Street Gardening!

Street gardening is very popular in Australia's older suburbs. Most streets have a sidewalk which is separated from the carriageway by a Road Reserve. Trees are often planted on this, usually by the local authority. Species need to be carefully selected so they don't interfere with drainage, underground cables, & overhead wires, nor impede pedestrians or traffic.
In some older suburbs of Adelaide, large, mainly deciduous, European trees were planted before such amenities were provided, & conflicts with service providers arise from time to time, but we love our shady avenues, & fight valiantly, & usually successfully, to preserve them. We also work hard to keep the autumn leaves from being swept into the river by winter storms. But we need to remain vigilant, as communication between various authorities & departments on such issues is fraught with pitfalls.
Many residents cover their portion of the 'nature strip' in front of their property in grass (which requires mowing, with it's accompanying environmental hazards!) or low-growing ground cover, but some make them into beautiful gardens. Dog-owners mostly (but not always!) respect the flower-beds, though some seem to think the lawn or ground cover is provided mainly for their pets', or rather their, convenience! But on the whole, Adelaide streets are clean, attractive & pleasant places to walk, due to the combined efforts of its residents & local authorities.

I live in a narrow lane once used by the nightsoil cart! It is also a stormwater drain which delivers huge quantities of water straight to the River Torrens. Not only are there no fewer than 30 stormwater outlets discharging directly into the lane, but some run-off from streets further South also flows directly into it. So it is essential to keep the lane free from rubbish & dog crap. and I've now been doing this twice a week for more than 10 years.Back
Some newer dwellings, including mine, now use the lane as a frontage. It is narrow, with no sidewalk or Road Reserve, & difficult to keep attractive, as there are still more back entrances & garages on the lanes than there are frontages.

There are many other lanes in our Local Government area, and they are particularly attractive to dog-owners, who seem to think no-one minds if the lane is polluted by their pets, and people, especially workmen, frequently dump large quantities of rubbish in them. The edges are sprayed with herbicide by the Local Authority twice a year, but the dead grass & weeds are not removed. These not only collect rubbish dust & soil, but also break down to form humus. This provides a rich seed bed, watered by the condensation which trickles down the fences most nights, and fertilised by the droppings of birds which perch on the fence tops. The seeds of many weeds are NOT destroyed or prevented from germinating by the spraying. So the spraying programme, far from controlling weeds, actually encourages their permanent establishment.

In order to break this cycle, I took responsibility in 1996 for the lane in which my cottage is situated. As long as I keep the lane reasonably free of weeds, the Council no longer sprays.
The Ground Staff of the College whose boundary forms one side of the lane is now also aware and supportive of what I am doing. They have drastically reduced their spraying programme close to the boundary, wherever possible mowing instead. When they have to spray, they give me advance warning, so I can ensure areas around plantings are meticulously hand-weeded prior to spraying, and take great care to avoid drift. Such co-operation allows hardy flowers, formerly designated weeds, to flourish. We are gradually planting suitable groundcovers & some self-seeding annuals in the soil that collects against boundary fences.

Self-sown nasturtium growing up the college fence
A self-sown nasturtium growing up the college fence.
It will die once the summer reaches it's height, but several plants will grow next year from it's seeds.

Weedy grasses & other 'undesirables' are already losing their grip, & as the groundcovers and more desirable grasses become established, they will suppress them further. However, many so-called weeds are important links in the chain of bio-diversity. Nettles, for instance are indigenous, and the host plant for the Australian Admiral butterfly. Seed-eating birds, especially the Adelaide Rosella and Blue-winged Parrot, feed on grass, thistle, dandelion, and nettle seeds. I often see them feeding on these plants in the early mornings, and have actually been scolded by the Rosellas when pulling out their favourites!
Humans too, find some wayside plants a tasty addition to salads. As for attractiveness, take a look at this brave and drought resistant dandelion.

