Trinity’s Urban Garden Project

by Anangi Sumalde

As someone who has lived in a city her whole life, I place great value on the connective power of urban community gardens. As the world’s population becomes increasingly urbanised, with more low-income families living within so-called ‘food deserts’, these oases of green allow us city-dwelling folks the opportunity to ditch the usual hefty food mileage by harvesting our own produce. This, in turn, reconnects us with the food we eat and the communities we share it with.

Trinity Urban Garden (TUG) is a new college community garden project set up by PhD researcher Eleanor Mullen. As secretary of the Trinity Green Campus’s biodiversity committee, I was in contact with Eleanor earlier this year, to see how the committee could help to initiate the planning phase of the project over the summer. It has taken a long time for the project to receive final permissions to proceed. Many months after the initial application was granted by the Provost’s Climate Action Fund for COP26, the project has finally received a location on campus, provided by the Zoology department, who moved their experimental setup to facilitate this. With the limited space on campus, the project may not have been possible without the department’s generosity.

” 89% of the student community thought that life at Trinity would be improved by the presence of an urban garden.”

Students’ interest in a college urban garden is clearly apparent. A survey conducted by one group of students taking an elective module, in which they were asked to produce an artefact that contributed to progress on meeting one or more of the Sustainable Development Goals, revealed that 89% of the student community thought that life at Trinity would be improved by the presence of an urban garden. These survey results galvanised Eleanor’s initial call-out to the college community to participate in the project. The response certainly did not disappoint, with over 100 volunteers expressing an interest to join, including members of both the staff and student communities. 

The designated location for TUG sits somewhat awkwardly between the bicycle storage area and the Botany department’s greenhouses, adjacent to the O’Reilly Institute, Sports Centre and Pearse Station. Sunny and spacious it most definitely is not. Instead, TUG offers volunteers the challenge of turning a shaded and confined space into a thriving campus garden. Throughout regular meetings held over the summer, volunteers have collaborated and pooled their knowledge from multiple disciplines. This has allowed for the brainstorming of novel ways in which to demonstrate light and space maximisation, as well as growing techniques under suboptimal conditions. After all, the space, with its low light levels, ground surface area restricted to just under 12 m2, and surfaces consisting of paving slabs and gravel, is representative of many urban gardens today. 

We aim for TUG to become an educational model for innovative, sustainable, and affordable urban gardening and food production methodologies. We plan to install a small greenhouse in the project space with an inbuilt water collection system, allowing us to harvest rainwater. Within it, we hope to plant vegetable scraps of commercially grown vegetables to create a ‘zero waste’ zone. Spring onions, romaine lettuce and ginger are just a few examples of the vegetables that can be grown from remaining scraps. We are also keen to set up a hydroponics system within the greenhouse, which will allow for vertical growing of classic greenhouse crops. This growing method uses water rather than soil as a medium, thereby avoiding the negative impacts associated with peat consumption. 

Regarding the recycling and reusing of materials, we have received very positive results after posting donation requests on the Trinity Yammer Repurpose/Reuse group. From unwanted filing cabinets that can be repurposed as outdoor raised beds, to bicycle helmets that can be transformed into hanging baskets for space-efficient vertical growing methods, many items are revived rather than discarded, contributing to the goal of reducing waste and improving sustainability on campus.

“Within it, we hope to plant vegetable scraps of commercially grown vegetables to create a ‘zero waste’ zone.”

The project is also committed to raising awareness of biodiversity preservation. We wish to educate the public on the wealth of benefits of wild Irish plants by growing native orchids in the greenhouse and wild edibles in the outdoor portion of the garden. Despite their beauty, Ireland’s orchids are rare and sadly not well-known compared to their tropical cousins. Likewise, many wild edibles tend to be discriminately labelled as ‘weeds’. The inclusion of these plants with added native, medicinal or shade-tolerant value will serve to recontextualise them, reflecting our commitment to conservation. 

Complementary to the garden itself, we aim to run events throughout the academic year, such as how to use wild foods including dandelions, nettles, and wild garlic post-harvest. We hope to collaborate with Trinity’s student societies, the Healthy Trinity project, and the Green Campus Committee to organise events such as seed swaps and wild food cooking classes. We also hope to collaborate with certain elective modules, providing opportunities for student-led research that makes use of the garden as a living lab. Furthermore, data will be collected for the ShareCity food-sharing urban project, via their sustainability impact assessment toolkit, to contribute towards improving the sustainability of the food system. 

Our future goals include outreach programmes with local social initiatives to investigate whether similar projects can be set up elsewhere, and to learn from other urban community garden projects. The RISING project, a creative climate action project in Ringsend, where residents have formed a local edible garden, may provide an opportunity for the exchange of ideas. Influencing other individuals and groups to ‘green-up’ their local urban spaces is important for mitigating the urban heat island effect, whereby urbanised areas trap more heat than their rural counterparts. This is undoubtedly a worrying trend given current climate change projections. 

It has been very exciting to be part of a new college initiative so early on in its conception. Participation has made me realise just how challenging it is to turn an idea of this scale into something tangible. There have been many hurdles to overcome to develop a garden ground plan that the Grounds & Gardens committee, Botany and Zoology departments, and Estates & Facilities are all happy with. Permission needs to be granted at every step, including plans to hang up posters at the location. Delays in the project’s operation have resulted from waiting for the approval of many different stakeholders. Therefore, during this early phase in the project’s development, my thanks go out to all the project volunteers for their time, dedication, and patience. I look forward to continuing to be an active member of TUG and seeing how the project blooms in the months to come. 

To get involved with the project please email and check out our Instagram account @ tug_22_

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