Feature

A growing community

Green Lifestyle magazine

Don’t let the cool weather stop you from exploring wonderful community gardens – they come in all shapes and sizes to suit everyone.

community-garden-story

Glovers Garden, innerwest of Sydney, NSW.

Credit: Jane Mowbray

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A place to learn and innovate
It’s important to plant flowers that attract predatory insects, Lauchlan Giddy tells us, pointing to the distinct orange flower of the French marigold, which is going to seed. Every pest has a predator, and if you attract the predators to your garden, your plants are less likely be eaten by bugs. With his explanation, I realise why my basil gets demolished by green caterpillars each year, and wish I’d looked into the fundamentals of natural pest control a little earlier.

Lauchlan leans over, swipes the seeds off the plant and scatters them deftly about. If you want the flowers, he explains, they’re already there, and if you don’t, you can just pull them out. It’s a muggy Sunday morning in Sydney, and I’m touring the Randwick Community Organic Garden (RCOG), of which Lauchlan is an active member. Tucked between the neat lawns of a primary school, a scout hall and a horse stable, the six-year-old RCOG is a verdant explosion. Plants taller than me poke their branches out from a tall wire fence; escaped mint crawls out on the ground around it; and clucking chickens are a welcome alternative to the usual droning traffic.

Lauchlan shows us the worm towers he and another member are testing on their plots; the BioPod, which uses the juvenile black soldier fly to feed the chooks; the ‘weed tea’, where weeds become liquid fertiliser used to build soil or activate compost; the permaculture area; and the aquaponics, which failed the first time they tried it, but is now being used to raise seedlings.

"It may appear shambolic at first, but the RCOG is a place where new gardening knowledge is tested and formed. This knowledge is what attracts several members to the garden, some of whom have garden areas at home, says Emma Daniell, the education coordinator. “We have about 30 active members [half of all members] who don’t want an allotment. They are attracted to the garden for other reasons – social reasons, or to learn skills.”

Membership: Membership costs $50 per year and another $50 for an allotment. New members must contribute to three monthly working bees and attend three workshops.

Compost: Iggy’s, a local bakery, collects food scraps from cafés when they deliver bread, and then drop off the food scraps (15-20 buckets) to the garden each fortnight. A composting group mixes it with garden matter and turns the compost, which is kept in wire bins to maintain airflow. “It took us about five years to get it right… but we have a fantastic compost system now!” says Daniell.

Water: The garden has a large 25,000 L tank, which collects water from the roof of the horse stables next door.

Education: Each month, Daniell, a qualified horticulturist/permaculturist, runs workshops covering topics such as organic gardening and natural pest management. It’s free for members; non-members pay $20

An alternative to the pub
The Waverley Park Community Garden comprises just six small, raised garden beds along the fence line of Waverley Park. A Costa Georgiadis look-a-like scarecrow – the craft project of a father-daughter team – leans against the fence, alongside a chalkboard.

On my first visit, a man walking his dog approaches. He’s often admired the garden, and wants to find out more. The second time I visit, a German tourist introduces herself. She wants to join a community garden when she returns to Berlin.

Friendly chin-wags between strangers happen all the time at Waverley Park – and that’s what local neighbours Sarah van Erp and Penny Jones had in mind when they decided to start a community project.

“It wasn’t a garden we were going to make in the beginning,” says Penny. Sarah chimes in: “Yeah, it was a community we were making, and this was one of the projects that came out of it.”

The 18 month-old garden has no individual plots. The work and harvest is shared, and the garden is always open. “There are no gates or locks or anything like that. I really like that model. Anyone can come and pick something whenever they want,” says Sarah.

So far, they haven’t had any issues with someone taking too much, according to Adam Brass. And, when asked about the community, Adam grins: “The garden is like an alternative to the pub.

High beds
The waist-high, water tank-turned garden beds at Waverley Park were designed keep dogs off – a necessity in an open garden – but can also be used if councils impose a ‘no dig’ restriction due to buried material.
The height has another advantage: no more bending over! It’s great for older or less mobile people, and the plants grow in front of your eyes, literally. “At first people would say ‘What have you done?’. And I’m like, ‘Umm, hello, we’re making it easy to garden’,” says van Erp.

Membership: There is no membership. Ten members attend meetings, 20 contribute to plantings, and an immeasurable number harvest something on their way past. They communicate with each other using a chalkboard and a Facebook group.

Compost: There are two colourful composting bins, and a compost-turning roster. Being in a local park, passers-by sometimes put their rubbish in the bins, but, “it’s getting better,” says Penny.

Water: There is a watering roster, and the group uses a nearby tap connected to council water. They’re investigating the possibility of harvesting rainwater from the roof of a nearby youth centre.

Education: It’s all peer-to-peer learning and Google searches at Waverley Park. Though, recently Penny stuck in basic educational signs, such as “Basil – delicious herb for salad/cooking/pesto. Pinch the tips to help the plant grow.”

A most fertile patch of land
Greg Heffernan is known for his fine cooking skills and recipes at the Glovers Garden in the inner west of Sydney. He picks a small asparagus from his allotment. “I don’t cook asparagus anymore,” he says, handing it straight to me. I take it, somewhat reluctantly, but after one small bite I quickly devour the rest. It’s the best asparagus I’ve ever eaten.

Glovers Garden is a cornucopia: “I’m surprised at how much I can get out of a 10 foot by 5 foot plot,” Greg says. He’d just harvested 30 potatoes, he tells me proudly.

Part of the reason is that the sloped, sunny block of land has been tended to since the early 1980s. It’s Sydney’s oldest community garden. “The soil is incredibly fertile because everyone has been working it for ages. They’ve put a lot of effort into the composting and soil preparation,” says new member Juliet Cobb, who joined the garden despite having a good-sized backyard in her Lilyfield home.

Juliet also signed up for the chook roster, which involves letting out the garden’s 10 chickens in the morning and locking them away at night – plus collecting any eggs. “I’m sure for country people this is nothing new, but for an urban person to come at 8am and find a warm egg,” she smiles and shrugs, “it’s just amazing.”

One man's weeds are another man's treasure
Everything grows at Glover Garden, including a large variety of weeds, says Diane Watkins. One of the problems new arrivals often had was identifying which plants are vegetables, which are non-edible but helpful plants, and which are weeds that need removing. So, now, new members are taught what the common weeds look like and how to remove them.

Membership: The garden only brought in individual allotments a few years ago, after some trouble within the community. Now, it’s $50 to join and another $50 for an allotment. New members have to participate in three working bees.

Compost: The garden has three compost pits, including one with (as yet unproven scientifically) biodynamic preparations.

Water: Water tanks collect run off from Glovers Street – a steep road leading down to the harbour foreshore. At the lower end of the garden, they’ve got a banana plantation: “It soaks up all the water as it runs down the hill and stops it from flooding,” says Diane.

Education: Glovers garden has just received a community education grant from their local council to put in a shady paved area and host educational workshops for the community on how to recognise and eat weeds, compost and save seeds.

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