What do you do with an old church car park? Turn it into a community garden, of course! And that’s how the Ridley Grove Community Garden — a child, pet and disabled person friendly garden in the Adelaide suburb of Woodville Gardens — came into being.
The first thing they did was to bring in the experts to help clear the grass… a herd of hard working, hungry goats! Now that’s chemical free weed control… with built in fertiliser! Next came the soil building, with lots of compost and mulch, which turned a compacted surface of gravel and dolomite into fertile, productive garden beds.
The garden was well planned on sustainable gardening principles, including zoning areas so that those requiring less ongoing attention were located further away from the buildings, and espaliering some of the fruit trees against a brick wall, so they would benefit from the residual heat.
Ridley Grove vigorously practises recycling, not only in their re-use of organic matter for composting, mulch etc, but in incorporating all sorts of donated objects and materials into the garden. They have been donated plants, furniture, tools and building materials. A donated bathtub has become home to their composting worms. Benches and pergolas have been created from donated materials.
Creation of pergola areas
Hand-made garden bench
In fitting with their principle of ‘lessening their footprint’, organic, permaculture principles are used, including natural pest control. Numerous water-wise techniques are also practised. These include:
- Heavy mulching to lessen evaporation.
- Planting a lot of endemic species, of local provenance, which are better adapted to the local climate and conditions.
- Planting in accordance with water saving design principles, such as planting species at different heights to meet their drainage requirements and in different degrees of sun/shade depending on their tolerance.
- The installation of four large rainwater tanks, so that they basically meet their own water needs for most of the year.
Did someone order tanks?
Urban biodiversity is a big focus at Ridley Grove. Early on, the decision was made to plant a large quantity of native plants in the garden, to establish ecosystems which would attract wildlife such as birds, reptiles, frogs and insects. Of particular interest is the Butterfly Trail, which is an official Butterfly Site of Butterfly Conservation SA, and the site of Adelaide’s first Butterfly Festival held in October 2009.
Butterfly on the Trail
The Butterfly Garden was planted with help of the children from the local Ridley Grove School, along with the creation of butterfly themed artwork in the garden. Children from the school continue to visit the garden, along with other community children, and definitely appreciate what it has to offer — finding joy in exploring and having fun in beautiful surroundings.
Bubbles and Butterflies
Ridley Grove Community Garden member, Anna Tate, speaks about the value of the garden as a learning arena and the responses they have had from the students who spend time there.
“Many classes from the local school have come to use the site to look at the principles covered in their science and environmental studies lessons. In this way the site is becoming a place of education in sustainability and best environmental practice for young people”, she says. “The children who visit often comment on what a peaceful place it is and how much they enjoy spending time there. In this way we are embedding a respect and love of urban biodiversity in the next generation. We also have extensive anecdotal evidence from the children that their work with us at the garden has inspired them to plant native plants for habitat in their own backyard. This provides local fauna with more options and makes the survival of these species more likely.”
Native Hardenbergia — creates beauty and habitat!
The Butterfly Garden itself stretches the entire frontage and eastern boundary of the site, with around 550 native plants along the rock lined path. This also extends out onto the verge, with around 150 more natives planted there. The trail ends with a planting of about 40 medicinal and native ‘bush tucker’ plants. The plan is to eventually extend the trail to the nearby Mikawomma Reserve and even as far as The Parks Community Centre, thereby creating a substantial biodiversity corridor, which not only provides habitat for wildlife, but helps lower the heat of the surrounding areas and create micro-climates.
Butterfly Trail along street frontage
Nesting boxes, logs and an ever-expanding diversity of plants create suitable habitats for the many creatures including geckos, praying mantises, frogs, butterflies and a wide range of feathered friends. There are also two ponds, planted with native riparian vegetation and containing tadpoles, frogs and native fish and other water creatures.
Logs — lizard and insect homes!
The garden also contains many rare plants and fruit trees. Situated near several major roads, Ridley Grove has become a haven — for wildlife and people alike! A series of beautifully illustrated signs give interpretation to many aspects of the garden, which adds to the learning experiences of both students and gardeners.
In addition to the local school visits, regular workshops on gardening, wild-foods, multi-cultural foods, cooking and other related topics, as well as low cost festival days, are offered to the local community. These work side-by-side with the practical hands-on opportunities, available to any community member, of working in the garden as a volunteer.
Community Garden Workshop
Edible wild-foods workshop with Neville Bonney
Multicultural Foods Workshop with Karen Challinder
Anna Tate commented “Like many other community projects we follow a strengths-based model of community learning. We know that many members of our community are concerned about the environment. Assisting us in the garden is a practical way for them to feel a sense of agency where the natural world in concerned. Children are particularly encouraged when they know that these small acts make a difference where some of the big issues such as climate change, species lost and pollution are concerned.”
“We encourage visiting students to try these species”, Anna says. “As we give them the opportunity to experience these new and diverse flavours early, they are more likely to be open to these experiences in the future. We are teaching young people to eat locally and seasonally, which is better for them and the environment.”
As the garden becomes more established, it is hoped that there will be surplus produce to give to the local community. They are especially keen to encourage people to try edible wild-foods, as these require less water and maintenance, and have a lower environmental impact than many introduced species.
Ridley Grove boasts an enthusiastic bunch of community gardeners, ranging from toddlers just discovering the wonders of the garden, to retired people who find working in the garden rewarding and invigorating. It’s not all just about gardening either. Growing and harvesting food together builds a sense of community and conversations naturally weave themselves around the work.
A wood fired pizza oven provides a perfect way to cook up some of the veggies in their own home-made pizzas, enjoyed after a productive day’s work.
Wood fired pizza oven
Working bees take place on the first Saturday of the month, with gardeners also working in the garden on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. All are welcome — children and pets included — and no experience is necessary, just enthusiasm and a community spirit. The ‘New Beginnings Op shop’ is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday, so drop by for a bargain if you’re in the area!
Ridley Grove Community Gardeners
The future hopes of the Ridley Grove gardeners is that not only can they create a diverse and productive garden, but that they can help inspire local people to grow food and establish habitat in their own backyards, and thereby strengthen community resilience on a broader scale.
It is heartening to see so many of these wonderful initiatives taking off in our communities, and let’s hope there are many more, so that we eventually form the foundation of a new lighter, more resilient way of living on the earth… because it’s the only one we’ve got!