I was among those who lobbied my local councillor about street planting laws and was delighted when the BCC finally came out with their new policy allowing verge gardens in 2016. Admittedly, it could have been better. Jerry Coleby-Willliams offered valid criticism of its shortfalls and the policy could be much improved with his input. But there were also complaints from the edible verge movement that it didn’t include lots of edible foods in its suggested plants. The guidelines didn’t forbid edibles, it just didn’t push their barrow.
I have watched from the sidelines as the Urban Food Street has raised its profile. It was hard to ignore with the sponsored Facebook posts and then the news stories. We drove up to Buderim and walked the streets. It made no sense to me. Why have turf in your yard and plant your salad greens way down on the verge? I wondered what those who didn’t participate thought. I wondered how it would affect people decisions on whether to buy houses in those streets – one way or another. Rather than encourage me to plant edibles on my verge, it confirmed my decision not to.
Our verge is split in two by a concrete pathway – the exact width to fit council guidelines. There is no car parking against the verge which takes away the need to cater for passengers alighting from cars. Pedestrians may cross so they need access and a clear path to the concrete footpath. We are near the top of a hill, there is a creek at the bottom.
On the space between the fence and the path, I already have flowers. The space between the path and the road will be planted out this autumn/winter with our new street tree and low native plants. It will be a space for primarily for bees, small birds, lizards and other wildlife. For pedestrians, it will offer flowers and, when the street tree grows, shade. Although some of the natives may be incidentally edible, I will not be using the verge for food production.
Here are some reasons I will not be growing an edible verge.
- One of the basic ideas of permaculture, and a common sense idea, is that you grow food that needs the most attention close to where you use it – hence the traditional kitchen garden, pots of herbs by the back door, etc. It means that they are convenient for harvesting and, more importantly, more likely to be noticed and less likely to be neglected. I do not want to have to go out onto the footpath halfway through cooking dinner to grab some herbs, salad leaves or any other ingredient.
- There is a level of responsibility in growing food for people. Commercial growers, and most backyard growers, leave time between applying sprays or fertilisers to food and supplying them to be eaten. That includes organic fertilisers. How would I signal to people that a plant is off-limits? And how do they know which plants are edible and when?
- There is a level of responsibility in growing food for biosecurity. If you are growing food, you have to be aware of pests like fruit fly and plant viruses, and garden responsibly. See www.planthealthaustralia.com.au. The over-enthusiastic promotion of growing vegies on the verge often fails to acknowledge this responsibility.
- The verges are the buffer between our gardens and the stormwater system. One aim of verge planting is to avoid excessive pesticides and nutrients in stormwater runoff. Even organic vegetable growing is incompatible with that. The verge will do its job better with plants that can grow in relatively poor soil.
- I like my neighbours so let’s not introduce the possibility of fighting over that one lemon we’ve all been watching while it ripens. The easiest way to avoid such disputes, and accidental damage by careless picking, is to grow your edibles inside your yard. There is nothing stopping you sharing with neighbours. If anything, this sort of sharing requires greater interaction with your neighbours than anonymous harvesting.
- Shared food growing is not the only way to build community. I’ve had plenty of conversations with neighbours and passersby from a flower garden. I often overhear children commenting to their parents about the flowers. They are welcome to pick some.
- Safety is a primary concern. An absentminded step back onto the road will put you in the direct path of traffic on a fairly busy street. I am reminded how close those cars are every time I mow.
- Verges have services underground. That doesn’t matter because I don’t dig the verge, just remove the grass/weeds and put light applications of compost, dolomite etc and cane mulch on the surface and water. The roots of the plants do the rest, gradually building the soil life. Using natives and hardy annuals means you can take more time to improve poor soil.
So, while the urban food growers might be the loudest advocates of verge gardening they are not THE voice of verge gardening. Many of us are everyday folk who simply want our verges to be less work for us and better for the environment.
- Community Verge Rejuvenation Projects (Australia/New Zealand) (Facebook group)
- Naturestrips.com.au – more on my verge
- The Shady Lanes Project extends verge gardening from the realm of gardening enthusiasts to make verge gardens like this “the new normal”, cooling our cities and suburbs, creating walkable streets, building community.