by Russ Grayson, 2012
BLUE SKIES, tens of people, the mayor of Leichhardt and a truly impressive—and large—cake all came together on Sunday 28 July for the launch of Sydney’s newest community garden at Mort Bay.
Accompanied by Mort Bay community gardener Tony, Mayor Rochelle Porteous first cut the tape then cut the cake to mark the garden’s official opening.
Like many community gardens, Mort Bay moved from idea through uncertanty then toward actuality as the first community garden to be developed under council’s community garden policy. And like many community gardens, this process of getting started called for patience and good communciation between garden members and council.
The importance of aesthetics
You might think of Mort Bay Community Garden as a cultivated shelf backed by the vertical rampart joining it to the street above on one side and a lower fall into the gounds of a childcare centre whose roof and photovoltaic array are immediately below. Beyond that, there’s a park planted to young native fig trees and the waters of Sydney Harbour. And, beyond that again, on the skyline in the distance is the vertical reef of Sydney’s central business district and the gracefull curve of the harbour bridge. If there was an award for the community garden with the best views, then Mort Bay might be the winner.
In such as setting and overlooked by a row of terrace houses across the street above, you can see why aesthetics—appearance— was important in the design of the community garden. I understand that this was a concern voiced when the community garden was proposed, as was potential loss of dog exercise space—two concerns common to community garden proposals. The fact that the community garden has no fence around it and is designed as an additional component in the recreational options of the public open space it occupies—much as the nearby sports ground is an active recreational option and the parkland for passive recreation—people can continue to walk their dogs and visit the site.
Regarding aesthetics, the gardeners made use of pattern to create a sense of visual integration and order by designing the garden beds as flowers—two units consisting of a small, central, circular raised garden have longer beds radiating from them like the petals of a flower.
Making us of natural resources where they occur is a garden storage shed with water tank to store the rainwater that falls on the shed roof.
The garden has space to expand before it fully occupies its elevated position, and some of the native grasses earlier planted on site will be removed to make way for garden beds.
Raised gardens beds—green, galvanised iron containers from Tankworks around a metre in height and perhaps two metres in length—were selected and it is these that make the flower shapes. Container gardens were a necessity as the site is classified as contaminated and plant roots require isolation from the soils.
Lower containers about 60cm height were placed along the fence above the childcare centre and these have been planted to grape and raspberry, among other crops.
The petal gardens were made as self-watering gardens or wicking gardens, so-called because water is wicked from a gravel and water-filled reservior into the soil above. This reduces the chance of the gardens drying out in the heat of summer and makes it unnecessary for gardeners to water as frequently as would otherwise be necessary.
Up near Balmain Library, there’s an old, small and neat-looking glasshouse once used by council to propagate plants for public places and now used by a community propagation group. They have invited Mort Bay community gardeners to make use of the building for their own plant propagation, a positive demonstration of the benefits of linking community enterprise in an area.
Mort Bay Community Garden demonstrates how community gardens have become another recrational option, a source of self-grown, good food—and inititives that create a sense of place in our cities. Like Mort Bay Community Garden, community gardens represent a vote of confidence and trust by local govenment in the capacity of communities to responsibly manage public land and provide new ways for citizens and council to explore and work out new relationships.
On that sunny Sunday in late July, Mort Bay Community Garden move from idea into reality.
Mort Bay Community