I would think this would be essential if considering a library/community garden.
Make sure to consider: Audience, Community interests/needs, and the Budget
“Costs have been minimal. Lectures and workshops have been offered free of charge by local gardeners and farmers. Seed and plant swaps cost nothing. We bought a garden hose, and fund-raised for the lumber needed to make the garden bed (under $200 for hose and lumber). We focus a lot at our library on community sharing, and we try to promote re-using and recycling materials – so we’re usually teaching people the simplest, cheapest way of doing things.
Small cost for seed library supplies (envelopes, etc…), seeds are donated
We tried to solicit local donations, but with one exception were unsuccessful. We paid for almost all materials and speakers fees (when levied) from our programming budget.
Buying supplies for hands on activity such as pots, dirt, seed, and plenty of plastic covering to protect tables and flooring if event is held inside.
Sometimes programs are presentations given by a local expert who donates their time/services. Other times, costs (for materials, etc.) are shared by the library and its partners so that learning opportunities remain free of charge for participants. Sometimes program hosts gather resources from my their own gardens to share with attendees: flower seeds, native transplants for giveaway, etc.
The program offered did not cost the library anything.
“Gardening is so much a part of our library life that it doesn’t really seem like a “program” per se… so we haven’t done much formal assessment. We do keep a guest book at the door, and many people comment on the gardens.”
“Evaluate the Partnerships that undergird the program – Is my library better connected to my community because we have a garden?”
“Partner with local organizations to see if the library can add another element to gardening programs. If no one else is offering programs, seek partners.”
Think creatively about how you can use garden as a conversation starter to engage your community
Feedback from librarians
“Want to learn how to ______? Come get your hands dirty/ Pull on your boots/ Let’s get growing” In general, we use friendly, informal, playful language. It’s not a hard sell, really… people love to garden!
“Promoting self-sufficiency, local climates, environmental concerns, food security, etc.”
“Encouraging it as a light, entertaining, intellectually accessible “learning series” was how we scoped it, but we may have done better by marketing directly to more passionate, already-invested audiences who tend to travel for good programming.”
The American Library Association published a Handbook on gardening at libraries in 2019: Libraries and Gardens: Growing Together written by Carrie Scott Banks and Cindy Mediavilla. It’s a great resource!