Back in 2014, I started planting alongside the pedestrian pathway that runs from Lewisham Station through to West St. There have been ups and downs, but I’m now up to 30 metres of garden, with a mix of small trees, bushes and ground covers (all natives).
And then I paused, as I’d been reported to the council for planting trees (shock horror!).
I ended up having a visit from the tree officer at Inner West Council, who turned out to be delightful. Not only did he approve of the work (his first question was: “are you going to do the rest?”), but he offered some free trees.
A month or so later, the council planted eight Lilly Pillies, plus a variety of other trees. This has doubled the length of the garden, to approximately 60 metres. Which is about half of the entire length of the passageway. Now we’re getting there!
I offered to mulch under the council trees, so I collected free cardboard boxes from the recycling bins at Pig and Pastry, plus free mulch from the Council. Two full ute loads of mulch later, I’m only half way. Phew! Still it’s good exercise, and there’s a palpable sense of progress now.
I’ll be at this for a few years yet, so say hi if you see me working away. And any volunteer help would be gratefully received!
Four years ago we started planting out our guerrilla-gardened food forest in the land behind our house. This included nine different varieties of apple trees, alongside a mix of citrus and other fruit trees.
While we had a tiny harvest two years ago, this is the first year that we’ve had a reasonable harvest.
The Jonathon variety is by far the strongest tree, and the most prolific producer of fruit. We’ve also got a good crop of local Granny Smith apples on the way.
The trees have been very hit-and-miss so far. Some years it’s been the weather, with a lack of rain during key spring growing period. Fruit fly attack is also a constant problem (I’ll post shortly about our bamboo-and-netting solution.)
Still, we’ve harvested two full bucket loads of apples so far this year, with more to come. That’s a lot of apples for two people to eat.
While a many of the apples are blemished or marked externally, they have wonderfully pale green flawless flesh. Not to mention a crispness and depth of flavour that you just don’t get in supermarket apples that have been sitting in a cool store for upwards of six months. Yum! 🙂
Expect more posts shortly on apple-related preserves 🙂
About six months ago I started planting natives beside Lewisham train station, taking the initiative where the council and railways hadn’t. That patch is growing well, although it’s constantly under threat from work vehicles which tend to drive down the pedestrian path.
So to diversify my risks, I’ve started guerrilla gardening the other end of the pedestrian way, where it meets West St. As can be seen from the photo above, it was hardly a delight for those walking by.
The starting point was to mattock over all the ground, breaking it up, and pulling out the grass and weeds. A full barrow-load of my best compost then went it to add some life back into the soil, along with a few handfuls of native-friendly fertiliser.
Marrickville Council nursery kindly maintains a pile of mulch, for free use by locals. Now that I have a ute, I took full advantage 🙂 What wasn’t used on the new strip went to supplement the existing plantings.
The result is a new strip of guerrilla gardening ready to be planted. It’s also a great way to get some exercise, as it took a fair portion of a day to get everything done.
With a week of grey rainy days ahead (in contrast to the recent heat and humidity!), I got the first plants into the ground. Most of these were cuttings from my previous plantings, but I also added a few new things that I picked up at the council nursery. This included Indigofera Australis (native indigo) and Pomaderris Intermedia, both of which should grow into attractive mid-sized bushes.
Before Lewisham, we lived in a unit in Chippendale. Surrounded by the local guerrilla gardening of the verge, we were equally enthusiastic when we moved into our new house.
We remain strong supporters of the principle of gardening the verge (nature strip). We’ve learned along the way, however, a bit about what works and what doesn’t.
What works in the verge
There are many possibilities for gardening the verge, while staying in local council guidelines.
“Pick and come again” mediterranean herbs work particularly well. They’re tough, attractive, and useful for office workers heading home to make their evening meal. Olive trees and bay trees also work well, acclimatised as they are to tough conditions.
There are plenty of native plants that work well in the verge, from low-running ground-covers and strap-leaf grasses, through to hardy bushes and small trees. (We’re quite pleased with our native verge.)
