ACT News

Canberra nature-strip vegetable garden plan to bloom

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

Organic growers' society member Sue McCarthy outside her Chapman home with a neatly mown nature strip and tomatoes.
Organic growers' society member Sue McCarthy outside her Chapman home with a neatly mown nature strip and tomatoes. Photo: Melissa Adams

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.

Currently, 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.

In bushfire ember zones and other areas vulnerable to bushfire, the rules ban broadscale mulch, trees with stringy or fibrous bark and tussock grasses. And despite what you might see all around you in the suburbs, it is illegal to park any vehicle or trailer on a nature strip.

Territories and Municipal Services Minister Shane Rattenbury will release draft guidelines in the new year for consultation, outlining new rules for growing food. He plans to have final rules in place before the October election. He said they would take into account safety issues such as line of sight for cars, existing driveways, and corner blocks.

The Canberra Organic Growers Society welcomed the move and urged the government not to restrict the kinds of crops that can be grown.

"We can see a lot of benefits, committee member Sue McCarthy said. "It's very eco-friendly, it's using unused land that's currently unproductive, it saves mowing and all of the fossil fuels that go into that, it helps reduce food miles by people growing their own and it aids food security."

It also allowed people to eat a wider variety of fruit and vegetables than available commercially, since supermarkets had to concentrate on produce that stored and travelled well.

Ms McCarthy said it could also take pressure off some of the community gardens with waiting lists, by opening a substantial planting area for households with small or shady yards in an open and sunny location – also allowing the space for crop rotation.

Tidiness difficulty

She acknowledged the difficulty of keeping a garden tidy year round.

"You do need to have some sensible and workable guidelines, because the nature of gardening is it's never really finished, it's a cycle of life and death, and for all the times you are digging over and planting seedlings, equally there will be crops coming to the end of their life that won't look all that lovely."

She did not not want to see overly restrictive rules, such as requiring gardeners to remove old plants immediately the crop was finished. But she said there were risks to manage, such as the need to cap star pickets, avoid trip hazards and not have piles of wood lying around where snakes might live.

A government spokesman said the new guidelines would "achieve a balance whereby residents can use the nature strip as gardens, but without causing amenity or public safety concerns".

"The draft guide has been developed to clearly set out the respective responsibilities of residents and the ACT government, as well as outline what is and isn't permitted on them and what activities require approval."

Ms McCarthy said the issue had attracted record interest on the group's Facebook page this week, indicating significant interest in the community.