In the heart of Melbourne’s fun and funky St Kilda lies Veg Out, a community garden like no other I’ve seen.
It’s not very large, just about big enough for a large block of apartments. But it’s a little green gem in a busy metropolitan area, just a spit from the ocean, that has lodged itself firmly in the hearts of St Kilda residents.
The garden, which like St Kilda itself is full of colour and joy and good things to eat (St Kilda has the most best cake shops per square metre anywhere in Oz) is on the site of a former bowls club. The land has been set aside for community use since 1881 and is administered by the local city council on behalf of the State Government. Volunteers oversee the operation of the garden which is divided into 145 little plots plus communal space. Ten of these plots are leased by community groups, the rest by individual growers. Cost is only $8 a square metre a year (less for concession-holders) – but the waiting list is very long. Those keen to get started first join the “Friends” group, take part in working bees and generally demonstrate their commitment while waiting for a lot to become vacant.
Even in the middle of winter, when I visited, the Veg Out plots were rich with green leafy vegetables and herbs. I liked the way there appeared to be no obvious dividing lines between the plots; instead, you can make your way soft-footed along the mulched paths that wander throughout, admiring the contrasting crops along with the bits of garden art that add quirky grace notes. There are chickens, too, and quail and rabbits. The rich smell of compost fills your nostrils because, as you’d expect, composting is big here and the catchcry among the Veg Out volunteers is Stop Think Chop. Water conservation is also emphasised and restrictions on using the available town water are imposed.
St Kilda, with its long and curving sandy bay, has become prime real estate. And the community garden is very close to the beach, surrounded by multi-million dollar apartments and commercial buildings. And with the razzmatazz of Luna Park on one boundary. Yet there it is, thriving and full of activity. This is very much a family affair and the meeting area offers pram parking as well as chairs and tables and sinks and all the infrastructure for relaxing in between the hoeing and the mulching, and exchanging growing tips with plot neighbours. For novice gardeners there is plenty of friendly advice available, including a vegetable planting guide. And of course everything in THIS garden is organically-grown and chemical-free.
I really loved this happy little garden – it’s everything a community garden should be and then so much more. I mean it’s all very good worthy to grow your own vegies and take part in a community venture – but it should be fun, too. I think you can see that, in the pictures on this page – in fact you’ll probably get some good ideas for your own garden! And if you’d like to read more, visit the Veg Out website at http://www.vegout.asn.au/sitelinks.html.<a