Neville Passmore: Community Gardens

28th September, 2017

“Inter-generational gardening – bringing different ages, experiences and ideas together for the gardens of the future”

One of the best examples of modern day inter-generational gardening can be seen in local community gardens. I have been involved with nearly a dozen starting with a permaculture garden in Onslow Road, Shenton Park, back in the early nineties. I have presented TV stories from this garden and a number of others and have always been impressed by “hands on”, or “hands in” passing on of ideas, skills and knowledge between the different generations that takes place every day.

Looking back in history, community gardening was the way food was produced with involvement from all the villagers.  In the nineteenth century allotments were set up to enable working class people in cities to supplement their food supply.   This form of community garden is experiencing a resurgence in Europe today fueled by factors such as a new consciousness about food quality and security.

In WA there is considerable interest in community gardens and start-ups are happening across the metropolitan area and in rural centres as well.

The Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network lists 45 community gardens in and around Perth and the South West and 3 in the north of our state.  To look for your nearest community garden go to this website

How do community gardens work?

There are many different models to be seen. Essentially land is secured usually on a peppercorn lease from the local government authority.  Some gardens charge a plot fee, where others levy a membership fee, which allows harvesting from the whole garden. While growing food is always a prime focus, todays’ community gardens have evolved to do much more.

To give you an idea about how different communities run their gardens I will give you a rundown on the three gardens with which I have been involved.

Joondanna Community Garden

I filmed the commencement of the Joondanna community garden in September 2010 for a local gardening show.   Not long after, I moved home, to find this garden was just around the corner, so I joined up in 2011.  The City of Stirling provided the land and a group of community members started planning and planting. Plots were rented out and I paid up and started growing a range of seasonal vegetables and a few fruits including passion fruit and Cape gooseberry. I brought my daughter Gabriella along and we did much of the work together, my chance to pass on some ideas on food production.  To this day Gabriella is still in love with the Cape gooseberries she tasted here for the first time.

There is a strong organic ethic here, which can be seen reflected in the insect exclusion nets in a recent photo.  There is a free herb bed to encourage non-members to come into the garden and be inspired.  There are now a wide range of tree crops on the site including both deciduous crops like almond plum and apple as well as evergreen trees including feijoa, olives and citrus.

There is also what I reckon is one of the world’s most sophisticated worm farms fueled by lawn clippings.  The acquisition of this galvanised iron constructed, free standing farm, demonstrated one very necessary skill of community gardens – the ability to write up grant applications.  The latest construction a large covered pergola is another product of this writing skill. Joondanna also is a recycling centre as can be seen by the welcoming signage.

Kalamunda Community Garden

A second involvement came when my eldest daughter Lisa Passmore pulled together an interested group and started to lobby the Kalamunda Shire Council to set up a community garden on the site of the historic Stirk Cottage.  It takes lots of energy and time to get a garden such as this off the planning documents and onto the ground, however Lisa and her crew were successful.

An early step was to become an incorporated body, which was necessary in order for the council to allow access to the land as well as accessing other funding opportunities. One of the directions taken at Kalamunda is gardening education. Regular guest horticulturist meetings are held where I spoke, for example on fruit growing.  One of the most recent talks was delivered by horticulturist Mark Tucek on the subject of bush tucker plants for home gardens.   The list of speakers reads like the who’s who of gardening media in WA and includes Steve Woods, Peter Coppin, Nick Bell, Charles Otway, Tim Parker, and John Stanley. This is a very good example of community gardens becoming centres for learning.

Perth City Farm

I visited this farm in the city centre to do a couple of TV shows for Gardening Australia and found it to be a really inspiring community resource and a great example of inter-generational cooperation.  I vividly remember a collection of demobilised freezers and fridges obtained by “verge surfing” and turned into worm farms. There was serious recycling happening with lawn contractors bringing in their clippings and young street kids being instructed on how to create and manage compost heaps.   The gardens are run on permaculture guidelines.

In 2002 a 40-year peppercorn lease was awarded and this opened up opportunities to run some commercial operations from the site.  These now include a coffee shop and nursery as well as venues for a wide range of events from weddings to corporate presentations.  An organic farmers market operates every Saturday morning.

In 2015 the farm received a grant from the Waste Authority to run a recycling hub within the gardens. As a result there is today a receival facility for a wide range of used consumer products.

The farm has been, from its inception a place for music, art and concerts.

While a not-for-profit organisation, the various business enterprises have enabled professional managers to operate the farm and make it such a glowing success.

Apart from being a focal point for inter-generational gardening in WA, community gardens play many roles in society today from food growing, gardening and food education, recycling, as well as offering volunteering opportunities and providing a hub for social contact.  Perhaps the last word here on the subject of mental health should come from my daughter Lisa.  A son of one of the community gardeners at Kalamunda told her that his mother was in a bad way after the loss of her husband and the thing that got her through was her alternative family at the community garden.


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