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I was stunned when I first saw the size of this verge garden in Greenbank Street. You can see the original verge garden on the far left.

I was stunned when I first saw the size of this verge garden in Greenbank Street. You can see the original verge garden on the far left.  What a difference a verge garden makes.  It softens the streetscape & adds beauty.

I was taken to see another verge garden in Greenbank Street Marrickville recently.  It appears to have been organized by two houses, but it may be that the one house organized it & the other house didn’t mind their neighbour making improvements in front of their place.

Whatever the details, this verge is really special & shows just what can be done.  They have obviously paid for Marrickville Council to remove the concrete. Three verge gardens have been created – two of around 5-metres each long & another of around 2.5-metres & they span two adjoining properties.  Concrete has been left roadside for car doors & there is a path between each garden for pedestrians.

Verge garden close-up

Verge garden close-up

The garden beds have been planted with a mix of natives & ornamentals & covered with mulch.  Except for the occasional weeding, it looks like that these verge gardens will pretty much look after themselves.

Around the corner in a nameless lane (at least on Google maps), the residents have planted a row of Lilly Pillies in the small space between the house & the kerb & covered the visible soil with mulch.  These places traditionally look not so good as they collect weeds & litter, but these residents have demonstrated that such a difficult place can look very attractive.  Lilly Pillies can be pruned to form a hedge & I expect this is what is planned.   The Lilly Pillies have the added benefit of preventing graffiti tags on what is a vulnerable wall because of its location.

Lilly Pillies adding greenery in a difficult space in the laneway.  This looks great now & will look even better once they have grown.

Lilly Pillies adding greenery in a difficult space in the laneway. This looks great now & will look even better once they have grown.

Further down the land is the entrance to another property, which is bordered by small native trees & the back fence is covered with a vine.

The residents on one side of Greenbank Street have planted around almost every street tree & it looks nice.  It’s when you come to the larger verge gardens & the lane way that you see the potential many of us have to radically improve our streetscape.

It doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive either.  If you can encourage a good number of residents in a street to embrace verge gardens & become a Sustainable Street, you can apply to Council to come & depave for you as happened in Lincoln Street recently. See –  Council might even throw in some plants.

If it’s just you, then there is a cost involved for Council to depave, but they do all the work like check for hidden infrastructure & take away the concrete, which saves you effort & skip fees.

Very cheap plants suitable for verge gardens can be sourced at Marrickville Council Nursery – native tube stock only –

Randwick City Council Nursery – established plants – both native & non-native –

& Rockdale Council Nursery – established plants – both native & non-native –

If you find yourself near Greenbank Street, I think it’s worthwhile to stop & have a look at these verge gardens as well as a look in the laneway.  I say this because good gardens & less hard surfaces changes the way an area feels & it is good to feel this whenever you can.  You may not like some of the plants, but that’s the beauty of a verge garden – as long as it doesn’t become as hazard to cars or pedestrians, you can plant what you like.  I think they have done something wonderful & inspiring.

This view shows the concrete left on the side of the kerb.   Imagine streets that looked green like this instead of harsh concrete expanses.

This view shows the concrete strip beside the kerb. Imagine streets that looked green like this, instead of harsh concrete expanses.

The laneway is transformed on this side & clearly shows how even suh difficult sites can be made beautiful as well as useful for wildlife.

The laneway is transformed on this side & clearly shows how even such difficult sites can be made beautiful, as well as useful for wildlife.


Verge gardens along here will make it a much nicer place to live & walk.

Verge gardens along here will make it a much nicer place to live & walk.

I had been told about new verge gardens being created by Marrickville Council on Unwins Bridge Road, but had no idea where on this lengthy road they were or how much depaving was being done.

Marrickville Council has created 32 new verge gardens from almost the corner of Campbell Street all the way to Mary Street.  Right now it looks like a building site, which it is.  When the work is completed though, this stretch on Unwins Bridge Road will look significantly better than it did before.

The community & wildlife will be much better off for any depaving & the creation of gardens.  Verge gardens & street trees will help with the pollution in this area as the trees & plants will collect particulate matter from passing vehicles. They also help lower the urban heat island effect & add beauty, which adds to property values.  Also, a good-looking streetscape makes for a nicer place to live.

