It’s amazing how much a small 30 square metre vegetable garden can produce. It’s great to be able to eat chemical-free produce straight from the garden. Some of it has been so tasty! But what I really find amazing is the difference it can produce in relationships in a street.
In mid-2013 Cathy, Jasmine and Alexa (my partner and daughters) decided to create a vegetable garden on our nature strip for kids in our street. They sent out invitations to all the kids they knew of in our end of the street (and a few up the other end) to turn up at 1pm on Saturday with their gardening gloves and old clothes. They then waited to see what would happen. We knew a few people were interested, but really had no idea if people would actually show up. On that first Saturday in August there were 23 of us – 14 kids and 9 parents, most of whom stayed all afternoon! There was so much enthusiasm that 7 of the kids and 4 parents (including us) walked down to a local farmers market the following morning so that the kids could choose vegetable and herb seedlings to plant. In the afternoon the work continued (with 10 kids and 3 parents), and the first plants were in – 28 hours after we started building the garden.
Since then the garden, and relationships in the street, have flourished. To be honest the garden has flourished mostly because Cathy looks after it. While the kids still have quite a sense of ownership, they don’t really do a lot of gardening, although most were quite committed to the watering roster over summer.
Because the kids go to six different schools they didn’t know each other very well, but that has all changed. Many of them, mainly the primary school aged girls, are now good friends who can often be seen playing together.
The garden has also created connections between adults in the street particularly for recent arrivals. A few houses up the road, a woman with adult children is an avid gardener and often comes down to give a hand or to have a chat. She also held a cooking class for the kids during the last school holidays. When a family moved in across the road, they met quite a few neighbours in the first couple of days by joining people catching up at the garden in the late afternoon.
The garden has led to a variety of other activities in the street – some directly linked to the garden and others growing from connections developed through the garden. We’ve had two chicken burger nights (with herbs and vegies from the garden), the girls put together a band (The Pop Plants) for one of the burger nights, there’s been a sleep out in a tent in someone’s backyard, the kids had a market stall to sell produce and we’ve had a community garage sale. One of the families has put a tyre swing in a tree on their nature strip and it has become a meeting place where kids sometimes hang-out if looking for someone to play with.
We’re often asked, “Did you have to get permission from Council?” The short answer is, “No, we didn’t.” We have a very successful garden and we didn’t get permission. Maybe we should have, but we knew that it we asked there was a good chance we would be refused or we would face conditions that were too restrictive. We know that our Council really supports the idea of verge gardens (particularly one’s like the Kids’ Vegies on the Verge that brings neighbours together) but find it hard to give official permission.
I think the secret is to do it with style and respect (to borrow the phrase from Michael Mobbs). If you are going to plant a garden on the verge, make sure you leave room for a footpath and for people getting out of their cars, you don’t interfere with good visibility and you maintain it well. We are very fortunate to have very wide verges in our street (6m wide!), so having a garden plus good access was quite easy.
We hope we will start to see more gardens on the verges of our street and surrounding neighbourhoods. We know that a few families have already been inspired by Kids’ Vegies on the Verge to start a backyard garden and one of our neighbours was happy for us to plant a lemon tree and a mango tree on their nature strip.
Kids’ Vegies on the Verge not only turned a patch of grass into a productive vegetable garden; it also transformed relationships in our street. The garden has helped increase the safety of kids in the street (as they now have so many more people they can turn to for help in an emergency), helped build social capital of our neighbourhood and helped build the sense of community. Not bad for one small garden!
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