How to plant your own
Credit: Jeff Kauck

Start small, recommends Jo Cook, program coordinator withthe Master Gardeners' Program at the University of Arizona. "Asmall charity-based or cooperative garden is a fun, doable choicefor beginners," she says.

Find a location. Approach an organization with which you'refamiliar-like a church or school in your community, or even yourapartment complex-to see if you can use their land. Existingorganizations are likely to have a water source, which is crucial."Most groups are thrilled someone is willing to take the time tocultivate their property," Cook says. For large-scale projects,choose a vacant lot. Contact your local city office or assessor tofind a lot owner's contact information. Then inquire about havingthe land donated or leased for a minimal fee. Or ask the localCooperative Extension office for suggestions. A location that'sclose to you is best, says Katherine Whiteside, author of The Way We Garden Now. "You should be able to reach thegarden if you need to water more than usual during a drought," shesays.

Spread the word. "Once you let people know you want to starta garden, you'll undoubtedly find others ready to lend a hand,"says Lance Walheim, garden expert and author of Roses for Dummies. Tell your friends and neighbors, postflyers around town, or consider posting on, aclassifieds-listing service with Web sites in most mid-to-largecities. (Be sure to look under your city's "volunteers" or "groups"listings to find groups that are already formed, or post a requestfor volunteers for a new project.)

Draw up a plan. "Your fellow volunteers will have differentpersonalities, ways of doing things, and levels of experience,"says Amy Klein, executive director of Capital District CommunityGardens in Troy, New York. "It's important to have a guide-nomatter the garden size-to outline basic rules and procedures."

Gather supplies. You'll need seeds, starter plants, andtools like shovels and watering hoses. "You can often obtain most,if not all, supplies through donations," Walheim says. Contact yourlocal botanical garden, search online for community gardeningsupport organizations, and, again, talk to your CooperativeExtension office. Don't forget stores like Home Depot and Wal-Mart,which may offer less-than-perfect plants for a reduced price.

Start gardening. Your first year may be a process of trialand error, particularly if you're new to gardening, but that's halfthe fun, says Stephanie Cohen, author of The Perennial Gardener's Design Primer. "You're learning andcan feel good about replacing dry soil or pavement with somethinggreen."