Imagine how the municipality would look if all the excess concrete was removed & replaced with green plants, more street trees & colour from flowers?   32 new verge gardens in this location is significant. I thank Marrickville Council for doing this & can’t wait to discover their future depaving projects making our municipality a nicer, more attractive, sustainable & healthy place to live.

Another view

Another view

The street trees are going to have a better time

The street trees are going to have a better time

This tree really wanted to live.

This tree really wanted to live, which is a good thing because it is very beautiful.

In August 2012 I came across a traffic island in Arthur Street Marrickville where I found a street tree living in what I thought were appalling conditions.  A large traffic island had been covered with bitumen & much of this had formed a collar up one side of the tree’s trunk as it had grown.  I thought at the time what a wasted opportunity for a verge garden & wondered at the miracle of the tree’s survival as it was very healthy.

Last Sunday I cycled past this tree & to my delight saw that Marrickville Council has started to depave this traffic island.  They have already removed the bitumen & there is only the layer of gravel to go.   I am pretty sure they will be creating a verge garden here as they would have only removed some of the bitumen around the tree if they didn’t plan for anything more.

Because of the shape of the traffic island & that it is on the corner of Arthur & Ann Streets, it will be visible from quite a distance & therefore benefit the streetscape of two streets.  Of course there are the benefits of less heat & more green, plus help with stormwater if this island is made into a verge garden.  I will keep a check on the progress & post again when the work has been completed.

Before - photo taken August 2012

Before depaving.  Photo taken August 2012

After depaving.  The tree would have enjoyed all this rain.  You can see how visible this traffic island is to the section of Arthur Street to Illawarra Road.

After depaving. The tree would have enjoyed all this recent rain. You can see how visible this traffic island is to the section of Arthur Street to Illawarra Road.

The traffic island is also visible to Ann Street. A verge garden here will improve the streetscape.

The traffic island is also visible to Ann Street. A verge garden here will improve the streetscape.





1.      In a shocking case of environmental vandalism, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works chopped down around 250 100-year-old Oak & Sycamore trees across an 11-acre site called the Santa Anita Wash Oak Grove. The trees were razed so they can dump 500,000 cubic yards of silt that they intend to dredge from a nearby reservoir.  The community vehemently opposed the destruction of the Santa Anita Wash Oak Grove, but the destruction went ahead as planned & this in a state that prides itself on it’s climate change initiatives. I would have thought that the silt could have been transported to another place to be used rather than destroy a 100-year plus habitat.  To see the Santa Anita Wash Oak Grove for yourself, here is a 3.42min YouTube video –!   & article –,0,3043421.story

2.       We have always known it & now Australian research by Professor Burchett of the University of Technology Sydney has proven it …. pot plants relieve workplace stress. “We found that plants had a very strong wellbeing effect. It was a reduction of a whole lot of negative feelings: anxiety, anger, depression, confusion, fatigue & stress.” Trees are just bigger plants & have much the same benefits.

3.      In a bold move by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, 3.5 acres of carpark will be torn up to create an urban wilderness experience & exhibit.  What they intend to create by July 2011 is fabulous.  I hope this approach becomes commonplace.

4.      Glenn Ridge in New Jersey US has established a new Shade Tree Commission that will oversee the health & well-being of publicly-owned shade trees.  I have not heard of this type of body before. The Shade Tree Commission will ensue that the care of public trees is open & transparent & will work with the community via outreach & public forums.

5.      Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons  (PAH) are in coal tar which is used to seal roads & carparks. Heavy pollution of US streams, ponds & lakes has been tracked to the use of PAH.  Everything we use ends up in our riverways or oceans eventually.  It’s time we stopped opting for the quick solution & chose more natural non-polluting products. They are available.

6.      Research by scientists at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research found that deciduous trees absorb about 1/3 more of oxygenated volatile organic compounds & at a faster rate than expected, up to 4 times faster. Oxygenated volatile organic compounds are particularly bad for human health.  This is why as many trees as possible need to be planted along our main roads & thoroughfares.

