What To Talk About

Garden Planning Considerations – what to talk about
This document covers “Things to talk about.” This one covers “things to put in your agreement.” There’s plenty of overlap!

By the time you’re talking, you each will have seen each other’s preference survey responses, so you’ll have some ideas of where you diverge and where you overlap. As you talk, you’ll get a sense of the boundaries and expectations that will make your share work.

Key Issues to Discuss
Review each other’s responses to the gardening preference survey.

Consider the phases of a typical garden project and talk about who is going to be responsible for what in each phase:
1. Plan
2. Prep
3. Plant
4. Tend
5. Harvest
6. Harvest Festival
7. Clean up/Winter Over

Keep in mind the core issues in Garden Sharing – Access, Boundaries, and Expectations (also known as ABE).

A comprehensive garden sharing plan is as simple as applying the ABE issues to each of the seven phases.

The Garden Plan represents an expectation, or at least an ambition. In any garden project, things can (and do) go wrong for a variety of reasons – it’s best to expect the worst, and then be pleasantly surprised!

More on ABE
- Who is allowed to access the garden?
- When is access to the garden allowed (or not)?
- How is the garden accessed?

Boundaries come in many forms, and they are essential to this relationship.

Examples of Boundaries:
- Physical boundaries – sketched on a Map of the Garden (part of the Garden Plan)
- Time boundaries & privacy – a written timetable to confirm when it is and is not okay for the Gardener to visit
- Horticultural boundaries – what existing plants are not to be touched, limits to what may be grown, etc.
- Behavioral boundaries – who else, besides the Gardener, may come onto the land, and if so, under what circumstances and with what limits?
- Other activities: Smoking, picnicking in the garden …if so, where?

- Responsibilities: weeding, watering, etc.
- Sharing scheme: Besides plant tending, what other uses will there be? Who harvests? How much is shared with whom, & when?
- Special circumstances: vacation timing, pets/kids, security, etc.
- Timing: When will we put in the late beans? When will we have monthly check-in meetings? When’s the party for the neighbors?

Examples of Expectations
- Fred will have something planted in the garden by June 15th, and will keep it planted all summer long.
- Susan will confirm that the dog is back inside before leaving the garden.
- If having the entire scout troop is too loud, Mrs. Sweeney will call Joe and they’ll try to work out a way for smaller groups or a different time.
- We’ll talk immediately if anything seems odd – cell phones during the workday.
- The garden will look great for (and be left alone during) the wedding scheduled for the weekend of August 9th.

Suggestions for Creating Expectations
- Pay special attention to the parts of survey where your answers are different.
- Include checklists where they will help.
- Look at the "phases of a typical garden project” list above and the ABE issues.
- Write down any activities that won’t be handled by the Gardener – will the Land Holder help with watering, for example?

How To Talk
Listen. Listen deep, behind the words.

Say things like “I would like …” and “What do you think of...?”

Take notes – it will save time when you write down your agreement, and it will make it stronger.

Focus on your common ground. Share stories from your past and talk about the future. Then talk about your differences and decide how you will deal with each one.

Start at a coffee shop or other neutral place, but have at least one conversation in the garden.

Compare Survey Responses
The surveys were designed to unearth the Gardener and Land Holder’s similarities and differences on most important issues. Topics include:
- Composting
- Who will be in the garden and when will they visit?
- What tools will they use and where will the tools live?
- Gardening style – neatness and organization
- Land Holder’s presence when Gardener is working
- Privacy concerns
- Primary goal of the garden
- What is to be grown
- Special growing interests
- Garden chemicals – weeds, pests & level of organic-ness
- Sharing plan
- Work to be done by Land Holder, if any
- Attitudes towards cash investment
- Soil quality and soil improvement plan (if necessary)
- Livestock?

Other Things to Discuss – in random order

Legal Liability and Conflict Resolution
Our guidelines do not constitute professional advice. For legal and/or insurance advice, please contact your own legal counsel (see our Terms of Service).

Ask if the other person has ever been party to a lawsuit. If they have, listen closely to their story and try to develop a nuanced understanding of that person’s approach to conflict resolution. People tend to repeat past behaviors and have consistent styles – if talking over the agreement doesn’t feel easy, you might have the wrong person.
Land Holders, consult your insurance person. Your homeowner’s liability probably covers a Gardener working in your yard. If you are an institution such as a church or school, find out if volunteers working at your location are covered by your policy. (As a guideline, the Los Angeles Community Garden Council requires each multi-family community garden have $1,000,000 in liability coverage)

Gardeners, consider signing a release.

