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!
The photo above underscores what street trees often have to suffer through.
With the trunk surrounded by concrete on all sides, the results are lifted pavements for pedestrians, and too little water for the tree. Amazingly, some people call for the offending trees to be cut down, but there’s a better solution.
Why not give the trees more space?
Marrickville Council is one council pursuing this policy. When a pavement comes up for renewal as part of the regular maintenance (planned five years ahead), a bigger opening is left for trees.
This gives the trees more space, and allows more rain to absorb into the ground, rather than into the stormwater system. I imagine it also saves a small (but measurable) amount of concrete.
Biodiversity is also increased when low plants, such as lomandras and dianellas, are planted around the base of the trees. With an even larger space, it becomes possible to establish a true verge garden.
Marrickville Council also goes beyond this. At the time of writing, the Sustainable Streets program enables residents to cut spaces out of their concrete verge for a small fee. If the majority of a street requests street gardens then the council will cut out the concrete, provide some extra soil, and even throw in some plants for free.
As a final note, this pavement work next to Petersham Park is another small but elegant example of the principle at work. Instead of re-laying the whole pavement with concrete, gravel was laid down for half the width. When I talked to the Council about this, they highlighted the benefits of less run-off, as well as providing more rain for the avenue of trees.
Councils have a big role to play in the sustainability of our local environment. If we can keep changing default policies to encompass environmental thinking, we’re well on our way to saving the planet!
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!
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…
Marrickville Council has organised another Water Sustainability Urban Design (WSUD) tour in the local area, and we’re one of the stops.
The purpose of these tours is to show local residents some of the many ways of saving water. In our case, it’s our water tank, irrigation system, and permaculture garden sufficient to meet our vegetable needs.
See you on the day!
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.
When we put in our water tank early last year, we received a rebate from Marrickville Council, which was much appreciated. This also started a dialogue with the water folks at the Council.
As a result of this, I agreed to become a “Sustainable Water Ambassador”, and the details on this have just gone live.
So far this hasn’t involved doing much, although we were one of the stops on a local tour of water sustainable houses. I’ve also been invited to be a member of a Council working party on sustainability, which should be interesting.
Yarra Council in Melbourne has recently come out in support of Guerilla gardens in their municipality. This will set a precedent for other councils. Are you listening, Marrickville Council?
In the meantime:
As Rebecca Solnit, the inspiring San Francisco-based activist, concludes in her book Hope in the Dark: the Untold History of People Power, there is no point waiting for governments, be they local or otherwise, to initiate change.
She insists that it’s from the margins that new and radical ideas always emerge and get translated into action. And the margins are certainly where you’ll find guerilla gardeners.
Hat tip: New Matilda
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…