verge

Why you shouldn’t plant citrus trees in the verge

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Yes, that's a lemon tree buried in amongst the nasturtiums...
Yes, that’s a lemon tree buried in amongst the nasturtiums…

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.

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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!

Reclaim the curb (and win a prize!)

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Our native verge is lush and vibrant.
Our native verge is lush and vibrant (although only partially edible).

We’re great believers in homeowners playing a direct role in their street. The most visible (and perhaps the easiest!) way is to plant out the verge.

In our case, we’ve planted one verge with native plants (above), as well as a second containing herbs and other edibles. Both are lovely to walk by (we think).

That’s why we’re excited to hear about the Reclaim the Curb initiative, who are holding a competition to Create Australia’s Most Edible Curb.

What a great idea! So get planting, and submit your efforts to win a prize 🙂

(The deadline is 5pm 31st May 2013.)

Our native verge garden has grown quickly!

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Our native verge is lush and vibrant.
Our native verge is lush and vibrant.

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:

The verge when first planted, nine months ago.
The verge when first planted, nine months ago.

Urban greenery in Vancouver

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A green roof on top of a skyscraper, as seen from the Granville bridge
A green roof on top of a skyscraper, as seen from the Granville bridge

Last week I was in Vancouver (Canada) for work, and in amongst the conference and meetings I had a chance to walk through most areas of the city.

It’s a lovely city. It’s also interesting to see little patches of greenery popping up in unlikely spots.

This includes a green roof on top of a skyscraper (above), and community gardens squeezed into unused spaces (below). There were also a few rain gardens, which looked to have been installed as part of the preparation for the Winter Olympics, which were held here a few years back.

Say what you like about top-down policies and strategies for addressing climate change. Even in the absence of these, cities around the world are undergoing a quiet revolution that is connecting people to communities, food and the environment.

Community garden alongside disused railway tracks, south of the CBD.
Community garden alongside disused railway tracks, south of the CBD.
Community garden, right in the heart of the city.
Community garden, right in the heart of the city.
Greening a roundabout: "This street garden is being cared for by a local resident involved in the Green Streets Program."
Greening a roundabout: “This street garden is being cared for by a local resident involved in the Green Streets Program.”
Rain garden, near Vancouver's stadiums.
Rain garden, near Vancouver’s stadiums.
Large scale urban agriculture, right at the foot of the huge stadium.
Large scale urban agriculture, right at the foot of the huge stadium.

Planting natives into our verge

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Just starting to pull out the first of the grass
Just starting to pull out the first of the grass

When we first moved into the house, we brought with us a bay tree that was living in a pot. One of our first actions was to guerrilla garden this into the verge, along with a lemon-scented tea tree (Leptospermum Petersonii). They’ve been happily growing there for the last 3+ years.

Inspired by the Council’s recent efforts, we decided to take the next step, and to strip out all the grass in the strip of verge.

This was surprisingly easy to do with a mattock, and the grass was all out in a little over an hour.

We then planted in a mix of hardy natives:

  • Lomandra longifolia
  • Lomonda hystrix
  • Dianella caerulea
  • Pennisetum advena ‘Rubrum’
  • Grevillea

It’s not much to look at right now, but give it six months and it will be lush bush pocket!

Give it a bit of time to grow, and it will look great.
Give it a bit of time to grow, and it will look great.

City of Sydney’s Footpath Gardening Policy

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In urban environments, the strip of grass alongside the road is the only green space available for residents. While verge plantings are often wonderfully vibrant (including our own), they can be held back by a lack of clear support (and guidelines) from Council.

It’s therefore great to see City of Sydney get out in front on this issue:

The [City of Sydney’s] Footpath Gardening Policy has been developed in order to allow the public to establish a garden or nature strip without a development application. Council adopted the recommendation to allocate an impressive $50,000 for seeds and plant boxes to help kickstart this important process for the first six months.

via Concrete Playground.

We’re aware that there’s a draft policy in progress at Marrickville Council, although it’s been a long time coming, and still hasn’t seen the light of day. Hopefully soon!