Discuss how you’ll deal with the Gardener getting hurt, or someone else getting hurt in the garden.

Who Pays for What?
In general, we suggest that the Land Holder pays for anything that would remain on his land after the sharing arrangement has ended, or pay for any item where she wants to control the look and feel. This is likely to include most fixed items, access to the shared area and water supplies.

In general the Gardener will pay for seeds, tools, feed and miscellaneous items. Composters and water barrels could be paid for by either party, this needs to be agreed.

In some parts of the country (Los Angeles for example) water can be expensive, so we suggest discussing the water bill separately.

Expenses That May Come Up
- Providing and maintaining fixed items such as sheds, greenhouses, water butts, composters, fencing, gates, outbuildings, stabling
- Access to the site
- Tools and equipment
- Seeds and seedlings
- Miscellaneous items such as sheeting, netting, cloches, stakes
- Water
- Feed
- Veterinary services
- Slaughtering/butchering services

Special Note – water usage
Consider measuring water usage before gardening starts, and including this historical data in your agreement. This may provide a baseline if Gardener and Land Holder are going to share water costs. (remember that other factors besides gardening may also significantly affect a property’s water usage.)

Condition of the Property
Agree on the condition of site at the start of the agreement, and how the site will be left at the end of the agreement.

If Animals are Involved
Animals can work great in garden sharing – but, just like when children are left with a baby sitter, contact info and special instructions are needed. Agree and write down what happens if the Land Holder sees livestock which is ill, distressed, or escaped. This should include contact details (and alternative contact details) and vets phone numbers.

Contact Information
If you decide to work together, exchange contact info, including preferring time and means of contacting. Each person should also provide a backup/emergency contact – a friend or relative to connect with if the primary person isn’t available.

While checking references can feel awkward, we strongly suggest that both parties check with others who know their potential partner well. If you don’t feel comfortable contacting someone for a reference: a) Blame us! Say that it is required by the website that matched you up, and b) Ask positive, open-ended questions: “What seems to make this person happy?” “How does she seem to feel about her house and her yard?” “Any advice for someone doing a garden share with him?”

End of the Season/Share
How will the garden be left when the share is over? When will you decide if you are going to go for another season.

Use of the Garden
What are the rules for Land Holder’s use of garden when Gardener isn’t there? Can the Gardener do anything other than work in the garden? A BBQ or party? When? Can gardener just hang out? When and where?

What are the risks, and how will they be dealt with? Are their locks, marauding critters, or neighbors who like to graze?

The Gardener’s Responsibilities
Make clear what the Gardener will be taking care of, and what he isn’t.

Discuss the hours and level of effort that can reasonably be expected from the Gardener – remember, it’s a long season!

We recommend that the Gardener stick to a defined gardening plot and the agreed on gardening plan. Standard share agreements suggest that the Gardener not trim hedges, tend existing rose bushes or do general upkeep, unless the Gardener is willing to do so, and in that case it’s recommended he be paid market rates for such maintenance services in a commercial relationship separate from the garden share.

Hints from Community Gardening
Community gardens have been facilitating group shared gardens for years, and have developed guidelines for dealing with many of the things that can go wrong.

For information, see The American Community Garden Association (www.communitygarden.org) or look for your city’s local community garden organization.


For examples of community garden see: http://www.oakparkcommunitygarden.org/pages/rules.htm and

Livestock – two legged, four legged, and flying, can work great in a garden share, if the land is adequate/appropriate, and if proper planning takes place.

Hard (but important) Things to Talk About
Length of agreement (should be less than 1 year)
What happens if one party wants to end it before the end of term?
What happens if Gardener wants to stop?
What happens if Land Holder wants Gardener to stop?
What happens to the garden if something happens to one of the collaborators?

How to Build Trust
You are setting off on and adventure together! Review your progress as you go along. Share a beverage. This helps to develop and deepen your relationship, as well as confirm that you’re both sticking to what you’ve agreed. Also, it lets you fine tune as things come up.

General Behavioral Guidelines - what to do when things go wrong, etc
The FAQ speaks to most of these issues. If you have a question about garden sharing relationships that’s not there, please contact us! help@GrowFriend.org

Things to Consider – nurturing the relationship
Land Holders: Gardening is risky! Things change – you never know what will happen

Gardeners: Letting someone onto your property is risky! Things change – people’s plans, circumstances and perceptions can shift.

Be flexible and do it for the plants – worst comes to worst, it’s only a season, or you can walk away.

Now it’s time to make a your gardening plan!