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How to convert a waste of space to an urban oasis

The humble nature strip is an odd little plot of land. It’s owned by the council, but the responsibility for keeping it mowed belongs to the residents who live in the adjoining homes. It’s the home to giant shady trees that give “leafy suburbs” their name, dirt and weeds when residents don’t see why they should maintain something they don’t own and, for most of us, a green patch of grass that adds about 10 minutes to mowing time.

But as house blocks become smaller and people become more attracted to living sustainably, the nature strip is morphing into an extension of the front (or back) yard in the form of a garden. In fact, there are even local councils around the country who encourage residents to dig up the grass on the verge and replace it with flowers and shrubs.

 

Click the left & right arrows to view before/after photos | Greenbank St., Marrickville

What’s so great about it?

A better question is: What’s NOT great about it? So many of us want a more sustainable lifestyle, and this is a simple and fun way to get started no matter where we live or how busy we are.

Then there’s the social benefits. We’ve never been more connected thanks to social media but, at the same time, more disconnected in terms of face-to-face interaction. Walk into any doctor’s waiting room, kid’s party or dance studio. Everybody stares at their smartphone screen and speaks to the human beings around them.

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But if we’re gardening in front of our houses, it’s a perfect chance to pluck up our collective courage and say hi to everyone who walks past. They’re bound to ask what we’re doing and why. Next thing there’s a conversation started. We’ve connected – and maybe we’ve made someone else’s day a bit less lonely.

I hardly need to add that plants absorb carbon dioxide and create fresh oxygen – so having them close to the road will help mitigate a bit of pollution from passing traffic as well. Canterbury-Bankstown Council in Sydney even encourages residents to plant fruit trees on the nature strip.

 

Click the left/right arrows to view more before & after photos

Encourage “theft”

You can expect that people may find the goodies in your garden attractive. Don’t get cranky. Encourage them. Put up a small sign inviting people to help themselves, but asking that they ensure there’s plenty left for everyone.

 

Listen to Jerry

Jerry Coleby-Williams of ABC’s Gardening Australia has an amazing article about nature strip gardening on his website Jerrycoleby-william.net. Apart from many practical tips, he points out that gardeners who are outside and visibly tending public open space helps people to get to know neighbours, while picking up litter tends to reduce further littering. “The living surface provided by footpath gardens and shade provided by trees help cool streets,” he states. “By moderating the local microclimate, nature strips and trees help reduce household air conditioning bills.”

Jerry also points out that nature strips mitigate stormwater flows as their rough surfaces slow the movement of storm water, which helps collect silt and nutrients from soluble garden fertilisers. “Potential pollutants are mopped up, rather than being flushed into rivers and oceans,” he says.

 

Click the left & right arrows to view before/after photos | Dhill Balfour St.

How to get started

There are several groups as well as local government websites to offer plenty of advice on how to create a nature strip garden. I’ve put the basics together below, but follow the links at the bottom to some inspiring and informative sites. It’s also worth checking out your local council’s website to see what sustainable living concepts they support (if any). If they don’t, send an email to your councillors and the General Manager and ask them to look into it.

 

  1. Get permission

For whatever reason, inexplicably some councils won’t allow kerbside gardens. Even though we’re expected to maintain the nature strip, it’s council property. Check out their website or give them a call and ask to be put through to the environmental officer. If they say no, follow up with a letter or email to the GM and councillors asking “why not?”.

  1. Consider others

People have to park next to the nature strip and walk past it on the footpath, so whatever you decide to do, make sure your little patch of paradise won’t turn into hell for anyone else. No-one will appreciate being stung as they pass your place because you’ve planted something that attracts hundreds of bees. You should also leave space (perhaps a few pavers) so visitors can cross the nature strip to reach the path (then your front door).

  1. Dial Before You Dig

If you inadvertently hit a sewerage or water supply pipe, the worst thing that will probably happen is you get soaked, followed by a bill for repairs from the local authority. If you hit an underground power source, chances are that you’ll be dead before you hit the ground. Do a Dial Before You Dig search before doing ANYTHING!

  1. Say G’day before you dig

Let your neighbours know what you plan to do. It’s common courtesy, will head off any concerns and they may decide to join the party!

  1. Don’t cause any accidents

Make sure nothing you plant (particularly trees or shrubs) will interfere with the sight lines of cars or pedestrians.

  1. Dont get carried away

Don’t be tempted to start building pergolas or any other structure. You don’t own the land and they could be a danger to passers-by as well as interfering with sightlines of pedestrians and cars.

  1. Finish what you start

If you’re not prepared to commit to maintaining your kerbside garden – don’t do it. You’ll end up with an unsightly mess than will degrade the value of your home and the surrounding neighbourhood, annoy everyone who has to look at and tick off the council no end. They could even tear it up, re-turf the area and end you the bill.

Click the left/right arrows to view before & after photos

Now for the fun bit

Following are a few planting suggestions from various council websites and the delightful Mr Coleby-Williams.

freehomecheck_jun2016_setb_120x600Maiden Hair Fern: An attractive fern that grows to 30cm high, it excels in damp soils in sheltered sites such as under trees and on the southern side of fences.

False Sarsaparilla: A popular trailing plant that has masses of bright purple pea shaped flowers in winter and spring. Prefers sunny or semi shady areas.

Flax Lily: A perennial spreading herb growing to 60 cm high, it has strap like leaves, mauve flowers and berries in summer. Suitable for mass planting in sunny or shady areas.

Snake Vine: A beautiful twining plant that has large 5 cm yellow flowers. It prefers a well-drained soil in sunny and semi shady areas.

Weeping Meadow Grass: A common native grass that can be used as a lawn and spreads easily from seed, it prefers scattered shade in moist locations.

Rock Daisy: A perennial herb that has mauve flowers through spring and summer. It prefers sunny condition and tolerates dry conditions.

Dwarf Native Myrtle: A prostrate shrub that that forma a think mat around 3 metres in diameter, it has white flowers from spring to autumn.

Grevillea ‘Poorinda Royal Mantle’: A great groundcover that spreads over large areas, it has red toothbrush like flowers throughout the year.

Native Violet: A popular low growing, spreading ground cover that has white flowers with purple centres., It tolerates full shade but does best in partial shade.

Paper Daisy: One of the spectacular Western Australian paper daisies. It is mass planted as an annual in sunny areas to create colourful displays of red, yellow and orange.

 

Websites to explore for more inspiration:

http://communitygarden.org.au/2010/04/09/verge-gardens/
http://www.sgaonline.org.au/nature-strip-plantings/
https://jerry-coleby-williams.net
http://www.1100.com.au

Images courtesy of Inner West Council

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Phyllis Stylianou

Phyllis Stylianou is a journalist with 35 years’ experience as a reporter, sub-editor and editor. Writing is the great love of her life (after her family) – as is renovating old homes and building new ones (which she’s embarking on again!) So writing about everything to do with building, renovating and gardening is her passion.

The opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author(s) and not necessarily those of Homeloans Ltd.