The other day a friend confronted me. “I reckon those garden beds on the verge are a waste of time. People are spending $50 or $100 setting them up and they are kidding themselves. They won’t produce food of significance. It is a waste of time and money.
I started to think about the value of those verge veggie garden beds. You know the ones – they are pretty common now. The often appear bursting with life, and you go home more determined to work in your own garden. Then summer hits. With often no irrigation, things start looking a bit dry. Lettuces go to seed. Tomatoes get diseases. It makes sense to let it go.
Sometimes the garden in revived after summer, sometimes not.
But it got me thinking – what is the value of a verge garden bed?
There are a few things –
Firstly it makes a statement. It says” I know that food security is important and I want to learn to grow my own. I am willing to do this in a public space, risking vandalism and theft. I will no longer water my lawn so I have pulled it out. This is a statement about what I value.”
There is a wonderful story doing the rounds on the internet. In the end there is a hummingbird trying to fight a fire all on its own. When asked why it is bothering, the bird replies “I’m doing the best I can”
Second it makes you think about public spaces. Who owns the verge? Who is the government? Can we share common public spaces? If we can manage this now what potential is there for future projects?”
There was a value in schools when I was a principal that talked about “obeying just laws” At the time kids used it to argue that they should not have to wear school uniform. But a garden bed on the verge says “I am willing to take a risk, I know this is legally wrong but ethically and morally it makes sense to me. I will beg for forgiveness if things go wrong, rather than wasting time and energy in getting permission.”
Third you learn about gardening. People pass by and give advice. I will never forget the first papasan I planted out with an entire punnet of six tomatoes. The old Croatian man came over. “One only” he kept saying, “too many plants, one only” I smiled nicely looking at his the watered and fertilised lawn in his front garden. Six weeks later with a tomato bed looking like a jungle and no tomatoes I could get to, he took me out the back of his place. He had an entire market garden out there!. He pointed out his tomato bushes and taught me to identify the laterals that I should prune. I learnt that there are skills and resources in my community that I knew nothing about.
Four you learn about seasonal food. You try to grow corn and tomatoes in winter and broccoli in summer. You fail. You get why prices fluctuate in the shop, you see why sometimes the only available produce is from overseas. You don’t make those recipes at that time of year. Even if you don’t grow food yourself, you eat with the seasons. You save money.
Five you learn how hard it is to grow food. You put in carrots, you hope, you struggle, you fail. You look at a kilo of organic carrots on special for $4.99 and you wonder “how on earth does the farmer do that?” You look at an organic broccoli without a single cabbage moth hole and you wonder. You are more willing to buy an apple with a brown mole in it, some grapes with one or two overripe ones, the ugly tomatoes . . . .
Six you become able to give advice. Someone walking past asks you about slaters. You tell them about the seven ideas you have heard about and tried. You tell them the one that worked for you. They walk off happy and you feel chuffed somehow. You feel proud. You feel like a gardener.
And lastly there is that magic moment. You are out there fussing over your tomatoes and your eggplants . Maybe you are tying them to their stakes, maybe you are collecting for dinner. Someone walks past with their dog.
“Good on you they say! I just wanted to tell you that I put in my own veggie patch after seeing yours.”
One verge bed might not make much sense, but one outside everyone’s house. . . . . . .
The salad you just picked for lunch never tasted so good.