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The Harvest Part

Community gardens represent a lot more than mere plots used for growing a smattering of herbs and veg. Often on Council property, these micro gardens are hubs of trade in the fresh produce economy. They are meeting places, sources of pride and act as unifying factors amongst the community. Their success depends on a shared desire to be less dependent on chain supermarkets and people's love of practical gardening.

Rob at the Linda Crescent Community Garden

Locally, the Hawthorn Community Garden Association oversees the allotment behind the Glenferrie Oval off Linda Crescent and the gardens on Riversdale Road, next to the Junction Skate & BMX Park. Together they boast a combined 86 individual garden beds, however the Linda Crescent garden will lose seven plots due to their proximity to the demolition of the Ferguson Stand, with their relocation ‘to be determined’.

Karen harvesting some lettuce at Riversdale Road community garden

While tending his plot, Rob, a 13-year veteran leaseholder at Glenferrie’s Linda Crescent community garden revealed, "We've had to downsize ‘cause of the Stand’s demolition encroaching on part of the garden." He explained, "The committee asked some of us to halve our plots so we didn't lose any members. But we all swap and share what we grow anyway, so it's really no hassle." Plot-holder Karen, who stopped by to harvest some lettuce, remarked on the mental health benefits of social gardening, “You don't need a psychiatrist if you have a garden plot!”

Community gardens associations are managed by an elected committee who generally ensure that plots are weeded, maintained and that members help put out and collect bins and clean up after themselves. They can re-acquire plots if they are neglected or the annual fee is not paid. The lease-holders, Rob says, are generally a thoughtful bunch who look out for each other. “We share the workload. One of our plot owners is unwell at the moment so we all take turns in watering and weeding their area.”

Peter gets down to his plot in Riversdale Road several days a week

New members wanting to get their gumbooted foot through the gate of Hawthorn’s two major community gardens may face a considerable wait. These allotments currently have around a three-year long waiting list and plots are on unlimited renewal leases. However, Council explained that Boroondara’s newest community garden in Kew, opened in 2019, has placed a five-year lease limit on their plots. At present, unlimited lease community gardens offer leases on a first-in-best-dressed basis.

Community Garden Origins

Community gardens first appeared specifically to meet the needs of a growing urban population when Melbourne was blossoming from a town into a major city. They can be traced back to the 1840s as market gardens, where communities would gather to cultivate and farm vegetables on public land to be sold or traded at marketplaces. Trade would often include 'nightsoil' - a polite way of saying 'crap' - which would be collected from outhouses. It would then be used to fertilise next year's crop, creating a cycle of sustainability. Later, during the Second World War, many Australian suburbs followed the UK's lead in establishing allotments known as 'Victory Gardens' for growing vegetables to boost food production in a time of rationing. This period saw urban nature strips and vacant lots repurposed as food production zones, however in the post-war era, many allotments were swallowed up by development and fresh produce became abundant with the rise of the chain supermarkets in the 1960s.

Popularity Re-birth

Rather than rolling over and making way for industrial food production, community gardens re-emerged in the late ‘70s thanks in part to Dr Gavan Oakley, a Nunawading councillor, who saw them as more ‘socially valuable’ than ‘chainstore competitive’. Nowadays, their popularity shows no sign of dwindling. However, due to the long waiting lists and limited or non-existent growing space at home, some local citizens around Glenferrie have utilised natural property boundary areas, such as verges and nature strips, as ‘unofficial’ community gardens.

Nature Strip Gardens

Boroondara residents can apply for a Nature Strip Renovation Permit, which allows interested parties to plant, mulch and landscape the nature strips adjacent to their homes. Rules that apply are; allowing room for parked car access, providing a flat stone path for walking access between the kerb and the footpath and leaving space for garbage bin collection. Near driveways, street corners and intersections, vegetation should not exceed 50cm in height to ensure good sight-lines for road users and pedestrians. Planting grass does not require a permit, and Council advises choosing drought tolerant warm season grasses for best results.

St Columbs Anglican Church oversee nine community garden plots

Gardening Alternatives To help service garden-loving residents without access to nature strips, St Columbs' Anglican Church, on the corner of Burwood Road and St Columbs Street, established nine raised community garden beds within their grounds in 2014. Head gardener, Robyn explains, “Currently our little group is a few young families who have kids that attend our playgroup, but we are open to anyone interested in gardening.” She adds, “Gardening days at present occur on the last Saturday of each month between 10am and 12pm.” Participants share the nine plots, and St Columbs' have no leases or waiting lists. Robyn emphasises, “we’re a smaller collective than the two major Council-run gardens, but we are more about the fun of gardening together.”

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