This seminar responds to research on community gardens which has tended to take one of two extreme points of views on their potential to enhance inclusion and sustainability. Scholars either optimistically represent these sites as inherently good and transformative or have sceptically dismissed them as exclusive and perpetuating neoliberal logic.

Visiting PhD student Ellen van Holstein from the University of Wollongong aims to build on recent attempts to arrive at more nuanced understandings by taking a relational approach to community gardens. Her thesis focusses on practices beyond the garden fence which constitute these sites in relation to other places and routines.

van Holstein studied three community gardens in the Inner West of Sydney, where she employed participant observation at garden meetings and working bees, and conducted semi-structured interviews and walking interviews, to grasp the ideas and practices which gardeners bring to these sites.

This approach reveals that the relationships between community gardens and external dependencies such as council policy, private garden spaces and personal routines shape a community garden project both socially and physically. van Holstein uses three empirical themes to illustrate and analyse these relationships: property, food and water,  allowing her to analyse the ways in which gardeners move back and forth between community garden and personal spaces how this allows people to manage the tensions between community objectives and personal interests. A relational approach to community gardens shows that their potential to generate inclusion and sustainability is shaped through practices which transcend these garden projects.

Image by Druh Scoff via Flickr/CC BY-NC 4.0


RMIT University City campus – Building 13, , Level 3, Room 15


Friday 24 June, 12.30pm to 1.30pm