FOOTPATH GARDENS

FOOTPATH GARDENING.

Nature strips are in the news! (‘City of Forgotten Green Spaces’, by Adrian Marshall The Age, 21/10). My morning walk takes me past a footpath vegie garden. Recently, it’s been cleared in readiness for the summer crop and I’m guessing it will be tomatoes and capsicums again. There is a young peach tree giving light shade. The bed is covered by wilted lettuce and cabbage leaves, quietly rotting down to feed the soil. This year there is a newly built wire mesh fence around the patch.

The garden started small, a square left from a dead street tree, but over the years has crept down the footpath to make a good-sized rectangle. However, this is no nature strip garden. It is a garden embedded in an inner city asphalt footpath.

A couple of houses down is a similar bed, housing an olive and a lemon tree and more wilted lettuce and cabbage leaves. I wonder if it had been started by the same gardener. Nature strip planting is ‘contagious’ writes Adrian Marshall. All down the street, residents have freestyled with planting in the precious soil surrounding their street trees. There is a flourishing fig tree and more peach or almond trees. One house has also expanded its square into a rectangle and is growing indigenous coastal plants. Others have opted for daisy bushes, gazanias and hebes.

Around the corner in a street full of traffic and parked cars is a low fenced garden of petunias with its tree bearing a sign, ‘Welcome to my Garden’.

The kindergarten, with its pepper tree and chooks, has built raised timber beds of herbs and green vegetables outside its entrance.

On the other side of the block is a group of fenced gardens under their trees, filled with an abundant mix of Californian Poppies, artichokes, herbs and even an echium. Again, maybe one house inspired its neighbours. In the same street is a bed of roses and petunias. The gardens sit safely in the footpaths, the low fences there just as protection against dogs.

The plants emerging from the hard paving give a break from grey asphalt and parked cars. There is an individuality and quirkiness to them which is enlivening and refreshing. On a walk to the shops or the bank, I see them change with the seasons and enjoy a new planting. I’m interested that they seem safe from possums.

I’m reminded of the childhood guessing game, ‘Animal, Mineral or Vegetable’, where the entire world is divided into these three components. I realize that my city apartment living comprises mainly the Mineral views, and that I need these walks to replenish the Vegetable and Animal elements in my life.

The appropriation of the footpath for gardens is encouraged by the City of Port Phillip. The Council is aware of the positive community benefits arising from this engagement with the local environment where residents can personalise their urban space. Its website provides advice such as the siting of your nature strip garden bed, basic gardening tips and even suggestions of suitable plant species.

I’m grateful to my neighbours who provide these gardens and appreciative of our Council which has such far sightedness about urban nature.

Liz Low

Author of ‘Eaglehawk Girl. A Free Range Child’.

Footpath Gardening

If you’re lucky enough to have a whole nature strip in front of your house, why would you let all that un-concreted, un-asphalted soil just lie there under grass? If you have a Council planted tree on your nature strip, why not put the soil around it to use?

This  unofficial commandeering of public space by residents is officially called ‘personalization of space and environment’. Port Melbourne and surrounds have some enjoyable examples.

There is a magnificent aloe in South Melbourne, which feels a bit of an adventure to park in front of. There are two trees planted up like this and I like the bizarreness of their spreading size in the street scape. I speculate as to how old they are and am glad that Port Phillip Council has left them alone to grow so absurdly.

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