A big thank you to Stuart McQuire, Libby Harper, Mark Sanders, and Sofia Portales for sharing their vast knowledge about the history of the West Brunswick Community Garden.
This is an ongoing project, and there is more history yet to learn. If you would like to contribute any information or photographs, or for photo credit or removal, please contact Jessica Peeler at email@example.com.
1993: The beginning of the garden
West Brunswick Community Garden was first constructed in 1993 by the former City of Brunswick Council, in conjunction with local residents, as part of a broader redevelopment of Dunstan Reserve. The garden consisted of 37 plots, individually maintained, that were each 18 square metres in size. These plots were quickly claimed by residents who signed up as members, and there was a long waiting list.
Because the original site soil was so poor, soil improvement was a big focus for the first gardeners, with organic methods such as composting and mulching used to build up the soil profile. With the garden also being in full sun, it produced a lot of food:
“I just remember carrying bags and bags of tomatoes home. It was so productive.” (Stuart McQuire 2021)
The garden ran successfully for many years. Unfortunately, over time a number of issues developed, with conflicts between members resulting in many people feeling unwelcome in the space. Despite the individual plots initially being unfenced, most had been fenced in and padlocked, with some members even having multiple plots to themselves (despite this being against the Constitution). This meant that a relatively small number of gardeners were making use of this large garden while others were excluded.
For these reasons, in 2011 the former Moreland City Council deemed the management group unfit to continue managing the site, and started a tendering process to find a group who would manage the space and commit to its improvement and increased use by the community.
2011: A new group takes on the garden
In 2011, Coburg Community Gardening (changed shortly after to Moreland Community Gardening) had recently taken over management of the adjacent food forest, and while working on its rejuvenation they decided to put forward a proposal to take on the community garden as well. Their submission was successful, with their plan that proposed to:
– install a lower fence to make the garden more welcoming
– install a community composting hub
– improve the gathering area
– provide tools and lockable storage
– investigate rain water harvesting options
– install raised garden beds and stable paths to improve accessibility
– garden and grow food in a mixture of traditional private allotments and rotational communal gardening spaces
– run workshops and educational events
– provide propagation facilities
– host open days, plant sales, and food/plant swaps
– run regular working bees and seasonal social gatherings
– invite community groups to use the garden as a meeting space
The ultimate aim was to provide a space for residents to:
- Grow healthy, safe, affordable, organic food
- Share companionship, skills and knowledge
- Participate in and feel a part of their community
- Enhance their mental and physical well-being
- Learn to lead a more sustainable life
After Council selected Moreland Community Gardening (MCG) to take over the management of the space, a group of volunteers started to plan how the garden space would be laid out. Many of these volunteers were also heavily involved with the Food Forest; in fact there wasn’t a huge distinction between the two areas. They reached out to other garden groups and community members to promote the garden and get more people involved.
Many of the early meetings were held at other local community gardens, including Merri Corner, Glenroy College, Ceres, and Mulberry Garden. This gave the MCG group an opportunity to see how other gardens operated, and emphasised the importance to them of providing some communal gardening space in addition to private plots. Having communal gardening space meant that the number of people who could get involved would be virtually unlimited, and it would also provide a way for those wanting their own plot to be involved and contribute to the garden while on the wait list. Communal gardening has a number of benefits, which you can read about here.
When MCG took over the garden, it contained a huge amount of rubbish, makeshift fencing, and weeds. With support from Council, the entire site was cleared and flattened to give the group a blank slate to work with.
A new garden design was created and market out in preparation for building. It divided the garden into three areas of roughly equal size, for:
- Communal growing space
- Personal plots
- Shared facilities, e.g. compost bays, equipment storage areas, gathering space
In 2012, the big rebuild began, with lots of locals getting involved.
One of the elements of the proposal put forward to Council was the inclusion of raised garden beds, which would make the garden more accessible to members with mobility issues. Raised beds also have the added benefits of minimising weed growth and providing better drainage for plants. The first raised beds were constructed in 2013.
In September 2013, the gardeners constructed a glasshouse, which allowed them to more effectively propagate their own crops. Watch a stop motion video of its construction below!
In November 2013, new compost bays were constructed. The compost system was not only used for the garden’s green waste, but also to allow locals to deposit their kitchen scraps. Today, people have the option of signing up as a ‘Friend of the Garden’, which gives them access to the compost at any time of day to deposit their scraps (but doesn’t give them access to the garden beds). The compost bays are cared for and regularly turned by the ‘Compost Crew’, and leachate that can be used as liquid fertiliser is freely available to anyone who visits the garden.
Around 2014, the core organising group started to write the Moreland Community Gardening Constitution, which formalised the organisation’s structure and opened up the possibility of overseeing additional community gardens in future. Many people contributed to the long process of writing the Constitution, with a special mention to go to Julia Raath for her assistance with the Occupational Health and Safety elements.
At this point the group decided to split into two separate groups (with many overlapping participants): The Board and the Organising Committee (OC). The Board focused on governance of the whole organisation, while the OC focused on the operation of the garden itself. This division gave people an opportunity to devote their time and attention to the tasks of greatest interest to them, and also ensured that meetings remained focused and didn’t drag out for hours!
