Q. Hi. We would like to know the steps to take for permission to garden on a vacant lot that is privately owned?

I am a PMBC Block Captain (recent); an am forwarding a message from a resident.
We recently moved in the Pointt Breeze area of Philadelphia and several of my neighbors and friends want to turn into a garden. The land is a mess, but we have friends who will work to clean it and even escate all of the dirt bricks and trash. We can get my Uncle to come in with a backhoe and gut it. I used to live in New Orleans where urban gardens are plentiful... Unfortunately, the owner is ghost according to long time residents and had not lived in the home since 1990 and we cannot reach him. How can we get this vacant lot to start a compost/community garden?


In Philadelphia, the usual route to getting permission to use a piece of vacant land is to find the owner. Even if you cannot trace the owner, the vacant lot should be reported as one that has been blighted. Here are next steps:

- Call the city  this is where you report the vacant lot and its condition.

- Contact the Councilperson’s office in your area.

- Check with the local Community Center 

The local Center may have information on the lot and can help with next steps.

- PHS does host classes for new gardeners called Garden Tenders – checkout our classes

This process may take awhile but it's best to follow the steps. The hard work of starting a garden and being able to eat the fruits of your labor is worth the wait, knowing you have permission to use the land.

At some point, if you are growing food, it would be best to test the soil to know it’s safe.

We use suggest a soil test from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.  It tests for heavy metals and lead.

And finally, check out our online resources in the links below. These are gardening subject guides on community gardening, vegetable gardening and basic horticulture. These and many more are avaible through our library. See the library's complete directory of Subject Guides.

  • Last Updated Jan 08, 2019
  • Views 97
  • Answered By Janet Evans

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