ii. PUBLIC COMMUNITY GARDENS
Community gardens in Richmond; Northcote; Clifton Hill; West Heidelberg; and Watsonia were visited during the study period, as were larger centres with community gardens: CERES, Collingwood Children’s Farm; and the Kevin Heinze Garden Centre. Also contributing email responses were co-ordinators of community gardens in Ringwood, Maidstone, Kensington, Frankston North, and proposed gardens in Carlton and Ashburton.
The visits allowed the dynamics of community gardens to be visualised. All were unique in their own way, providing a community refuge and gardens to grow produce in. The larger centres allowed for the placement of garden plots with other strong orientations to self sufficiency, and were well heard of garden respites.
Community gardens offer a visitor poetic descriptions in urbanised areas. To the gardeners themselves, they play an essential role in their wellbeing. Richmond’s ‘Happy New Life’ Community Garden was named by the gardeners for the role they felt it played. The cultural connection for Vietnamese gardeners at Richmond was evident, and they grew many cultural plants of edible and medicinal value. The garden was very compact with high structures built from random materials mirroring the proximity and height of its public housing surroundings.
Richmond Lennox Street ‘Happy New Life’ Community Garden plots
The community garden at Olympic Village Primary School in West Heidelberg was built from nothing and is now full of garden beds and art murals. Situated in an area with high migrant and a lower socio-economic population, it grows in a more suburban setting. The drought is having an effect, but even more so at the Watsonia Neighbourhood House Community Garden, who have removed vegetable beds.
On site visits, Northcote and Rushall Community Gardens showed a few locals weeding their gardens on a Sunday afternoon. The Rushall garden had a large open day previous to my visit. Northcote was smaller and included indigenous plants and a pond . Rushall offered sturdy row after sturdy row of community market gardens.
Some members of Cultivating Community, managers of many community gardens, especially in the inner city, also contributed help to this research. The local government Fruit and Veg for All Project, and state government Neighbourhood Renewal Projects were also found to be active in community garden management or creation.
Ros from Northcote explained benefits and barriers of being in a community garden. She did not have sufficient space or sunlight at home to grow her own there, and was a committed food gardener. “Community gardens are a great thing, it teaches people a lot about communication. But you don’t always get your own way.” Management, water restrictions and funding were all deterrents for the community.
Public access community gardens do not always live up to their name. Waiting lists are a constant feature. There was mixed reports of increasing or decreasing demand from community garden organisers. On the other hand, in some gardens further from the inner city, underutilisation was occurring.
Mike Bicker from Cultivating Community reported that “there appears to have been an increase over the last 2-3 months in the number of enquiries we have received from groups hoping to start up a new community garden.”
Two new proposed community garden organisers participated in this research, the Markham Victory Reserve Community Garden in Ashburton, which has gained council backing, and Princes Hill Community Garden in Carlton, which was yet to receive council approval.
The Victorian Government Community Renewal Program also includes proposed community gardens in many of its program areas, including West Heidelberg, North Bayswater and Frankston.
However, though far flung from each other, both Ringwood and Flemington Community Gardens were both forced to relocate recently due to freeway extensions. Other community gardens have failed to flourish. Watsonia Neighbourhood House Community Garden has dug up some of its vegetable gardens and replaced them with cacti gardens due to drought and water restrictions. Organiser John Bilton emphasised: “It’s a shame you can’t water and plant things. You can’t water outside so they will all die.”
Michele May, responding from Frankston City Council in regard to Pines Patch Community Garden, clarified that “current users of the garden are not in the main local residents but disability groups. I think there are a couple of reasons for this. One is that locals have larger properties, most blocks are quarter acre and therefore, they have plenty of room to establish their own gardens, and secondly, they still do not fully understand that the garden is a community facility.”
She believed that “the true test of sustainability will be around having people who want to own and drive these community gardens into the future.” However, this lack of community support is not exclusive to outer suburbs, as the Brunswick West Food Forest was also found to be defunct due to lack of local community support.
Meanwhile, at Maidstone Community Garden, Wendy Vine attributed increased interest in the garden to “more people wanting to connect or reconnect in social environments and the garden is a tool for this.” Regional Ballarat is also experiencing phenomenal growth of their community gardens.