Gardening on the edge: beautifying the nature-strip
As with many new trends, the urge to ‘ReVerge’ started in Melbourne’s inner-city suburbs, where land is in short supply. First people started adding flowers to the soil under street trees, then guerilla gardeners started planting out unloved median strips and roundabouts.
By 2012, even the ABC’s beloved Gardening Australia host Costa Georgiadis was planting out his verge on TV. With permission, of course.
By 2019, when Dr Adrian Marshall published his PhD on ‘Renaturing the Nature Strip’, he looked at 47 neighborhoods across Melbourne and found verge gardening was “common, occurring in almost a quarter of verges and in almost every block in every neighbourhood”. This is good news, because he also calculated that this strange twilight zone of grass between the footpath and road makes up more than 35 per cent of all public green space.
Though the main purpose of the nature strip is to store underground services - power, water, gas, phone and sewage, a customised nature strip can be a thing of beauty - a display of individualism, a show of community spirit, and a lovely way to meet the neighbours.
The bonus upside for non-gardeners is that, even if you only replace the lawn with native grass, it will only need mowing a few times a year and, if you go the whole hog and plant shrubs instead, you can sell your mower completely.
Nature strip gardening rules and regulations
Dr Marshall’s interviews with gardeners found the main reason stopping them from street-friendly planting was a perceived fear they’d get into trouble with their local council.
While some seemingly contradictory rules still exist - the onus is on residents to maintain this public land, yet legally you can’t prune any council-planted tree there - most councils have embraced the trend and have issued guidelines for how to maintain a nature strip garden.
Bylaws vary (a lot) across Victoria, so always check local regulations. Generally, councils that support nature-strip landscaping require you to get a permit first, and some charge a fee for this ‘service’.
You may need to supply a site plan and list of proposed plants/modifications - mostly to show you’ll avoid invasive weeds and keep it safe for pedestrians and motorists.
At minimum, that means keeping sightlines clear for drivers, ensuring plants won’t trip or scratch pedestrians and providing safe paths for passengers to access cars. Most councils have a plant height limit - anything between 30 centimeters and 1 meter.