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Planting of vegetables on nature strips divides community councils

Canberra's grassy verges may soon yield more than just a headache for those who have to mow them, but not everyone's mouths are watering as a result of new guidelines announced recently on planting vegetables in nature strips.

The garden city could become the edible garden city once planning regulations around nature strips are relaxed, but community council representatives say there are some issues that need to be ironed out first.

The Kingston community garden model could soon be followed on grass verges throughout Canberra.
The Kingston community garden model could soon be followed on grass verges throughout Canberra.  Photo: Rohan Thomson

Nature strips or verges are the section of land between an urban property and road edge which allow safe access for the public. Currently, growing anything but grass on them requires a development application, but the property owner usually bears responsibility for maintenance.

Weston Creek Community Council deputy chair Pat McGinn has been part of a working party run by Territory and Municipal Services to investigate better verge management.

She is a proponent of opening up the spaces for growing food, but says access for pedestrians and services could be an issue.

"There wasn't a lot of consensus [in the group] but it attracted a lot of comment," she said. "A lot of people in Canberra, Weston Creek included, wouldn't mind people growing vegies there but a lot of areas don't have footpaths and it might force people to walk on the roads if the nature strip is full of vegetables.

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"Also if something goes wrong with the services [such as water or electricity], people have to realise their vegetables will have to be dug up."

One issue she's not worried about is how the patches will be watered.

"I can't see it causing a problem unless water runs out onto the road. A lot of people don't have hoses out the front but they can use water cans or a long hose from around the side of the house. Plus the people who are growing them aren't usually the ones to be wasting water."

Belconnen Community Council acting chair Damien Haas says that as long as people are sensible about planting it shouldn't cause any issues for pedestrians or neighbours, and it's one small way Canberra is changing for the better.

"It's another example of the relaxing of government around Canberra," Mr Haas said. "Canberra has been a very rule-focused city since its inception by virtue of its population, but there's been a new approach in the 21st century.

"The government seems willing to take chances. It's one of those simple things where the government says, 'Hey, we're not going to prosecute you for growing cucumbers in your front yard.'"

And though vandalism and poachers are a big worry for some, it could be a community-building exercise, Mr Haas said.

"It's hard to vandal-proof the world although you sometimes have to be cautious. You're not going to cause a vandalism crime wave by having tomatoes in your front yard.

"If you put on gumboots and get a hoe and go into the street, you're going to meet people. So many people don't know their neighbours these days."

But the Inner South Community Council's acting chair, Anne Forrest, believes it would be a mistake to impose blanket guidelines across both "old and new Canberra".

"The problem with the territory plan is that it's one size fits all," she said. "The needs in newer areas are different to the needs in older areas. Conversation needs to start at a grassroots level with the communities in question before the new rules are introduced.

"But I'd rather people plant vegetables than park their cars on the verges."

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