Laurel community gardens

Laurel city officials and local gardening enthusiasts have planned a community garden similar to the plots Columbia Gardeners Inc. offers to Columbia residents in several locations, including this Lake Elkhorn garden. (Staff photo by Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore Sun / May 18, 2013)

City officials, local Master Gardeners and community gardening enthusiasts are planning a community garden for Laurel, set to open for the spring 2013 planting season.

"We're trying to change the whole relationship with food," said Dawn Williams, a Master Gardener spearheading the project.

"You hear so much about buying local," she said. "Just think what a difference it'd make if people grew their own food in their backyard, in a community garden."

The garden is now in its "paperwork phase," Williams said. Officials from Laurel's Parks and Recreation Citizens Advisory Committee and members of a new Community Garden Committee are considering potential plots for the garden, and will be framing budgets and plot maps in the upcoming months.

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"We have some ideas, and we're exploring all of them," said Laurel City Council member Fred Smalls, another driving force behind the community garden project.

"I think this will be a win-win for everyone," he said.

Smalls named the top three priorities in choosing a site for the Laurel garden as accessibility, on-site water and security.

Officials are considering both city-owned and private property sites for Laurel's garden, which is currently proposed to hold around 30 plots of roughly 20 feet by 20 feet each.

Williams is looking to Columbia Gardeners Inc., a nonprofit group with three community gardens and more than 600 members, as a model for planning Laurel's community garden. The group began almost 40 years ago, providing a rich background of trail-and-error improvements.

"We can learn from their mistakes," Williams said.

Columbia Gardeners historian Mary Gold offered this advice to Laurel's Community Garden Committee: Have an on-site water source, and ensure that the garden site will be permanent.

Gold added that a convenient location with plenty of parking is important for a community garden.

While vandalism is an occasional problem, vagrant deer are the biggest culprits behind lost produce, she said. Fences around 100 of the Columbia garden plots have helped remedy this problem, according to Columbia Gardeners president Clyde Pyers. He suggested an "adequate fence" for the Laurel garden.

"And when I say adequate, I mean sufficient to keep the deer out," Pyers said.

Even with this foresight, each garden is different and will encounter its own problems.

"You sort of evolve as you go along," Gold said.

Growing community

City officials and Laurel citizens agree that one of the community garden's primary roles will be to unite citizens.

"I think it will bring a lot of people together who may not even realize they're neighbors yet," Laurel City Administrator Kristie Mills said of the proposed garden.

In Columbia, gardeners from Korea, Russia, Latin America and other areas work side-by-side in the city's gardens.