Verge planting is a simple and cost effective way to add value to your property and make your street cleaner, greener and cooler.
Public meets private in that space between front fences and the road, which makes verge gardens a contested but exciting frontier for sustainable landscape design.
Council-owned verges have traditionally been treated as the unloved and unsightly bit of grass that development forgot. Sometimes they also become an additional unwanted mowing nuisance to the adjacent homeowner. However, residents are now reclaiming these areas to create beautiful natural oases instead.
However - verge gardens have now been gaining in popularity, whether that’s to reintroduce corridors of nature into our urban areas or to use spaces with fantastic potential that would otherwise be wasted. Wherever progressive councils have embraced verge gardens and relaxed their regulations, native gardens are getting the edge over lawn. We are seeing this all across the country, but most notably in our local areas here on the Sunshine Coast where there is an increasing focus on making the environment cleaner, greener and cooler - starting with your local area.
Let’s look at some of the reasons why planting a verge garden is a worthwhile investment:
You can always tell when an area has a strong community base by looking at how well loved their verges are. These are areas that you love walking home through because it’s lively with people enjoying the outdoors; plus it’s full of interesting features and plants that are attractive to look at. These places make you feel welcomed and safe.
Naturally, areas with a strong sense of community will attract more people to move there, thus increasing the value of the area. Therefore, it’s no surprise that verge gardens are becoming increasingly popular with councils and residents.
Lawns in the wrong position can require copious amounts of water to maintain their lush greenery. The average Australian household uses about 240kL of water per year (or more than 650L per day) with over 40 per cent of that water used outside the home. Lawns are known to consume a large chunk of this which makes reducing lawn areas an easy way to reduce the use of water and also the need for a lawnmower.
Verge gardens also have a positive eﬀect on reducing summer temperatures. On a very hot summer day, you’ll notice that sitting under a tree is always cooler than sitting under a gazebo. This is due to the cooling eﬀect of moisture evaporating from the plant’s leaves. In the same way, verge gardens help to reduce the urban heat island eﬀect by increasing the amount of plants and green spaces in developed areas. Surrounding your house with plants creates a microclimate that helps cool things.
Gardens provide shelter and food for other fauna, so they will attract all kinds of insects and animals including those that are ecologically beneﬁcial such as bees, spiders and lizards. There are nectar-producing plants that are very good at attracting native birds and butterflies and other plants that produce seeds for wildlife. The more verges that are linked together, the larger the created migration corridors for these species through our urban areas. Pretty soon you will have a verge that is full of life and vibrancy!
How to get started?
Once you have made the call to get a verge garden started, have a look at our recommendations to kick-off your project.
Step 1: Do you need a permit?
Each local council will have different rules and regulations for verge planting. Here on the Sunshine Coast, your life is really easy as the council has laid out a simple set of self-assessable guidelines to see if you need a permit.
If you are within the guidelines you are free to design and plant your garden.
If you fall outside the guidelines, you can still go ahead with your design but you will need Council sign-off to ensure that any impacts on infrastructure, utilities and sight lines are dealt with. The great news is that the council team (and we have spent a lot of time with them!) are right behind verge planting and want to make this as easy as possible for residents.
Either way – the process is simple. Get in touch with us at: firstname.lastname@example.org and we can help you move through the process really quickly.
Step 2: Soil Set-up
The Sunny Coast has a mix of really sandy soils (which means water drains away very easily and it contains very little organic matter and nutrients to promote plant growth) right through to heavy and harder clay soils.
But even in areas with a different soil type, it is crucial to the long-term survival of your garden that the ﬁrst thing you do before planting anything is to improve the quality of your soil. Adding soil additives, such as bentonite clay, zeolite and compost, will help increase the moisture retention properties of the soil and provide nutrients for the plants. Bentonite clay, in particular, changes the soil structure (from sand to loam) and has the added advantage of being economical and incredibly long lasting in your soil.
If you want a low-maintenance garden that requires very little watering, be sure to select drought-tolerant native species that are endemic to your area and soil type. We find that mass planting five to 10 species with a few feature plants has more impact. However, a more natural bush-type garden can also be attractive, with many more varieties randomly placed. Some native species are also ‘bush tucker’ plants that can provide food or you can look to dedicated food and fruit bearing plants dependent on heights and where you are based.
Here are a few tips when selecting your plants:
Do your research – contact your local council (or us!) for a list of plants that are local to your area and a nursery that has good quality stock.
Be brave – buy multiples of the same plant to create impact. You need at least one plant per square metre, sometimes more depending on the size once fully grown.
Paint a picture – select species that contrast well with each other. Foliage varies in colour from all shades of green to grey and even variegated. Plants are also texturally different, tall and straight, flat and fine and broad and bold.
Flowers and fruit all year round – select species that have different ﬂowering/fruiting times to each other, spreading the flowering season so you have colour throughout the year.
Most importantly – choose the right plant, for the right location, for the right reason!
If you’d like an edible garden using vegies and fruit trees, you’ll need to check your council regulations to determine if you’re allowed to have one. Some form of irrigation system will also likely be required if you want your edible garden to be productive throughout summer. If you only want a small area to be edible, consider a raised wicking garden bed, as these will be easier to maintain and safer from getting damaged or trampled by pedestrians.
You are going to hear a lot more about verge planting in the coming weeks and months as this trend really starts to take off on the coast and elsewhere around the country. We'll also be looking for a number of local residents keen to partner with us on some verge planting projects - so keep an eye out here or get in touch for more information!
The TGSN Team.