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PacificEdge | June 29, 2017

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Town Hall to go vegetable green

Russ Grayson

…by Russ Grayson

Could I help with creating a rooftop garden on level four, the email asked? Well, sure, what’s the idea?

The idea was to put a small food garden on the terrace outside the meeting room at Town Hall House. The team behind the idea had the go ahead and now they wanted to get things started.

A few of the workshop crew dressed in their gardening clothes. Trainer, Steve Batley, at left.

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First was a meeting to explore the idea and how staff might use such a space. I showed photos of community gardens in the City of Sydney local government area and we decided to get access to do a tour of some of the gardens in the City’s minibus. That fed ideas into the mix and the decision was made of go ahead.

Next up was producing a plan of management – this group wanted to do things properly and get their governance structure in place before starting construction. This is always a good idea – working out how you will made decisions, organise yourself and resolve disagreement before you start the physical work. We made use of the Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network’s Plan of Management template which has been adopted by a number of community gardens to help themselves get organised. Roles were agreed upon and a training program devised because many of those participating had no experience of growing plants.

Steve Batley demonstrated the making of compost at a workshop for would-be rooftop gardeners.

Steve Batley’s Sydney Organic Gardens was engaged to do the training. Steve is a qualified landscape architect and has built up a body of experience working with local government, making him the most experienced landscape design and training business in Sydney when it comes to community gardens. The basics of growing in containers formed the core of Steve’s training.
Rooftop assessment a necessityBefore the project got this far, an assessment of the rooftop was made. This is the preliminary assessment made when I am asked to look at rooftops being considered for garden sites. Criteria include the structural strength of the roof, drainage, wind exposure and sun and shade patterns. Rooftops can be windy places and the generality is that the higher the roof the more exposed it is to wind effects. Careful siting of gardens and the erection of wind barriers can resolve wind problems to some extent but can incur extra costs if structural work is involved.

Runoff from garden irrigation has to flow somewhere, preferably into the existing storm water drainage, and pooling on the rooftop avoided. Plants, especially fruit and vegetables, need at least five hours exposure to sunlight daily to grow strong and healthy and fortunately the rooftop garden has a northerly exposure – it can get quite hot up there, something that will necessitate attention to watering, especially in summer.

Wind and sun/shade patterns were detailed in the site analysis workshop and, being an office building, the roof was more than adequately strong to support a garden. There already are a couple gardens on the terrace equipped with a pink flowering frangipani each.
Site analysisIt was hot up there the sunny autumn day the site analysis workshop took place. Steve and I took the team through the elements of site analysis – sun and shade patterns, wind direction/strengths/seasonality/direction,the presence of services such as water/power etc, the presence of wildlife, drainage and the rest. Being a rooftop, there are drains where the garden will be built. All of this information was documented on a site analysis plan drawn up on A2 size paper as the work progressed.

Earlier, Steve had the team draw up a wish list of what they would like on site. Working in small groups they flicked through picture books of gardens and listed what they ought would be good to have.

A workshop participant does the right thing with food waste.

Steve also took the team through the process of making compost – what goes in, how to manage the sealed rotary bin and so on. Open compost or the plastic, domestic compost bins cannot be used here as the adjacent room is used as a public venue.
The ideas phase and site analysis done, future workshops will take the team into the construction phase.

Sooner rather than later, people attending meetings in the room will be able to look out onto the terrace to see cascading vegetables, bright flowers and small fruit trees in pots. It will give an entirely new look to a town hall.

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