7.      Scientists from the Swiss Federal Research Institute for Forest, Snow & Landscape in Zurich published research that examined “nearly 9,000 pieces of wood, mostly collected over the past 30 years by archaeologists who use tree rings to establish the age of ancient sites or structures, a technique known as dendrochronology. The result was a continuous – & precisely dated – record of weather in France & Germany going back 2,500 years. The study also showed that climate & catastrophe often line up.”

8.      Green building legislation & initiatives are becoming commonplace in the US with 12 federal agencies & 33 states implementing them despite the recession. In 2008, 156 Councils nationwide had green legislation. By September 2010, 384 Councils have jumped on board.  I like this as Australia often follows the US.

9.      ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil company says they expect CO2 emissions to rise

Trees are essential in managing global warming

by nearly 25% in the next 20 years, “in effect dismissing hopes that runaway climate change can be arrested & massive loss of life prevented.  According to the UK Met Office, if emissions rises can be stopped by 2020 & then be made to reduce by 1-2% a year, the planet could be expected to warm 2.1C to 3.7 C this century, with the rise continuing even higher after 2100.” The Australian Bureau of Metrology said that ocean temperatures around Australia have already warmed by 1.5 degrees. A warmer ocean means greater evaporation, which leads to higher rainfall.  This lesson came via ABC TV on the day of the great flood that hit Brisbane & SE Queensland this past week.  I think this is a very important article.

10.      Every year the city of Paris has 95 collection points across the city where its citizens can take their unwanted live Christmas tree which are mulched to be used in the city’s parks & gardens. From 15,000 trees recycled in 2007-2008, the number grew to 27,150 in 2009-2010.” Does Marrickville Council have a collection for Christmas trees? If not, it would be easy enough to copy this initiative wouldn’t it?

11.       Sudden tree death is killing the older trees in the UK.Already 4 million trees have been felled or marked for destruction.” This is a tragedy.

12.       Friends of the Trees, a volunteer group in Portand have just finished planting their 400,000 tree since the group started 21-years ago. My deepest respect goes to them.

13.      In other good news, the Philippines have used Tree Surgeons to successfully heal sick

IKEA Fig January 2011 - doing well

trees. The emphasis is mine.  Researchers claimed 24 narra trees aged 68 to 73years old were treated after they were on the verge of dying considering that they were described to be landmarks when the construction of the Binga power plant & other facilities commenced in the early 1960s.  Seven trees had major treatments using steel bars as mechanical support during the tree surgery while the seventeen others underwent semi-major surgery.  Experts claimed tree surgery is the practice of repairing sick & damaged trees to subsequently restore its physical appearance. It is done by removing the injured or deceased parts & treating the same with antiseptics & healing aids & filling the cavities with special materials & cement to fix the surface.” Why does this not happen any more? Or if it does, why do we not hear about it?  I know some specialist Arborists look after veteran trees or move trees & care for them like the IKEA Fig, but this kind of work used to be done routinely on suburban trees. Now it seems like if a limb is sick, the whole tree has to come down.

Fantastic Fig tree in Marrickville Golf Course

Happy concrete

I have mentioned recently that Portland Oregon in the US has for a while been my number one favourite with all things environmental in an urban environment.  If it can be done & improves the livability of the environment, they do it.  If it extends the life of a street tree, they do it.  If it improves stormwater management, they do it.  They also have what appears to be large community interest & involvement with a thriving community of volunteers across many programs that better the urban environment.  Portland shows the rest of us what can be done.

The latest that I have discovered is depaving.  There is a push coming from the community to remove unnecessary concrete in urban environments for the following reasons –

  • It’s ugly & not seen as conducive to creating livable cities.
  • It’s bad for stormwater management. Hard surfaces increase stormwater, over-burden drains & carry large amounts of ground pollution to rivers, lakes & oceans.
  • Impervious surfaces prevent much of the rainwater seeping into & refilling the groundwater table.
  • Impervious surfaces increase the Heat Island Effect making our environment hotter than it needs to be resulting in increased power usage just to cool our buildings.
  • Concreted surfaces have destroyed habitat & made whole areas unsuitable for urban wildlife.
  • In some cases these kind of surfaces have disconnected people from the natural world. Some people see concrete as ‘clean’ & fallen leaves as ‘dirty.’ This creates a cycle where more & more trees in gardens & along streets are seen as pests & either removed or vandalized.  Once the overall canopy is lessened, the Heat Island Effect grows, power use also grows, but what doesn’t grow is urban wildlife who has fewer places of habitat & food supplies.

