For many Melburnians, apartment living is a way of life. If you’re blessed with a green thumb this can mean searching elsewhere for a place to get your hands dirty.

Melbourne is full of urban, community-run gardens that are open to people of any age, interest or background. Locals can lease a plot of land and grow almost anything they desire.

While growing your own veggies is an obvious perk, it’s not the only reason people decide to get involved.

For environmental educator Julia Vanderoord, joining her local community garden in West Brunswick stemmed from her passion for the environment.

“I’m pretty concerned about our environment, particularly waste,” Vanderoord says. “So when we moved into our apartment one of my first thoughts was, ‘Oh, how are we going to get rid of our vegetable cuttings?’”

Vanderoord heard about the nearby garden through friends and locals, and began bringing her compost down to the site. This routine turned into helping with the communal spaces, before she eventually secured a plot of her own.

Along with her husband, Vanderoord maintains a raised garden bed that – at the right time of year – is often filled to the brim with produce. The pair grows basil, rocket, kale, carrots, beetroot, spinach and other vegetables, which they use to make meals at home. An annual fee of around $80 quickly pays for itself in savings at the supermarket.

“Some weeks it might only be a $10 saving, but some weeks it’s up to $20,” she says.

Vanderoord is also trying to spread the message of affordable fresh food, and waste reduction at her apartment block. She believes initiating simple processes such as composting – something almost anyone can manage – can have a huge impact on the environment. At least two neighbours have followed her lead.

If locals aren’t members of the community gardens, Vanderoord still encourages them to bring their compost bins down for emptying.

“You’re then contributing to reducing our waste into landfill,” she says.

Hugh Canning took up gardening when he found himself with a little extra spare time. The St Kilda local sold out of a marketing design company ten years ago, and was looking for something to occupy his days. The Veg Out community garden is located about 300 metres from his home, so he decided to check it out.

“I’d been past it a number of times but when you’re busy at work you don’t go in, and then when you do, you think, ‘Oh, this isn’t too bad in here’,” he says.

After spending around six months on the waiting list, he acquired one of the 120 private plots and became an active member.

Like most apartment dwellers, Canning doesn’t have a backyard. But it was the social aspect – rather than a penchant for gardening – that kept him going back.

“You end up becoming friends with a lot of people in the local area,” he says.

Canning believes this is a large part of why most people join. Some of Veg Out’s members already have access to an outdoor space, but still opt to get involved at the community garden.

“[You can] sit on a sunny afternoon and have a vino while watering your garden,” he says. “There’s a mental health aspect to it as well.”

Mother-of-two Nyssa Baker rents a plot in Avondale Heights. Unlike many community gardeners, her family has some outdoor space at home, but wanted something bigger to grow a wider variety of produce.

“It’s good to have that extra space for things you want to grow a lot of – like onions or potatoes,” says Baker.

The part-time nurse and her husband, an electronic engineer, pay $80 a year for their 11.5-square-metre garden bed. This covers the cost of water and maintenance for the plot.

Beyond saving money on produce, Baker is thrilled to be feeding her kids homegrown, organic produce, and finds it easier to teach them about fresh food.

“I want them to grow up knowing that a carrot comes out of the ground, not off the supermarket shelf,” she says.

If you’re interested in becoming involved with a community garden and growing your own produce, here are some places to start:

Veg Out
Corner of Shakespeare Grove and Chaucer Street, St Kilda
Plots at Veg Out are about six square metres, and cost around $50 a year depending on size. You’ll need to be a City of Port Phillip resident to apply for a plot, as well as becoming a Friend of Veg Out for a one-off $15 fee.
More information and contact details here.

West Brunswick Community Garden
Behind 49 Everett Street, Brunswick West
West Brunswick Community Garden has plots ranging from one to ten square metres, and cost varies depending on size. If you can’t commit to a plot of your own, there are 30 communal plots you can contribute to. To get involved you'll first need to pay a $10 to $20 membership fee. Individual plots cost $15 to $100 per year and communal gardening costs $25 to $40.
More information and contact details here.

Avondale Heights Community Garden
Behind 2–22 River Drive, Avondale Heights
There are 32 plots at the Avondale Heights garden. At 11.5 square metres, the plots are relatively generous, and there are communal fruit trees too. Gardeners pay a one-off start-up fee of $140, then an annual fee of $40. There is an open day on November 25.
More information and contact details here.

Pentridge Community Garden
1 Stockade Avenue, Coburg
This is a newer garden on the grounds of historical Pentridge Prison. All gardeners will need to pay a small fee to become a member of Moreland Community Gardening. To get involved you'll first need to pay a $10 to $20 membership fee. Individual plots cost $30 to $80 per year and communal gardening costs $25 to $80.
More information and contact details here.