Students help design and build community gardens


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Photo by Courtesy of Kristine Kopia |

Students in the Department of Landscape Architecture worked with community gardeners to design and build gardens with space for plants as well as a relaxation area and furniture.


By participating in the “Gardening the Garden State” internship this summer, students from the Department of Landscape Architecture refined their skills while giving back to the New Brunswick community.  

Interns worked at Shiloh Community Garden on Tabernacle Way and Esperanza Community Garden on Jones Street, said Laura J. Lawson, chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture.

They met with community gardeners and organizers to discuss how their gardens would work and what they needed.

“Students learned how to talk with and listen to needs from the gardeners themselves,” she said. “They saw the difference between a design proposal and what gets built, while the community received technical assistance in the form of design ideas and actual built site furniture.”

Shiloh Community Garden asked the students to redesign the gardens in a way that gives more space for plants as well as a relaxation area and furniture, said Luke Drake, manager of the Community Garden research project.

Kristine Kopia, an intern on the project, said students designed and built a bench, two tables and an Adirondack-style chair for visitors to sit in the shade.

Drake, manager of “Gardening the Garden State,” said Esperanza Community Garden was named after the Spanish word for “hope.” Interns were assigned to create a children’s area for the garden.

Kopia, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences graduate student, said when designing the garden, she used elements in the space to stimulate all five senses.

“We also created a more formal path into the garden as a way to grab people’s attention and create an interest in visiting the garden as they are walking or driving down the street,” she said.

Drake said the internship aimed to allow students to apply their skills learned in the classroom as well as interact with a community and its needs.

Kopia said she and her partners spent a great deal of time talking to the people at the gardens and getting to know them, which helped the students notice the true needs of the community.

“I definitely gained a lot of valuable experience,” Kopia said. “Talking to and designing for real clients is a much different experience that designing for professors. These clients saw our design through a gardener’s lens, which taught me how to better communicate my design to people who are not landscape architects.”

Lawson said the internship stressed the process of transitioning from the hypothetical design process to the rendering of the actual product.

“The students at ‘Gardening the Garden State’ have all been through our studio sequence,” Lawson said. “They have designed many spaces at the propositional or hypothetical level. The internship stressed the application of design thinking to an actual site, with a responsibility to be sure that the design could be built.”

The “Gardening the Garden State” project runs on an $18,000 Community University Partnership Grant, she said.

The internship itself is part of a larger project to document urban agriculture projects across New Jersey and gain more information on gardens and gardening projects in those areas, Drake said.

Lawson said the internship was a success, and therefore the start of an ongoing project.

“We will continue to work with the community gardens to complete some of the ideas that were developed by the interns,” she said.

Kopia said the interns felt proactive in giving back to the community while gaining valuable professional experience.

“The other interns and I were able to give the gardens what they wanted,” Kopia said. “We formed a good relationship with them and our professors, and I learned a lot about community garden design and urban agriculture.”


By Megan Morreale

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