Garden membership grew, with individual plots of varying sizes being allocated to locals. Plots varied in size from 1 – 10 square metres, far smaller than the 18 square metre plots in the original garden. Significantly, many members didn’t even have their own plots, instead taking care of the communal gardening area together, and getting involved with the compost system and seed saving/propagation group (run for many years by John Coutanche). There was a focus on education and socialisation, with regular educational workshops (like Richard’s famous composting workshop) and communal lunches (including a monthly ‘Garden and Gather’, where members each bring a plate to share). The garden was also used for many community events, such as an ‘Open Table’ event and a garage sale in 2014.
Initially the garden gate wasn’t locked; anyone could come in and enjoy the space. Unfortunately however, ongoing theft of crops meant that the decision was made to lock the gate.
In 2016 the Organising Committee engaged garden member and carpenter Baris Koch to build a large pergola between the shed verandah and the greenhouse, with the help of garden volunteers. This pergola provided a large shaded area that could be used for gathering, meeting, and various garden activities.
Council has been an ongoing supporter of the garden, paying for the water supply, providing regular deliveries of Veolia compost through the Back To Earth Program, and providing advice when required. The garden has also benefited from several grants provided by Council, including a grant that funded the role of a Community Gardening Coordinator in 2020.
2020: Virtual & solo gardening
2020 brought with it COVID-19 and its associated impacts, limiting the amount of time that members could spend at the garden. Thankfully, the garden was deemed an essential service due to its role in food production, so it was never closed completely for more than a few days. There were many months, during lockdowns, where attendance was limited to just one person at a time, with this gradually expanding in line with government restrictions and safety advice. The social aspect of gardening was greatly reduced, however members still made an effort to keep in touch via the garden’s Facebook group, and through virtual workshops and social events.
The Organising Committee, including John Coutanche, Julia Cirillo, Judith Cooke, Richard Brown, Christine Kennedy, and Sofia Portales, with support from the MCG Board and dedicated members, were instrumental in keeping the garden operational during this time and in trying to keep members engaged (even if only virtually).
The Organising Committee and Community Gardening Coordinator spent time during this period producing an Amenity Plan for the garden, which would guide the focus areas for the garden. It was helpful to be able to think about a return to ‘normal’ and plan future activities, even if we couldn’t physically be together at the time. Read the Amenity Plan below:
In 2020, the garden’s old shed was replaced, and a new verandah installed, again by member Baris Koch with support from the Community Gardening Coordinator and volunteers, in particular Richard Brown. The new shed had a higher door, making it more accessible, and the new verandah was far more sturdy and provided a safer waterproof area for people to gather.
In 2021, we farewelled Sofia Portales, who made a huge contribution to the garden through her time on the Organising Committee and in particular her work coordinating the communal garden area. This bittersweet lunch was a great opportunity to celebrate her achievements and get everyone together.
“I love it because I think…not all community gardens are like this. I just find it, socially, such an interesting experiment. For me, I love it because it tests out all the things that I believe in.” (Sofia Portales, 2021)
Weeds became a particularly big issue during the worst of the pandemic, as the group events where members would usually tackle large areas were halted or limited. In particular, Kikuyu grass was continually creeping in from the turf surrounding the garden, and smothering the garden beds. Council kindly installed a mulched bed around the external perimeter of the garden, which members then planted out with a variety of native shrubs. This garden was installed to serve three key functions:
- create a barrier between the garden and the turf, to minimise weed incursion into the garden
- provide habitat and food for animals, particularly small birds which rely on spiky shrubs for shelter
- create an additional barrier to minimise people jumping the fence to steal crops
Of course, a garden bed filled with plants also looks nice!
2021 saw increased opportunities to safely gather together at the garden. We hosted a series of workshops on fruit tree pruning, held regular working bees again, and focused on re-engaging with our membership.
In 2021, sadly we lost long-term garden and Organising Committee member John Coutanche.
“John was a massive contributor to the garden, and very much a quiet achiever. John was a very active member of the Organising Committee, a tireless worker in the communal garden, a keen and knowledgeable seed saver, a Food Forest champion, wonderful company and a great friend.” (Julia Cirillo, 2021)
Following John’s death, garden members held an online (due to COVID restrictions) memorial event, and in the time since have planted a bay tree (donated by Pentridge Community Garden), installed a beautiful library that contains John’s gardening books, and reconstructed a bench seat where people can sit and remember John.
What's happening now?
Recently, we have been enjoying gardening together again! The garden hosts weekly Friday meet ups, as well as working bees or social events almost every weekend (more details here).
In 2022 we have run a free ‘Grow Your Own Way’ gardening course (with particular thanks to Fransisca Amar, Libby Harper, and Angelo Eliades for organising this course funded by VicHealth), organised several networking events for local community gardens, held numerous working bees and lunches, harvested loads of fresh produce, installed an accessible path, built new garden beds, hosted a Spring Plant & Produce Sale, and of course spent many hours gardening and drinking cups of coffee.
How to get involved
The best way to get involved is to sign up as a member so that you can come and garden with us!
WBCG has links with several organisations, including the Moreland Community Child Care Centre, Burnley Horticultural College, CERES, Reground, Edible Eden Design, Permablitz, Bulleen Art & Garden, and the Moreland Food Gardens Network.
We love hearing from other local groups who would like to form a partnership! Please get in touch with the organising committee: firstname.lastname@example.org.