Despite being public land, the cost of maintaining the verges in Australian cities usually falls to the residents or owners of individual properties.
Many councils have guidelines setting out what you can do on the verge, many provide free street trees, and some even provide plants for residents to plant.
Let’s face it though, not everybody is a gardener. Some don’t have the interest, others don’t have time or commitment. But all is not lost.
In an episode of the Dream Gardens series, Michael McCoy summed it up nicely. Lawn and hedges are high-maintenance, low-commitment gardens.
Grass maintenance is easy to do without thinking and easy to outsource. The thousands of mow/edge/blow workers driving around the city are evidence of that. My neighbours’ buzz-men disturb my peace with their noise and fumes during the week. They work quickly and produce reliably neat results.
On the other hand, a real garden is esoteric, it changes with the seasons and at the whim of the gardener. In his article, Unofficial Gardening, notes that “it is clearly difficult for others to maintain or manage something which only one person, the originator, can understand.”
For individual gardeners with the time and enthusiasm to maintain their own gardens, a verge garden of native shrubs, flowers and ground-covers can be much less effort to maintain than grass. But, yes, it does require commitment. The commitment the itinerant buzz-men are unlikely to have.
So what do we do about the majority of verges where the owner may be willing but can’t, or won’t, do it themselves.
In some cases, neighbours may decide to allow one or two locals to spread their verge gardens sideways in front of several homes but this doesn’t really solve anything in the long-term or provide the means to expand across the city.
The answer would have to be a new type of contracted gardener – not a paid by the hour contractor who can be slotted in and out to maintain standard gardens – but sole traders and micro businesses who service their territory on an on-going basis. We’ll call them nature strip gardeners.
These gardeners can plan, plant out, and maintain the nature strips, staying within council guidelines and in consultation with home owners. They will know and love the nature strips that line the roads in their area. It is their patch.
This type of gardening is less physically intensive and more flexible than the buzz-men, and therefore suitable to a wider demographic.
If you offer this service, or would like to explore options for a social enterprise, check out The Shady Lanes Project