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Farmers of the urban footpath – design guidelines for street verge gardens

FARMING THE FOOTPATH—it's been going on for some time in our cities but the last few years have brought an upsurge of interest.  It's one of those ideas that is now capturing the public imagination and we are starting to see more and more street verge gardens, many of them growing food.

Most verge plantings have so far been created by gardeners who know what they are doing, but the recent burst of popularity suggests that a little thought before acting might be a good thing. There is concern in local government, which is responsible for public footpaths, that street verge gardens might be planted to inappropriate species and could interfere with underground services such as water, gas and sewage pipes or block easy access to and from the street. There are design solutions to these reservations.verge-gardens brisbane

An established practice

Street verge gardening is the practice of growing ornamental, native or edible plants on the footpath. The rise in popularity of edible gardens has brought the planting of fruits, herbs and vegetables, sometimes mixed with flowers and native plants, to our street verges. The practice is another means of returning food production to our cities and is attracting attention and support in professional design circles.

Edible verge gardening in Australian cities can be traced back to the days of mass immigration in the 1950s, especially to immigrants from Mediterranean countries.  Take a walk around the suburbs where the immigrants of that time made their homes and you find the olive trees they planted on the footpaths are now fully grown and laden with fruit in season. In older parts of Sydney, the loquat with its bight yellow fruit is occasionally found on footpaths, but more commonly in gardens, however this is not so good a choice as it attracts fruit fly. This is another consideration in selecting fruits for the street verge.verge-gardens brisbane

So what is the Brisbane City Council's approach

Brisbane City Council has developed Verge Garden Guidelines to help residents who are interested in establishing a verge garden to self-assess their compliance with Council requirements. The guidelines support Council’s vision of a clean, green city that protects and supports our subtropical environment by sustainably managing and caring for our natural environment and resources.

You need to make sure that your footpath gardening project is respectful of the needs of others. It must be well-maintained and safe, and must keep the footpath accessible for everyone without negatively impacting the environment and surrounding infrastructure.

Verge garden guidelines

To make sure your garden meets Brisbane City Council’s requirements, residents are encouraged to review the guidelines and complete the checklist before you start your project. It will also help you to ensure your verge garden does not impact on the safety of your local community, environment or surrounding infrastructure.

Responsibility

The householder is responsible for the verge gardens adjacent to their property. While verge gardens are planted in public spaces, priority must always be given to maintenance and access for utilities services such as pedestrian movement, water and sewerage, power, gas, telephones, optic fibre cables. If adequate access is not provided, householders may be asked to remove or make changes to their garden.

Recommended plants

Residents are encouraged to use native or water-wise plants where possible. Council has established a recommended planting list to help residents when selecting species.

Gardens that don't comply

If you would like to report a verge garden that doesn't comply with the above guidelines, phone Council on 07 3403 8888.

If you receive a compliance notice for a verge garden that does not comply, the notice will outline what alterations need to be made to your verge garden. You can phone Council on 07 3403 8888 to discuss your notice in greater detail.

More information

For any questions about establishing or maintaining verge gardens, contact Council.

To add trees to your verge garden, you can request Council to plant a street tree on your footpath, or you can tell us where you think Brisbane needs more street trees. Find out more.

Verge gardens in brisbane

Verge Garden Guidelines

Brisbane City Council has developed the Verge Gardens Guidelines to help residents who are interested in establishing a verge garden. The guidelines will also help ensure the safety of pedestrians and road users by minimising trip hazards and ensuring community safety and access on this public space is maintained.

These guidelines support Brisbane’s vision of a clean, green city that protects and supports our environment by sustainably managing and caring for our natural environment and resources.

What is a street verge?

A street verge is the area of public land located between a property boundary and the adjacent road kerb. The verge provides access from the street to private and public properties. It also accommodates above and below-ground public service utilities such as postal service, lighting, power, water, sewerage, gas, telephone and optic fibre cables.

Do I need permission to plant a verge garden?

Council is not issuing permits for verge gardens but has developed a checklist (included in this guideline) to ensure it will not impact on the safety of the community, the environment and surrounding infrastructure. If your proposed verge garden meets the requirements of this checklist, then you may proceed to plant.

Please note that if you are not able to comply with the requirements of these guidelines, you will not be able to establish a verge garden.

Who is responsible for the verge garden?

The householder is responsible for any verge garden adjacent to their property. While verge gardens are planted in public spaces, priority must always be given to maintenance and access for pedestrian movement, postal and utility services, water and sewerage, power, gas, telephones and optic fibre cables. If adequate access is not provided, householders may be asked to remove or make changes to their garden.

