Just do it: Meet Perth's guerrilla gardeners

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A group of renegade City of Bayswater green thumbs could see their radical work become legal when the council considers officially allowing people to plant food gardens in local parks.

The biggest example of Bayswater's guerrilla gardening movement is on Rose Avenue, where resident Greg Smith galvanised a handful of neighbours in 2004 to plant out a barren patch of ground.

Fast forward 14 years and the result is a thriving patch of greenery including garlic, parsley, capsicums, orange, lemon and quince trees, a bay leaf tree and London plane trees.

It's directly opposite the train station but is discreetly placed behind a tiny patch of bush, with the result that the hundreds passing by from the station each day likely have no idea it's there.

In 2015, he showed Bayswater councillor (now deputy Mayor) Chris Cornish.

"I thought, wow - this is what we want to be happening around the place," Cr Cornish said.

"It's attractive, and it's behind a linear bush. It's not messy, it's well tended and looked after.

"Greg is obviously quite proud of the result ... I said it's no doubt illegal but we need to see more of this - we need to make it legal."

So Cr Cornish moved a motion in March 2015 suggesting officers write a policy in which residents who wanted to plant food plants could do so, via portion of local parks designated as edible garden.

The motion also included the suggestion that the council throw out the rule book when it came to residents' use of their front verges, resulting in last year's radical reform encouraging residents to just "get out there and do it".

"When the staff delivered on [the verge policy] it was empowering, the best verge policy in Australia," Cr Cornish said.

Thus empowered, council staff have kept working on the next stage of reform.

The Rose Avenue garden.

The Rose Avenue garden. Photo: Supplied

They have done the necessary wrangling with the Local Government Insurance Scheme so that residents will be able to garden in public places. They have devised a simple system in which residents can easily notify council staff of what they want to do, and staff can let them know if the spot is a good one, or suggest a better. They have determined that normal staff routines of visiting and supervising parks are enough to keep things under control.

With all this groundwork done, a draft policy will go to a committee meeting later this month.

Residents not content to wait have already pulled the gardening gloves on, installing fruit trees and more in Gobba Lake and Margaret Reserve.

Fruit trees at Gobba Lake (left) and Margaret Reserve (right).

Fruit trees at Gobba Lake (left) and Margaret Reserve (right). Photo: Supplied

We Love Margaret Reserve member Deborah Chinnery said together with the local Lions Club, a handful of residents had made big changes in their local park over the past couple of years.

They had surveyed their neighbourhood to find out what people wanted at the reserve and won a $20,000 grant to help make things happen.

Under their leadership, with the help of Maylands Lions Club, they have installed a community food garden, chess/picnic table, native plantings, and a soon-to-be exercise equipment area.

The park used to be hard for the less able-bodied to enter via an embankment, and this has been rectified with an accessible pathway for people with prams, wheelchairs and walking sticks.

They plan to add more native plants surrounding the pathway for an attractive entry statement, and some stadium-style seating with a natural design.

"A lot more people are coming in," she said.

Rose Avenue's productive food garden.

Rose Avenue's productive food garden. Photo: Supplied

Cr Cornish said the demise of the big suburban backyard made it more important than ever to use public open space productively.

"At Rose Avenue, it was a nothing piece of land, it was desolate," he said.

"Now I've seen people just come in and grab produce whenever they need it.

"Rather than keeping an empty neglected garden bed, Greg Smith had the residents take control and create something special."

Costa Georgiadis and Greg Smith in the Rose Avenue garden.

Costa Georgiadis and Greg Smith in the Rose Avenue garden. Photo: Supplied

Urban Food Street, a Queensland-based organisation that "tackles Australia's social suburban isolation" by installing food plants on verges, thinks it's special too.

Coming through Perth recently, the founders rewarded the City of Bayswater with a certificate of appreciation, calling it "Australia's most progressive and forward-thinking verge gardening municipality."

They toured the gardens alongside Gardening Australia host Costa Georgiardis, a well-known advocate for food plants on public land.

This story Just do it: Meet Perth's guerrilla gardeners first appeared on WA Today.