ACT News

Campaign to grow vegetables on Canberra's nature strips

Relaxing the strict rules about garden plots on Canberra's nature strips will not result in a boom in vegetable growing, according to a Canberra man who has been doing just that for a decade.

Jim Laity and Chanla Khanthavongsa have had a veggie garden on their nature strip for 10 years, with government approval.
Jim Laity and Chanla Khanthavongsa have had a veggie garden on their nature strip for 10 years, with government approval. Photo: Jamila Toderas

"It won't go very far," Jim Laity of Griffith says of the proposal.

However, his roadside veggie patch has blossomed because it has the traits most nature strips don't – good soil, north facing and, most importantly, no big trees.

"We are on a corner block with insignificant street trees," he says.

"To have a garden on the nature strip, you've got to have insignificant or no street trees so if you've got big trees, you have no chance.

"With oak or elm or eucalypt, you can say goodbye to having a garden [on a nature strip] because you literally can't garden under a tree.

 Rules governing Canberra's nature strips are highly restrictive, with people required to submit detailed plans for any planting outside their front fence.

 Anyone wanting to plant out the nature strip must provide a detailed sketch plan, to scale and including trees, watering systems, landscape features, common and botanical plant names and locations, types of mulch and other materials. Trees are only approved if they match the character of the street.

Plants must be no higher than 2 metres above footpaths, and foliage must not cause a line-of-sight problem for vehicles or pedestrians using driveways, intersections or footpaths.

The ACT government plans to change the rules in the coming months to encourage people to grow food on their nature strips, but has not released details on how it would work.

The Canberra Organic Growers Society welcomes the move and says it could take the pressure off some of the community gardens with waiting lists.

The society runs a dozen gardens across the ACT and has a waiting list of people keen to have their own plots.

Walter Steensby, the society's immediate past president, says there is a resurgence in growing vegetables in an urban context.

He backs the proposal for gardens on nature strips, if it is managed properly.

"Once it makes its way into the culture, then it will be taken up as just a normal thing to do," he says.

"We have a short growing season and by Australian standards, we have very cold winters.

"You don't want crops that are too tall – if the verge comes right up to a road junction and motorists can't see over the corn, then that's going to be dangerous," he says.

"However, there are plenty of low crops to grow, such as tomatoes, potatoes and pumpkins.

"Near where I live, there's a fellow who grows pumpkins out the front and they do quite well and don't get in anyone's way."

Mr Laity and his wife Chanla Khanthavongsa expanded their Griffith garden to the nature strip two years before they obtained formal approval.

"However one person complained so we had to negotiate with the ranger and the department to get an official approval," he says.

One reason they were successful in gaining approval a decade ago to grow vegetables near the road was because some Canberra householders had already been given permission to extend gardens, for instance to grow roses on the nature strip.

A survey at the time found about 60 per cent of Canberra's nature strips already had an unapproved structure, Mr Laity says.

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