Madison Commons Virtual Garden Show: Enjoying the fruits of their labor at Arboretum Cohousing

This is the fourth in a continuing series of snapshots of some of Madison’s  community gardens, a “virtual garden show.” For more, click here.

The residents of Arboretum Cohousing community share more than the land they live on. They also share in a strong sense of community.

According to resident, Patrick Hickey, the community fosters the importance of sharing and conserving. They share meals together twice a week, share big items like lawnmowers, but most importantly, share similar beliefs.

The community focuses on striking a balance between community and privacy. Each of the forty families who live in the Arboretum Cohousing community owns their own home, but they share the 2.2 acres of land that they live on. The community has a common space with work-out facilities, guest bedrooms, a kitchen, a laundry room, and even a music room with a grand piano.

As part of the community’s vision, the residents believe in being environmentally conscious, and much of the land is used for gardens. The plots are taken care of by individuals, by families, or by groups of community members. Some plots are tended by children, and others by experienced gardeners.

The community gathers twice each week to eat dinner together in the common space. The residents share the work of cooking and cleaning throughout the year, and the meals incorporate the vegetables and the harvest from the individual plots and the community garden. Members can come and eat with other community members, or grab dinner and eat in the privacy of their own homes.

“I get to learn so much by watching other people and talking to other people about what they are doing. I have a very simple garden. I don’t know much about gardening, but we have a wealth of experience here. People know something about everything,” said Janet Kelly, a resident.

The gardens are spread out, and are very different from one another. Some plots grow freely while others are fenced off or in raised beds. Some grow flowers, others vegetables and herbs.

The community plot is the largest of all the plots. It has multiple beds, each designed to best accommodate the plant that grows within it.  The community even has a garden that collects runoff water, preventing chemicals from entering and polluting the nearby Lake Wingra.

A greenhouse located in the community garden allows the members to grow year-round. Nearby, a shed house community garden tools.

“Having a condo and being able to garden is very important to me. If I live anywhere I need to have a little garden plot,” said resident, Laura Anderton.

Anderton described the importance of the garden in her life and in the Arboretum Cohousing community as something that no neighborhood or apartment condo should be without.

Although not every member of the community has a plot, the gardens benefit all residents, through the community meals they provide, their natural beauty, and the sense of community they foster.

 “I may not even eat this stuff,” Hickey said, while picking vegetables. “But, I just enjoy doing it, and I know people in the community are going to be able to enjoy the fruits of all the labor that we’ve been involved in.”

Hickey described the community as a group of people who play by people’s strengths and learn from one another along the way.


cohousing neighborhoods

Having a comfortable and efficient home in a neighborhood where you have a social and physical support system built in is good common sense.  I’d suggest learning more about cohousing, a good resource is Creating Cohousing:  Building Sustainable Communities by Katie McCamant and Charles Durrett.