What doesn’t work in the verge
Our biggest lesson is that citrus trees don’t work well in the verge. Since this is the hardest learned lesson for us, it’s worth sharing a few specific reasons:
- Citrus trees are gross feeders. That is, they require a lot of food, throughout the year. Without this, they remain stunted and fruit-less. (For example, for us to get lots of limes, we greatly ramped up our feeding regimen.)
- Citrus are attacked by bugs and diseases. There’s practically nothing that they aren’t attacked by, including citrus leaf miners, stink bugs, aphids, thrips and citrus gall moth, to name just a few.
- Citrus aren’t set-and-forget. For the reasons listed above, citrus need constant monitoring and care, for their entire lifetime.
- They get stolen. Mirroring the experience in Chippendale, three of our four citrus trees were stolen in the first fortnight, the last being left only because it looked so poor.
- People are impatient. While the whole idea of edible plants in the verge is to share the bounty, we’ve found that the fruits get taken well before they’ve even ripened.
- People are careless. More often than not, a whole branch will be ripped off, rather than a single fruit twisted free.
In short, don’t plant citrus. Beyond this, each local council will have guidelines about what not to plant. Large street trees are typically seen, for example, as the sole domain of the council to plant.
But there are plenty of other options! May your verge live well and prosper.
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.
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.)
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!
Nine months ago we guerrilla gardened a native verge, to flesh out the space around the two trees we planted when we first moved into the house.
In a remarkably short period of time it’s grown out to fill the verge, making for a bold statement of native vigour. The Pennisetum advena ‘Rubrum’ (the purple grass in the middle of the verge) has grown staggeringly quickly, overwhelming a few of the lomandras. It’s survival of the quickest in this verge!
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, this was the verge when first planted, in March last year:
For a long time now, we’ve had two compost bins (Aerobins) and a worm farm. Which have been great, particularly after I gave them more solid foundations to sit on.
That still left me with a hankering for a proper compost heap, to supply organic material for our guerilla-gardened food forest.
Some space has finally opened up at the back, giving the me opportunity to construct the first of several compost bays (at least, that’s the plan).
Creating a square metre of compostable material wasn’t hard, between the piles of fallen leaves, weeds galore, and other green materials. I’ve turned it once already, and it’s starting to build up some heat.
Onwards to compost!
Living in the inner city, there’s no shortage of weeds, in the street and in our garden. Thankfully not one but two books have been published to make the best of it:
- Edible Weeds and Garden Plants of Melbourne (Doris Pozzi)
- The Weed Forager’s Handbook (Adam Grubb & Annie Raser-Rowland)
The first is a self-published book covering common weeds, their identification and use. Don’t be fooled by the name: this book is applicable throughout temperate regions in Australia, including Sydney.
The second book is professionally published, and covers much the same ground, but with more pictures.
Both are truly excellent, and they make you look at “weeds” in an entirely new way. Many of the most common weed plants are edible, as salad ingredients, steamed or in stir-fries. They also have many medicinal uses.
Using the two books, these are the weeds that we identified growing in our garden, or in the food forest out the back:
- Blackberry Nightshade
- Cobbler’s Pegs
- Fat Hen
- Sow Thistle
- Sticky Weed
That’s quite a list! With the plants growing at different times throughout the year, we’re going to make an effort to make use of what’s growing wild, to supplement our garden crops.
We’re also using them to give our chickens a green feed every morning, which is probably why their yolks are so yellow!
(The fact that 80% of the weeds out the back are edible does gives pause for thought. Perhaps they were seeded deliberately at some point in the distant past?)
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!
I’ve been very active on our nature strip, madly guerilla gardening in several citrus trees, a bay tree, kaffir lime, and lemon-scented tea tree. My next step is to progressively get rid of the grass which is competing with the trees (no small task, will be waiting for some cooler weather!).
One of the residents from down the road dropped by one day to ask about the trees: did I ask for permission from the Council first? “Well, I could’ve” was my response.
After some further discussions, he revealed that he had two olive trees that had outgrown their pots, and was wondering whether they could be planted into the nature strip in front of their house. I said: why not! The following weekend they went into the nature strip, and they’re growing well a month or two later.
As they say: from little things, big things grow. Who knows, maybe we’ve started a local movement. 🙂