I have placed trellis around the five Stobie Poles in the lane, & am growing vines up them, & gardens around them, as many people do when they have the ugly but functional poles on their portion of the Road Reserve. I have chosen plants which are hardy, drought tolerant, strike easily from cuttings, are not killed by exhaust fumes, and are capable of recovering from occasional substantial damage. Pelagoniums, artemesia, perennial daisies, periwinkles, & gazanias fulfil all these requirements, while nasturtiums, Selene, and feverfew are attractive self-seeding annuals which do not spread unduly, and are easily controlled. I have deliberately avoided bulbs, which, once established, can be difficult to uproot and eradicate.
My original idea was to plant and nurture natives, but they are much more difficult to propagate, establish very slowly, and few are sufficiently tough to survive in this particular situation. However there are many places where native, better still, indigenous, plants can be successfully used on road reserves, and wherever this is possible, I would encourage street gardeners to use them.

Stobie Pole garden - Adelaide South Australia

A 'Stobie Pole' garden. Ivy-leaved pelagoniums climb the trellis placed around the pole, while artemesia & geraniums grow around the base. In spring & summer, self-sown nasturtiums add colour. This group was planted 2 years before the photo was taken. All the plants were grown from cuttings and hand-watered with water carried up the lane in buckets, until they were established.

Below right is the first pole in the lane at the end furthest from the main road. Hence it is the one most pee'd on by dogs. Dog-owners who don't believe this does any harm should take a good look at these poor plants. Though especially chosen for hardiness, their leaves are constantly burnt by dog pee, so the plants, although still
alive, are really struggling.
(But click the picture to see what constant nurture, time and nature can accomplish!) Plants are not doing so well here - but click to see results of years of patient nurture

Do please take a look at the other Stobie Pole Gardens
which by 2004 were flourishing,
in spite of occasional vandalism and the previous year's drought.

Honeysuckle blooming on front fence in early summer Of course, in this particular situation, vines grown on fences are an important method of 'greening' the lane. They have to be able to withstand heat, as the bitumen absorbs the fierce summer heat, & returns it to the air at night. On the other hand, the same process provides more warmth in winter than the vines would get elsewhere. Sweet potatoes actually do so well they are coming up THROUGH the bitumen in places! They need to be kept well under control!

Plants around entrances or growing in odd corners, add more freshness to the streetscape.
Flowers growing on a pile of builder's rubble
Erigeron daisies, red and white pelagoniums, and baby Pigface adorn an abandoned pile of builder's rubble

Street Gardening has many inherent risks, and one must be prepared to be disappointed sometimes, and to persevere. If plantings are well selected & planned, the major disappointments come from human activity. People steal plants, or pick the flowers without taking care, badly damaging the plant. Not only dogs, but humans, mainly male, use the them as a urinal! And only humans are responsible for the rubbish, & failing to clean up after their dogs, or to confine their pets.

This pelagonium grew from a cutting placed in a small pothole!
This thriving pelagonium grew from a cutting placed in a small pothole!
It gets little water, yet has to be cut back regularly

Street Gardening is a very important part of the movement to Re-earth the Cities, and the perfect activity for both the conscientious conservative citizen & the dedicated Green Guerilla. In addition to weeding the lane regularly, and continuing to plant selected species in suitable situations - both for the plant & for passing traffic! - I pick up rubbish & dog crap several times a week. Rubbish left lying around encourages others to throw their rubbish down. The same applies to dog crap - though there are always the few owners who seem to take a delight in knowing that someone cleans up after them! Then there is the graffiti - once again, if this is removed promptly, it discourages the 'artists'. If they would only use their obvious talents to paint attractive murals! (Do you wonder I prefer plants & animals to humans, on the whole?!LOL).

Take a chance! Live Dangerously! Garden YOUR Street!

Daisies growing through a brush fence in the lane
Daisies growing through a fence to find the sun brighten up the lane

KESAB - an acronym for 'Keep South Australia Beautiful' - has a ROAD WATCH programme which will give you advice, support, & register your selected area.
Contact Tony Jones, Road Watch Co-ordinator, at:
395 Glen Osmond Rd
Glen Osmond
SA  5064
ph (08) 8338 1855
fax (08) 8338 2215

Similar schemes exist in other States, and in The U.S.of A., where it is called 'Adopt a Highway.' The best way to find your nearest scheme is to do a search, but here is a link to the CALIFORNIAN programme, to give you the idea.

Return to Eco-hermits.......Sustainable Solutions .......Garden Description
Rough Guide to Site.......Site Map

Australia - This is an Australian website - Contact Margaret RainbowWeb