Thankfully street trees were planted last year in this vast area of new asphalt in Camperdown. The photo doesn't show it, but the pavement is at least 5 metres across with plenty of room for gardens

Paul Sheehan wrote the following for the Sydney Morning Herald in July 2009 –  “You, reader, live in a primitive city. In a hundred years from now, the society we are building will look back & marvel at how little we really understood about the world we have constructed for ourselves.

We are stewing in our own juices.

Last Wednesday, a night of driving rain, I attended a seminar where more than 100 professionals, a standing room-only crowd, had gathered to learn about practical, cheap, achievable ways of stopping Sydney’s pot from simmering. These were not wide-eyed utopians. In purely parochial terms, the heating of our biggest cities is even bigger than the global warming debate. Because the rise in temperature is mostly & demonstrably caused by outdated thinking.

The story starts on Observatory Hill, at the southern end of the Harbour Bridge, where weather records have been kept daily since 1860. What the observatory has recorded is a rise in the average temperature at the centre of Sydney from 20.5 degrees to 22 degrees. As Sydney grows, Sydney slowly heats.

At last Wednesday’s seminar we learnt why – 27% of the surface of the metropolitan area is covered by bitumen, the black tar which soaks & retains heat & thus changes the city’s climate.

Nearly all the rainwater run-off on this 27% of the city is lost to productive use, flowing into Sydney Harbour because it is designed that way. The city’s rooftops also gather heat. Roads & pavements maximise the waste of arable land. Tree-planting is stunted for legal reasons. Topsoil is “scalped” by roadworks. The increasing use of air-conditioners is creating more energy. More heat begets more heat.”

There is much more to this article, including the work Landscape Architect Micheal Mobbs & his neighbours are doing to green & cool the residential streets of Chippendale –

I wrote about Micheal Mobbs & his green verges here –

Great use of stormwater, but not very efficient

People & local Councils have paved whatever they could since the late 70s.  It was a movement of convenience as concrete is easier to drive on, easier to walk along & easier to clean with a hose.  The main beneficiaries were people with a disability who need flat surfaces to get around & parents with prams.

I believe we need to continue to provide safe & easy access for everyone & there is much need for improvement in this area. Just last month I watched a man in a wheelchair who was forced to travel along the road next to Petersham Town Hall with the cars because there were no wheelchair ramps on the high kerbs at all 4 corners of the cross road.  There must be many such areas like this that make wheelchair travel dangerous & difficult.

Leaving aside wheelchair & pram accessible footpaths & kerbs, many government authorities overseas think that concrete worship has gone too far &, because of the above negative effects, are rethinking their concreting practices of the past.

Most car parks do not need to have concrete or asphalt/bitumen. They can easily be compacted permeable surfaces allowing stormwater to travel into the ground to the water table rather than into 100-plus-year-old drains. Permeable surfaces actually need less maintenance than do impervious bitumen surfaces & therefore are cheaper in the long run.  Appropriate trees can be planted within the parking spaces improving the visual outlook & also helping with stormwater & pollution uptake.

Footpaths do not need to be wall to kerb, except in shopping strips where a greater use of the footpath space is required or where the space between building & kerb is unusually narrow.

This was a very popular landscaping idea in the 1990's. Cement pavers with pebbles or mondo grass in between allowed walking, but let the water drain away.

Marrickville Council is adept in building bio-swales & rain gardens. There is no reason why a small rain garden or two cannot be built within a car park if there is a reasonable flow of water from nearby buildings & from the lie of the land when it rains.

I suspect these ideas will be dismissed in most areas of Australia as ‘too greenie’ because of the convenience of paved surfaces. However, in a few years depaving will be the norm because of the worldwide push to restore groundwater, lessen the Heat Island Effect, restore habitat & make cities more livable.

