council

Digging up the last of our nature strip

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The last patch of grass in the nature strip alongside our house.
The last patch of grass in the nature strip alongside our house.

Soon after we moved into our house in Lewisham, we dug up a section of the nature strip, and planted citrus trees and herbs. While three of the citrus were immediately stolen, we continued to build up the strip in front of our door, until it was lush and vibrant.

A year ago, we pulled up another section of the nature strip, and native plantings quickly took over.

As it turns out, the local council would actually prefer us to pull up little sections of grass, rather than leave them squeezed in amongst other plantings. This makes life easier for the council staff who do the mowing, and helps to reduce the cost of maintaining the streets.

So with just one piece of grass left between the two sets of plantings, we sorted that out this last weekend.

Nothing but bare earth now!
Nothing but bare earth now!

The process of pulling out the grass is easier than it looks. The roots are shallow, so some mattock work lifts out chunks of grass. It’s then just a matter of digging through the soil to get out as many remnant grass roots as possible.

I then topped it up with some spare soil, and added a little native plant fertiliser.

I’ve been growing a number of native plants from cuttings, so these provided the start of what should become a thick bushy area. Plants include mint bushes (prostanthera), correas, dianellas, and a number of ground covers (including pigface). (We planted the grevillea six months ago.)

The start of what should become a thick and bushy strip of native plants.
The start of what should become a thick and bushy strip of native plants.

I collected some free mulch from the local council nursery, and the end result looks rather good I think. Over the next month I’ll finish off the plantings, and by then I’m expecting the seedlings to start putting on some serious growth.

Another piece of grass replaced by native plants, yay!

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Giving street trees more space

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Dianellas planted around the base of a Council street tree
Dianellas planted around the base of a Council street tree

One of the topics that came up at my first Marrickville Council Environment Committee meeting was the Council’s recent (?) policy of widening the cut-out around street trees, as shown in the photo above (taken a block away from our house on Old Canterbury Rd).

Hardy natives, such as Lomandras and Dianellas are then planted around the base of the tree.

This is a great idea, for a whole pile of reasons:

  • the trees get more space to grow, including better access to rainwater
  • damage to the pavement is reduced
  • the arrangement looks great
  • it increases the biodiversity of the area
  • plants such as lomandra and dianella both produce berries much liked by birds

Of course, it’s not a new idea. In the streets around us, hundreds of trees have had  plants guerrilla gardened in underneath them. The variety is the great bit, from natives to exotics, grasses and flowers. Perhaps the Council is just catching up with the local residents!

Gardening around the base of street trees -- have residents been leading the way?
Gardening around the base of street trees — have residents been leading the way?

Joining Marrickville Council’s Environment Committee

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Early this year, I volunteered to join Marrickville Council’s Environment Committee, which meets quarterly. I was one of a large number of new members, and there’s a wide range of very interesting people on the Committee. One is a local cafe owner, several are street gardners, and we have at least one environmental researcher.

We’ve had our first meeting with the new members, and it was interesting (if not exciting — it is a Committee after all!). The main topic that was discussed was the results of a recent tree audit commissioned by the Council. Many figures were shared about the type, size, nature and health of trees across the local government area.

One of my takeaways from the meeting was the idea of the “urban forest”. It’s a simple yet powerful phase, encompassing the idea that the trees as a whole make up a “forest” across the area. This leads naturally to discussions about increasing canopy coverage and biodiversity.

(City of Sydney, for example, has announced a target of 25% canopy coverage across its area, in part to mitigate the urban heat island effect.)

I’ll share other interesting tidbits as they come up on this blog…

City of Sydney’s community gardens policy

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Michael Mobbs has highlighted on his blog that City of Sydney has just published a community gardens policy (PDF). This looks good, and I’d love to see something similar in place in Marrickville Council. To quote:

Community gardens are unique forms of public open space which are managed by the community primarily for the production of food and to contribute to the development of a sustainable urban environment. They are places for learning and sharing about sustainable living practices, and for actively building community through shared activities.

The City of Sydney recognises community gardening as a valuable recreational activity that contributes to the health and well-being of the wider community and provides a wide range of environmental, social and educational benefits.

There are currently thirteen community gardens across the Local Government Area (LGA) and this is expected to increase significantly in the near future due to high community demand and to support the vision of Sustainable Sydney 2030.

The purpose of the Community Gardens Policy is to establish a framework for the City’s commitment to the appropriate management of both new and existing community gardens. This framework will provide a clear procedure for the establishment of new gardens, outline a basis for communication and partnership between stakeholders and provide a rationale for decision making that ensures consistency in the management of all community gardens in the City of Sydney.

PS. I’ve been away in Europe for three weeks (for work), but thankfully Miss P has been ably looking after the garden. Now that the jetlag is receding, there will hopefully be an upswing of postings.

Policy on planting in the nature strip

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I’m reliably informed that Marrickville Council doesn’t have an official policy on planting in the nature strip. In practice, they seem content to overlook any planting that does get done, presuably within sensible boundaries.

I was therefore interested to discover that City of Canterbury does have a nature strip policy. What I like about this is the explicit responsibility given to the householder: if you decide to plant the nature strip, you need to maintain it. There are also generally sensible guidelines on where not to plant (such as on a corner).

I only have  a few complaints about this policy. Firstly, it sets the maximum height of allowed plants to 600mm, which rules out all shrubs and trees (even small ones). We already have a handful of trees on our street, presumably limited by council budget and resources. This policy would prevent us from sensibly planting additional trees.

The fee for gaining approval also seems needless, and out of touch with expected practices. Still, it’s great to see a formal policy (I believe that thanks needs to go to the Greens for kick-starting this).

I’d love to see a similar policy put in place in the Marrickville area, and I’ve already made contact with Councillors Max Phillips, Cathy Peters and Peter Olive. Add a comment if you’d also like to get involved in making this happen…