Magic on the roof

Imagine a roof top covered with stunning native plants from around Australia, blowing in the breeze!

John Aitken, Wendy Grimm and Heather Miles were recently invited by the Mirvac team, Didi Stigter and Victoria Stiles, to visit the first indigenous rooftop farm and other cultural gardens at the newly developed South Eveleigh precinct. 

Mirvac who is managing the redevelopment of the precinct contacted APS NSW to explore how best to share information about native plants with residents and the public. They hope to inspire new insights and learning about growing natives and creating a more sustainable future for us all. As part of those discussions, we were privileged to spend a few hours in the gardens.

The roof top garden in full bloom, image Heather Miles

Jiwah, an Aboriginal company, led by Clarence Slockee, developed and maintains all the landscapes across the precinct. Many people will have seen Clarence on Gardening Australia talking about this garden.

Now over a year old, the rooftop garden is a showcase of beautiful and increasingly self-seeding native plants and edibles. Clarence and Matt, one of his team, shared with us some of their successes and challenges.

Clarence Slockee, with team member Matt Mackay and APS NSW member, Wendy Grimm, image Heather Miles

The garden is starting to sustain itself with many plants now spreading and self-seeding, such as the flannel flowers (Actinotus helianthi), salt bush (Atriplex) and the ground covers, Chrysocephalum and Scaevola

The Bulbine creates a stunning display, along with recently planted Chamelaucium and Ptilotus.

Other plants in the garden include Midgen berry (Austromyrtus dulcis, A. tenuifolia), Finger lime (Citrus australasica) along the fence-line, Indigofera australis as a windbreak to protext limes and to add nitrogen to the soil, mauve and white Melaleuca thymifolia, Pink rounded moonflower (Disphyma crassifolium), Pigface (Carpobrotus glaucescens), Trachymene incisa, Viola hederacea, Ruby saltbush (Enchylaena tomentosa), Leafy Purple Flag (Patersonia glabrata) and teatrees (Leptospermum sp.). 

However the native raspberry was too successful and delicious though the berries are, has just been removed. The plant took over a whole section of the garden and smothered everything else!

Weeds have been an ongoing challenge, although the planting is deliberately dense, so natural suppression isi occurring. 

As no doubt people are aware, roof top gardens are challenging to build and maintain. 

Not only is there the obvious wind issue, the medium and its weight have to be carefully managed so as not to overlaod the infrastructure of the building, and water has to be equally carefully controlled. 

Plant selection must also be done with great care due to height and weight. Clarence shared that while they’d have loved to plant a Ficus (fig), the weight of a mature fig was prohibitive. 

The shrubs are densely planted to discourage weeds

Clarence’s team also designed and maintains other gardens in the precinct, including the cultural garden, full of Sydney indigenous trees, grasses and edibles, typical of the ecology that existed prior to European settlement.

The cultural garden, replete with grasses and strappy herbs (Themeda, Lomandra, Daniella) as well as ground covers like Chrysocephalum and Scaevola.

Additional plants flourishing in this garden include the Gymea Lily (Doryanthes excelsa) and Spear Lily (Doryanthes palmeri).

The cultural garden, replete with grasses and strappy herbs (Themeda, Lomandra, Daniella) as well as ground covers like Chrysocephalum and Scaevola. image Heather Miles

Due to Covid, the gardens haven’t been opened as Mirvac would have liked. But hopefully over the coming few months, more of the development of the site will be completed and the area opened for more public visits.

We look forward to watching the progress of the gardens, as they mature across the seasons and hope to visit again next year as restrictions lift and the gardens come into their full glory.

Thanks again to Mirvac and Jiwah for the generosity of their time and insights!

New growth of Davidson’s Plum (Davidsonia pruriens), image Heather Miles