BY JULIA CHAMPTALOUP. May 2017.
Many locals around North Bondi will take a slightly longer detour when walking to and from the beach, to wander down a few select side streets where they can enjoy bird-attracting native plants, flowering vines and communal benches. This inspirational pocket in a typical suburban neighbourhood reveals a much-needed revitalisation of nature strips and concrete frontages, attracting birds, butterflies and bees, as well as people.
A once sad cul-de-sac has been turned into a beautiful community playground surrounded by raised vegetable beds and native trees and grasses. The once forlorn dirt patch at the end of the street, with an old swing in the middle, is now an inviting green space where young families share the environment with an increasing number of pollinators and tweeting birds. A few years ago, local residents participated in a working bee alongside Council to beautify the area, planting bottlebrush, wattle and tuckaroo. More recently Council installed new play equipment and shade cloth as well asvegetable boxes and grasses.
Locals residents such as Diana and Nick were involved in the initial plantings at the playground and the ongoing watering of the trees. With a keen interest in greening their local streets, they had already planted out their own nature strips, which has inspired others to follow suit. Now several blocks in the radius of the playground are thick with native trees, tropical plantings and pots full of flowering annuals and edible herbs.
Diana was initially inspired to green her strip when she first moved into her apartment 10 years ago. “It was also a sad old patch of dirt that was constantly covered in mountains of old mattresses, rusty fridges and swollen chipboard furniture,” she says. “By planting it out, it stopped people from dumping rubbish and also beautified the street and shaded the surrounding concrete.”
Every plant, shrub and tree in Diana’s plot has a story to tell. A tuckaroo, lily pilly and grevillea came from her mother’s place up the coast, bromeliads, clivea and irises from her sister’s home on the Hawkesbury and a Dutchman’s pipe cactus (flowers one day a year, most recently on Christmas day) from a new neighbour. A recycled bench, found in the neighbourhood, sits under the trees. It’s often used by passers-by, who enjoy a seat in the shade. Recently, more people in the area have placed outdoor furniture out the front of their buildings, bringing people out onto the streets, creating micro social hubs.
Diana also transformed the concrete swathe directly in front of her garage at the front of her building into a colourful garden of pot plants, many of them rescued from local streets or anonymously left amongst her collection. A pot of bromeliads was found nearby with a “Please take me home” message and a ficus came from a deceased neighbour’s apartment; it had been left out the front by the removalists. Diana, who recently left her corporate job and now works as an artist full time in her garage studio, has rejuvenated the pots with a lick of paint; she even used her paint brush to remove offensive graffiti along the street.
With more found outdoor furniture, a seating area was created amongst the pots of passionfruit, bougainvillea, palms, geraniums, citrus, herbs, nasturtiums and even an olive tree (the olives are pickled by a neighbour). Here Diana enjoys coffee with friends and Christmas drinks with neighbours, or plans her next botanical blitz! With permission from local residents, she adopts neglected plots along the street, greening them with plants divided from her own nature strip, as well as seeds, seedlings and cuttings gathered from around the neighbourhood. Recently, she was able to landscape one of the plots with leftover stepping stones from another neighbour’s building job, creating paths through the garden for people alighting from parked cars. She often has passers-by ask for assistance with their own nature strips and thanking her for beautifying the street.
Another resident in her apartment block was also inspired to create a garden of pots in front of his garage, with playful inclusions delighting the local children who walk by. An old shoe is planted with herbs and skateboard wheels with succulents while sculptural elements, such as a wooden giraffe and metal eagle sit amongst it all. Despite living in an apartment, the urge to garden is strong and adopting the neglected verge and creating pot gardens on concrete fulfils a need to make things grow and get hands dirty, Diana says.
Around the corner from Diana, Nick has worked with his neighbour to extend his well-planned and groomed nature strip garden, expanding and propagating a long row of frangipanis, native grass and grevilleas. "I have lorikeets outside my kitchen window in the morning and evening and the children are just loving it,” he says. “I have also seen a rare finch low down in my native grasses." Nick has had many neighbours also ask for his help in planning and planting their vacant strips. He even took up heavy tools to help residents in a neighbouring building remove a corner of concrete and start to replant their nature strip.
It seems infectious and the whole street and nearby side streets seem to be inspired. On another corner, a vast tropical jungle is emerging, with gingers and hibiscus. One nature strip isboasting the sweetest treehouse built around the tree branches. You can imagine kids running to get here after school and playing in the streets until dinnertime, just like in the old days!
What a joy to see someone like Diana pottering away and having conversations with passing walkers, thanking her for spreading her creativity out onto the footpaths and down the street. But she remains humbled. “It’s so lovely to see so many kookaburras on the electricity line outside my window and native mynahs nesting in the tuckaroo from my mother out the front; it was the first seedling I planted,” she says. She is also reporting many more bees and butterflies appearing everyday.
Even the postman commented on the street. "Yes, I really enjoy a bit of life here during the day - the birds, green pockets and flowers all add to the atmosphere of this area,” he says. "It is great to see people taking pride in their neighbourhood.”
Diana's recipe for nurturing your nature strip or how to improve your concrete frontage:
- Revive neglected plants, pots and outdoor furniture
- Plants seedlings and cuttings from families and friends to create little tributes that you see everyday
- When planting, line the hole with damp newspaper to trap the water for longer
- Use sugar cane mulch and leaf litter to keep weeds down
- Encourage self seeding plants and divide those that thrive to replant
- Enlist your neighbour with a wheelbarrow and some back muscle to help installsteppingstones and do some heavy lifting/digging
- Ensure you're not blocking footpaths, and prune archways over the footpath
- Plant native grasses to deter dogs and people walking over the beds
Julia is a writer, photographer, and arts supporter. She helped to establish Art Month Sydney, a contemporary art festival. Being a supporter of artists and their projects has taken her to many of the world’s art hot spots and exhibitions. She is currently working with several not-for-profit organisations to support art projects and artist residencies.