It has just rained. There’s a smell of damp earth and grass and the hum of bees buzzing about in the early autumn sun. In one corner of the garden a toddler with muddy knees is making handprints in the soil. A few meters away his father picks tomatoes for tonight’s dinner. He stops to chat with an older woman who’s watering her lemon tree.
It’s a scene reminiscent of days gone by, when sustainable wasn’t a lifestyle choice, it was just life. It’s also a scene being played out in community gardens across the globe.
Local councils, developers and community organisations are all embracing the concept of community gardens, in large part due to the numerous benefits they have on individuals and societies.
- improve fitness (gardening is excellent physical exercise).
- improve diet as a product of the fresh fruit and vegetables grown.
- lower stress levels and improve creativity.
- create a greater sense of connectedness as they encourage neighbourhood interactions across age, gender and ethnicity.
- increase sustainability awareness. Participants learn about composting, recycling, and organic gardening.
- increase decision making, problem solving and negotiation skills.
Canberra is home to 14 public community gardens. The majority of these are run by the Canberra Organic Growers Society (COGS). For a small yearly fee, individuals or families can have their own plot to grow fruits, vegetables or flowers.
The developers of the ‘Linq’ apartments in Belconnen recognized the benefits of community gardens early-on, and incorporated this into their designs as a way reducing the buildings’ carbon footprint. Walking past now, the courtyard is overflowing with leafy greens, bright orange zucchini flowers, and rich, red chillies.
According to ‘Linq’ Building Manager Greg Champion, the garden is chock-full. “It really took off this spring and summer. We’ve been very casual about it, everyone finds their own bit of garden to work in, but it’s becoming so popular we might have to get more official about how we manage the space.”
“The good thing about it is that people move here who want to grow veggies, but just don’t have the room on a balcony. This is really the best of two worlds—you’ve got country space, in a city apartment.”
And ‘the best of both worlds’ is what the market is demanding. Over the past few years the sale of vertical gardens has skyrocketed, as apartment-dwellers refuse to give up their green thumbs. Moving beyond simple aesthetics, these vertical gardens are often being filled with fresh herbs, fruit and vegetables as individuals make an effort to ‘go green’, ‘go organic’ and ‘go nutritious’.
The explosion of cooking shows on television has propelled the concept of fresh eating, as more and more people choose new recipes and fresh ingredients to feed their families. New lifestyle blogs pop up every day discussing ways to grow food in small spaces, and local councils have responded to demand for green living by including community gardens in their planning for new estates such as Crace.
In addition, the concept of sustainable side-walks, pioneered in Australia by Sydney’s suburb of Chippendale, is making its way to Canberra. Former Minister for Territory and Municipal Services, Shane Rattenbury introduced a proposal allowing Canberra residents to use public nature strips to grow fresh foods, herbs and flowers. Under the proposal, which will hopefully be approved by spring, individuals may plant food, plants and shrubs of a height up to 50cm on roads with a maximum speed of 50km/hr.
This would open up the possibility of food cooperatives, with residents able to swap and share the food they grow.
Home gardening is experiencing a renaissance—a direct reaction to decades of increasing high density development—and developers are paying attention. Expect to see private community gardens and sidewalk vege patches flourishing over the next few years as more and more people choose to go from garden to plate.
If you’ve always wanted your own little plot of home-grown goodness, there’s no need to wait until winter is over. Vegetables such as peas, beans, broccoli, lettuce, onions and garlic can be sowed as late as May. Alternatively, set yourself up for springtime colour and plant bulbs like tulips, daffodils and lilies now.
The community gardens generally have tools for beginners to borrow, and plenty of expert gardeners on hand for advice.