So go about getting to know what the scene is on a social level first. You are not trying to design a garden here, you are trying to design a culture, a community, a social structure that will achieve certain ends. What are those ends? Who else is involved? What is the lay of the social landscape? Those things will end up influencing the design choices about the garden far more than you are likely to realize. If you design with that in mind your garden will succeed on multiple levels. If you don't it will likely be a short-lived phenomenon.
I think by doing that, I can do as Dave commented.
You begin to show up as a potential partner, rather than just another person with good ideas. In genuine connection, both people have the possibility of being altered by the conversation. In any case, this kind of connection encourages people to be available for what can spontaneously arise in the moment, and give rise to some kind of mutuality that is not forced, and ideas that present themselves as revelations. It evolves out of the energy of the connection. Then, that connection can be trusted to yield ideas that actually flow from the needs of the parties to the conversation.
I also appreciate the invite to your NVC group, but unfortunately I am completely across the country in Pennsylvania.
If we let the fear teach us what the issues/design goals are, then we get to creatively design around them. We hope!
We have never done anything with an educational angle with the Gardens. It would be a great opportunity to combine those types of activities, its just my staff has a pretty full schedule.