Community gardens are thriving in our urban areas. Some are inspired by a commercial opportunity to support a business, some are designed to teach kids how to get dirt under their fingernails and others are designed to be opportunities to make connections with people in your community who just want to grow some food or make better use of unused spaces.
The ABC is currently running a wonderful campaign to provide new books for kids who may never have held a new book. I’m very lucky that growing up I was given many new books and one of my favourites was Peter Rabbit.
As a kid in a country town I was a lot like Peter, sneaking into backyards with fig, loquat, and mulberry trees, brushing away the fruit flies for a sneaky snack.
There were some people though who didn’t like kids pinching their fruit and were after me to put me in a pie just like nasty Mr McGregor wanted to do with Peter. Those illustrations in Peter Rabbit that show him being chased through the neat rows of vegetables and little tool sheds remind me very much of my childhood.
Throughout Perth there are some amazing and inspiring examples of commercial gardens, local government coordinated gardens and community gardens organised by and for the community.
Forget Broome Time, come and enjoy some City Farm time. Within a half hectare of space are rows of little plants, little sheds, wandering chickens and free range kids and opportunities to get noisy and dirty or just quietly wander around with your hands behind your back, leaning in occasionally to study the leaves of a plant and think about what you could do at home with a packet of seeds.
I love the constant change of City Farm. Every time you come in here it’s different. Things have grown or been pulled out to grow new things. The markets can have odd shaped vegetables and flour bag pants and the following weekend have bee workshops and odd shaped fruit.
It’s not hippy but it is hip. I feel like I can let Tom wander off on his own and he’s not going to come back dressed like John Butler but he may have a story to tell about a chicken he chased, or how he wants to grow some oddly shaped vegetables at home.
Further south you’ll find a garden you’re allowed to wander and explore called the Coogee Common. It’s run by Scott and his gardens supply the restaurant that’s part of the premises, the old Coogee Hotel. Not only will you see the staff wandering around the garden snipping and picking bits and pieces for your brunch or lunch but you can get a tour with Scott once he’s finished making your meal.
He helped Tom overcome his fear of bees by showing him their hives, nestled in amongst a row of olive trees and rosemary bushes. He showed us barrels of olives, stalks of kale, the fruit of the prickly pear and so many rows of vegetables and piles of little terracotta pots that once again I started having visions of Peter Rabbit running for his life.
Let’s get up to North Perth for a trio of community garden experiences. Let’s start with the Kyilla Community Farmers Market. Every Saturday morning this little market sets up camp at the Kyilla Primary School with farm direct and locally made produce, and the stalls are constantly changing to reflect what’s being grown. Last weekend it was oyster mushrooms. As a country boy familiar with walking the paddocks with a bucket and a knife and filling it up with field mushrooms the size of dinner plates, I scoff at these more elegant fungi but nevertheless they are delicious on a piece of heavily buttered toast in the morning.
Just around the corner in North Perth, on the rather aptly named Farmer Street, is the North Perth Community Garden that is growing community support as diverse as its produce, including the Warrigal Greens, an Australian and New Zealand native plant that’s a bit like spinach. It’s a quieter space than City Farm. Nobody is going to ssssh you if you talk loudly but it does feel more contemplative and slower, as you plant or prune or toss some compost over the fence to stir up the neighbours who happen to be a Mens Shed who are helping make this area a precinct of peaceful activity for locals.
How cool is the North Perth area for community gardens and there’s more! The City of Vincent has been featured on ABC TV’s Gardening Australia for its Edible Verges program which allows locals to make use of their verge spaces by allowing vegetable and herb gardens to be cultivated by residents. If you find yourself driving through the suburbs of Vincent, take a moment to duck into some of the residential streets and check out just how many verges have replaced paving with crops.
Finally, let’s head over the Causeway to Victoria Park. The Victoria Park Community Garden has been going for more than ten years and is a space that allows for the leasing of small allotments as well as communal spaces for an orchard and a frog pond that is popular with kids and reminded me of another Beatrix Potter classic, Jeremy Fisher, riding the river on his lily pad leaf and the illustration of the trout coming up from below.
The Victoria Park Community Garden uses a quote from Audrey Hepburn to inspire those who participate and visit, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow” and with the high participation of young people at this garden there’s a lot to be hopeful for.
Community Gardens are Hidden Treasures because they remind us what being in a community is all about and the importance of good old fashioned busy bees to keep people involved and the great thing about a busy bee is the drink at the end of the day in the company of grimy, dirty people just like you. Community Gardens have stacks of pots, lots of rakes and shovels and rows of odd shaped plants and I’m still reminded of Mr McGregor’s garden but I’m not afraid anymore.