Russ Grayson

Plants, people and city

…a convivial open day in the prolific James Street Reserve Community Garden

WARM AND SUNNY Spring weather, good food, great people and a prolific garden resplendent with the colour, perfume and taste of fresh organic vegetables, tasty herbs and juicy fruit — what more could you ask for on a Saturday in Sydney?

All of these things came together on 4 October 2014 for the James Street Reserve Community Garden open day.

The James Street community garden shows what is possible on a tiny patch of inner urban land.

I got to know the community garden crew when the garden made its start on August 2010 on an unattractive, poorly used and somewhat problematical pocket park on a Redfern back street. Then, I was community garden coordinator for the City of Sydney, the local government body for the CBD and the surrounding, higher density zone. When local people approached the council about taking over care and management of half of the small pocket park and transforming it from a low-quality lawn monoculture into an agriculturally biodiverse community food garden, the City lent its support.

You can envision the community garden — all 241 square metres of it — as a cluster of circular, raised garden beds with another raised bed following the walls along two sides and a funky, rural-looking storage and utility shed and rainwater tank tucked into the corner. Olives, coffee, elderberry, citrus, bananas and other fruit trees share space with a mature, red-flowering bottlebrush (Callistemon), a couple eucalypts and a clumping bamboo that furnished poles for trellises and other uses.

The garden is managed as a shared patch with produce divided among the gardeners at the monthly working bees.

What the James Street gardeners have done is to turn a piece of open space that was a liability into an asset for city and community. They did this by populating this once-semi-derelict patch with plants and people and, in doing this, transformed it into something of botanical, nutritional and social value.

Thanks to their initiative, Sydney has an example of inner-urban community agriculture and a practical, productive, DIY approach to community development (it's my observation that growing food with others is only half, perhaps, of the social and health benefit of community gardening; the other half is the sense of place and community that develops around it).

That's the human aspect. Add to that beautifying the city which this garden, with its colour and diversity, has done. Then add the creation of habitat for the birds, insects, bees, burrowing and crawling things, both the native and introduced species, that make this part of Redfern their home. That adds value to the garden. If you look closely you will see this in the form of the little pod for the stingless native bees and the insectary that gardeners have made for other species of flying bugs.

The James Street community garden crew is an enterprising lot and they had earlier gone out seeking sponsorship for the garden, and those sponsors were there on Saturday.

Burts Bees makes personal care products from honey to nourish your body. Twig Cafe makes tasty food to nourish your being — they're just around the corner from the garden on the corner of Young and Cleveland streets.

Workshops, tours, picking and peeling coffee berries from the garden's coffee tree, conversation, conviviality, a violinist playing the tunes of Spring, a raffle and Twig's fruity punch, sandwiches and cakes made a memorable day.

So thanks, James Street community garden crew, for opening your patch to the city and to the people who came to look, talk, eat, be inspired and sit in the Spring sun.

Here's some photos I made of the event…
It was fortunate that the community gardeners held their open day just when their coffee bush was ready for harvest.

At the urging of one of the gardeners I tried one of the berries, a dark, soft and ripe one, and found it sweet and its taste mild.

The berries were harvested, then the seed separated from the pulp. The next stage of processing is to ferment the seed.

Below, see the coffee processing crew at work.
James Street's open day — a festival of food, creative people and cultivated nature in the city… urban agriculture as done by communities…
(above) Vanessa Ferrugia of garden sponsor, Berts Bees (left), draws the winning raffle ticket.

Blood orange supplied by garden sponsor, Twig Cafe and (right) sweet potato freshly harvested.
The photo above shows the coffee fruit ready for seed separation.

Below, the coffee crew's Andrea Claypoole (right) and Michelle Margolis are happy to show their work. Michelle, a gardening and permaculture design system educator with her own productive home garden, is associated with Inner West Seedsavers.
1. Horticulturist, John Kingston, harvesting coffee.
2. Community gardener, Andrea Claypoole clears away the stems of harvested broad beans.
James Street Reserve Community Garden … nature and people cooperating to create an urban cultivated ecology…
A garden full of the edible life of Spring…
It's a different James Street Reserve since the community gardeners moved in…
It's only a small shed but the imagination with which it was designed and built lays heavily about it.

At the open day, the fold-down table of the storage and utility shed served for horticulturist, John Kingston's workshop on making and growing cuttings. A flat water tank that collects rainwater falling on the shed's roof is seen tucked beside the building to the left.
The crew meets as a gardening convivium on the first Saturday of the month, 9am-11am.

The garden is found in the James Street Reserve between Marriott Street and Young Lane in Redfern, behind the car wash on Cleveland Street and not all that far from the Surry Hills cafe strip.

Here's the community garden's blog:
Some of the James Street community garden crew who make the garden happen…
(L>R) Mel Prudames, Cassy Cochrane and daughter, Jeanne.

Open day at the garden.
Community gardener, architect an landscape architect, Katie (left), with Andrea Claypoole being directive.

The red box contains next season's harvest — seeds.

The sticks in the garden bed are anti-ibis stakes to discourage the large, long legged, long beaked birds from taking the seedlings and digging in the garden. A gardener told me they discourages humans, too.