Achieving a New Civic Australian Style Garden

By Lisa Godden

At the May 2023 APS NSW gathering in Kariong, hosted by the Central Coast APS group, Olga Blacha gave us a fascinating talk titled: ‘Achieving a new civic Australian style garden’

Olga started by saying it is important to get people involved with local council and the goings on. For example the Central coast street design manual, which sets the guidelines for street design including the plants to be used was put on for public review but no one looked really in a month So if APS and others who have views and expertise are not involved then we are stuck with the rules which may have been drafted by those without that expertise and then it is very hard to get it changed as these plans are only reviewed so often. It means we then get trees planted which aren’t well suited for the area. 

‘Civic’ means that we all have a duty to be involved and be actually connected to our local town or city. The purpose of a council is to have a civic responsibility. Councils manage a lot of gardens and parks and ovals which are open space. For example, there are over 200 in the Central Coast. The reserves etc are often used more by retired people according to the statistics. But the connection between APS and councils are often languishing. Olga says that APS must push to use Australian plants.

She gave another example of a group called the Australian garden history society a group we could all join. We could document our incredible gardens which many APS members have worked hard to build using Australian plants, so we have a historic document of our gardens before we aren’t able to maintain them or we are moving out. If we don’t document them, they may get lost. Could the societies work together? 

Olga spoke about the Edogawa commemorative Japanese garden in Gosford. This garden emerged from a sister city relationship with Japan, the idea of which originated in Japan to build connections all around the world. Ken Lamb has been overseeing the garden but the tea house now needs refurbishment which is expensive and it’s not clear whether this is on the roadmap of the local council, who would need to fund the work. However, Olga says if citizens all ask council about it, there’s a chance council can fund it, but it’s about getting priority. The way that priority happens is for citizens to raise awareness and indicate to council that it is important to them. The garden is important, it links Gosford and Edogawa. But it is expensive to maintain, 1 gardener is employed full time and a pruner comes every 10 years from Japan. It’s an event, the pruning, and the community can come and learn from the master pruners. This gets the community involved. Best part of the garden is that it was poor quality swampy land originally which is now being used for good, spreading joy and connection through the community.

Image: Gosford Regional Gallery & Edogawa Japanese Garden

Olga is encouraging us to lobby council to work on Australian gardens. She gives the example of land where it’s left behind and mostly council doesn’t know what to do with it, it’s land that’s been dedicated to council but may be a strange shape or small strip somewhere. Can local APS groups get involved to design and build the gardens to make better use of this left over land? She says we should be on the look out for opportunities and that councils should welcome the help and expertise.  

She says we should get involved with parks and reserves, which are often backing onto ovals, that aren’t looked after. But they could be maintained and converted to something really nice. Could we, for example, influence plantings in playground areas? 

It’s law that council has to listen to the community- but councils tried to get things through quickly during the covid years, and use the opportunity that they had while people focused elsewhere, to get projects through without people paying attention. 

Olga also mentions that councils don’t have therapeutic gardens. A therapeutic garden is one that is designed to meet the physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs of the people using the garden as well as their caregivers, family members and friends (Wikipedia). She says it’s time to start a relationship between APS and it’s members, and our local councils, for civic good. Perhaps start with small areas and ovals – it all starts with a little group and we CAN bring about change in our local areas.

I think all members who listened to her talk walked away feeling inspired to get more engaged and involved with what’s happening in their local community, especially with regards to Australian plants and garden spaces. 

Here is an example of a project from the Shoalhaven Heads where a local community member partnered with council and community to improve a space next to an oval.

Image: Jerry Bailey oval Copyright © NSW Government