Council is not responsible for reinstating any landscaping or any damage to verge gardens or their contents, caused by animals, persons or weather events. Utility services (e.g. electricity, water or telecommunications) may need to upgrade or service their infrastructure, and where this is necessary, advance notice will be given to the householder if the verge garden is to be disturbed. Please note, utility service providers will not reinstate verge gardens after work.

Council is responsible for planting, removing and maintaining all street trees on the street verge. Council reserves the right at any time to remove any verge garden and landscaping:

  • to perform works that are required to manage any service or infrastructure
  • that does not comply with this guideline.

In the event that you move into a home with an established verge garden, it is your responsibility to ensure that the verge garden complies with Council’s current guidelines. You may choose to:

  • retain the garden
  • remove the garden and reinstate the verge to the standard of the surrounding surface.

Where do these guidelines apply?

These guidelines apply to verge gardens at properties that are identified as a ’Residential zone’ within Brisbane City Plan 2014 and are between the property boundary and the road kerb (allowing a minimum width of 1.2 metres for pedestrian access). You cannot plant on your neigbouring property without their permission.

To find out whether your property is within a Residential zone, visit Council’s website at www.brisbane.qld.gov.au and search ‘Zoning maps’ or call Council’s 24-hour Contact Centre on (07) 3403 8888.

How do I ensure safe gardening?

Health and safety precautions are the responsibility of the resident establishing the garden. If you are interested in verge gardening, please consider basic safety precautions such as appropriate clothing, appropriate and safe use of tools and sun protection.

To ensure the protection of any underground public utility services such as water and electricity, you should call ‘Dial Before You Dig’ on 1100 (during business hours) or visit their website at www.1100.com.au prior to gardening. In the event that damage is caused to public utility services due to gardening activities, this must be reported to the appropriate authority as soon as possible and repaired at the property owner’s expense.

Before I start a verge garden who should I consult with?

If you follow these guidelines and can tick the checklist, there is no requirement to contact Council. It would be a good idea to first consult with your neighbours and see if a shared ‘community garden’ is achievable. It’s important to remember that the verge is a public space. If you plan on growing any edible plants, pedestrians passing-by may harvest from your verge garden.

If your verge is currently asphalted, please contact Council to see what options may be possible.

 

Do I need to provide space for pedestrian access?

Yes. It is important that pedestrians can use the public footpath without being obstructed by verge gardens. To ensure this, you must provide a pedestrian way with a minimum width of 1.2 metres as per Council’s current accessibility standards.

In choosing plant and garden bed location, consideration should also be given to:

  • visibility of motorists using the road, and those entering or exiting a residential driveway
  • maintaining adequate distance from above-ground utilities such as electricity pillars, street lights, and telecommunication cables
  • access to post boxes (mailboxes) allowing space between your verge garden and the edge of the footpath (if established) for footpath maintenance
  • adequate distance must be maintained between the kerb and the edge of the verge garden at all times to allow access from vehicles to an established footpath or an unestablished pedestrian path.

 

What materials can I use?

Organic mulching is permitted and should be flush with the footpath or grass area. The use of non-organic materials such as loose gravel, crushed brick or other stone aggregate is not permitted. The use of any hard landscaping materials or irrigation systems is also not permitted

The use of garden structures such as wood planter boxes is not supported by Council. Should residents use such materials, Council will ask for their removal.

What type of plant species can I use?

Trees or tall shrubs must not be planted in verge gardens. Any plants chosen for use in verge gardens must be groundcovers or low growing species.

Residents are encouraged to use native or water-wise plants where possible. Council has a number of resources to help you select the right plant species and create a sustainable, water-wise garden. Please visit Council’s website, www.brisbane.qld.gov.au and search the following options to find out more:

  • Green Gardening Guide
  • Native plant species for residents.

 

When planting species, height of the mature plant or plants must be taken into account to ensure there is no obstruction with the visibility of motorists using the road or exiting a residential driveway, and there is no potential for the species to grow into the power lines. It is also necessary to ensure the species will not create overhanging branches that might be a hazard for pedestrians.

Many attractive garden plants have a secret life as weeds in our bushland. There are more than 200 backyard beauties that become bushland bullies when they jump the garden fence. Once there, they smother and kill native plants, removing food and shelter for our wildlife. Residents can use Council’s weed identification tool and Brisbane Invasive Species Management Plan for assistance. Both of these are available via Council’s website.

Residents are reminded that planting is at their own risk and you must consider the impacts of allergies, thorns and poisonous plants to residents, animals and surroundings.

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