When we started planting edibles in public spaces we thought that what we’d learn would be about which edibles can cope without everyday pampering and about which positions they do best in – like is it better to plant those herbs in the shade so they can do better without regular watering or will they grow faster if given more sun, despite drying out more? Is it better to plant things closer together in ‘groves’ so they protect each other, or do they need to have their own space to do well?
The not-so-surprising things we learnt:
- clumps of purple perilla are surprisingly hardy (given their large, soft leaves), thrive in part shade (especially when protected from western sun) and are incredibly beautiful.
- the subtropical ice-cream bean can survive a hot Sydney summer with only a couple of light waterings (and even double in size) when planted under the shade of an existing tree.
- Kale can survive complete neglect (someone moved a pot of kale from the Rachel’s Runners garden and dumped it in long grass up against the fence of the Putt Putt course but when we found it months later it was in good health).
- Pigeon peas thrive if given the right spot, and die in the wrong one. We planted two in Taylor Reserve, not far apart. One doubled in size in a couple of weeks and the other died.
- It is possible for common garden vegies like tomatoes, pumpkins, melons and beans will survive in dry, sandy park soil (more survive than die) but they won’t thrive and if there is any harvest, it won’t be a large one.
- Good old rosemary, thyme, oregano and lavender grow happily in parks – looking just as good (or even better) than in our home gardens.
- During our first couple of plantings we were apprehensive if anyone approached. We weren’t sure what the reaction would be. But, people were always lovely!
- When the gardens were discovered there was so much support for them – even though the first things we planted were modest (see the group photo below taken at the Rachel’s Runners garden).
- One day, as we approached one of our gardens we could see a note stuck to a tree and feared it may be a complaint about the garden. But it was not. It seems the garden had been vandalised and the kind person who found the damage put the garden back together and wrote the note for us (see the pic below).
- People started joining us – and bringing their kids. Junior Free Rangers soon out numbered adult ones.
- When we put herbs in three bare planters down the main street we thought they might be vandalised, but apart from someone taking the signs we’d added to them, nothing was damaged. The rate that cigarette butts were deposited in them slowed dramatically (even in the one outside the ciggie shop that had previously been like a giant ash tray) – we only had to remove a couple every week. Even better, people took it upon themselves to care for the planters outside the postoffice and near the chemist. We know that the planter near the chemist was watered by people from the Thai restaurant – which made all the difference because that planter is cleverly located UNDER an awning and so it will never be able to catch rainwater. The post office planter is more mysterious. We don’t know who watered it but we do know that someone did because even after a heat wave the plants in it weren’t wilted.
- Below is another lovely anonymous note – someone connected Free Ranger Jaq with the herbs in the main street planters.
- Four days after the Norm Perry Kindness Garden (see below) was built, we had a phone call from a local reporter telling us that Council had removed the garden. We still had blisters from moving two tonnes of soil and pavers and the garden was already gone. The seedlings (that were mostly too small to see well in the photo below) never had a chance to grow, the birds never got to play in their birdbath and Norm didn’t get to see the garden that was inspired by him.
- In the next couple of days, Council removed all the other free range plants – from the fruit trees and herbs in Taylor Reserve, to the garden made for Rachel’s Runners at Milperra, to the beans and macadamia tree in Ray McCormack Reserve, to the herbs in the planters in Panania. Council left the planters bare for a while, then replanted them with something unattractive and probably inedible.
- We learnt from The Torch that the order to destroy our gardens had come from the top. The Mayor apparently has a thing against edible plants in public spaces. The stupidity of his words would have been funny had we not been feeling so sad about all the plants that had gone and the disappointed people left behind. We think it likely that the Mayor found out about our gardens from the reporter who’d also been talking to us. We wonder whether there would have been any response without this provocation.
What we learnt about Free Rangers:
- There are lots of potential Free Rangers out there.
- There are a lot of knowledgable and articulate supporters of Free Rangers.
- Free Rangers bounce back quickly. We are determined that Bankstown Council changes it’s attitude to edibles planted in public spaces.