Although many governments are stalling any real action on climate change, some overseas already depave, create green space & plant more trees in public spaces in cities because they know what is coming. It is like a slow culture change. Once we get used to these changes back to softer infrastructure, we will cope with the bigger changes of gravel lanes & fewer paved surfaces.

If we can create a balance where people who require flat surfaces for mobility can have this, but remove unnecessary hard surfaces & green up, we will have a much cooler, prettier, more environmentally friendly & wildlife habitable environment to live in.  It doesn’t take much to create a huge improvement on many levels.

Here is a 4-minute film where the Portland community removed 278.7 sq metres (3,000 sq feet) of asphalt to create a community space with a perennial food forest.

Many hundreds of cars use this car park to busy shops in Croydon 7 days a week. Cars are sheltered from the sun under Ornamental Pear trees, there are garden spaces where the trees are, red gravel allows the water to pass into the ground. There are no tyre troughs or dips & it is easy to walk on. Your car is cool when you return from shopping & it is visually pretty making the shopping area look more inviting. (Ignore the imprisoned tree. It's far to late for it now)


Birds on Fatima Island in the Cooks River

I downloaded the report because there was interest in the issue. The first thing that struck me was the cover page. It is a photo of the banks of the Cooks River probably taken early last century, but that’s just a guess.  The environment looks unbelievably bad, not what I expected at all. I had a vision of a pristine river with natural banks & trees everywhere. Instead there is a very large denuded area about the size of Steele Park with 4 tall trees, 1 dead & another on its way out.  There are around 16 newly planted saplings in the photograph with what appears to be a team of men doing some work chopping away sandstone from an area about 20 metres from the bank. The bank itself is ‘natural’ with not a mangrove to be seen. Pity copyright prevents me from including the photo.

This photo shows that Marrickville Council have done enormous restoration & re-vegetation work on the Cooks River, its bank & the public space alongside the riverbank which I guess was precisely what they intended.

On to the report itself – First up is an aspiration of what the future could be like (words in bold are my emphasis) –

“In 2050….. Our people-friendly streets & roads are clean & there are minimal hard surfaces. Streetscapes, roads & roofs are ecosystems, available for local food production. Stormwater treatment systems are also habitat for frogs, insects and bandicoots. Transport is now completely green, there are few cars & people mostly walk & cycle.  Our community revolves around shared green spaces that are self-sufficient with water. Parks have wetlands & forest reservations. We swim in Dibble Avenue Waterhole & the Cooks River waterways that are also habitat for wildlife. The Cooks River & its foreshores are clean, in a natural state & can be used for recreation & fishing.”

Now wouldn’t that be amazing & something wonderful to pass on to future generations.

Marrickville Council has so far created 3 Subcatchment Management Plans: Illawarra Road Subcatchment Marrickville South, Tennyson Street Subcatchment Dulwich Hill & now Riverside Crescent Subcatchment in Marrickville South.  There are 21 subcatchment areas in Marrickville LGA, so it’s big job.

I found the Riverside Crescent Subcatchment Management Plan exciting for a number of reasons.

  • The goals are big, but achievable.
  • Council intends to work with the community.
  • Private property issues with stormwater & the creation of permeable surfaces are also to be addressed.
  • Council expects measurable improvement by 2019.

Cooks River

Approximately 60% of the Riverside Catchment is impervious surface. Of that 60%, roads make up 34% with roofs, driveways & carparks making up the remaining 66%.

From the Report – “The implemention of the Riverside Crescent Subcatchment Management Plan can only happen if citizens make practical changes on their properties. (my emphasis)

The idea of “depaving” is gathering momentum in the USA, especially in Portland, Chicago & Berkeley. With the permission of a landowner, paved areas are removed & replaced with vegetated areas. In Portland, a community organisation called has led depaving projects in private backyards, school yards & parking lots.” (Portland has done some incredibly innovative & dynamic things regarding street trees, verges, kerbs & the community is heavily involved. I would love to visit & see for myself.)

As with ‘green laneways,’ the only way to stop up to 85% of rainwater becoming stormwater & ending up in our drains & then eventually into the small creeks in the LGA, the Cooks River or the ocean is by removing as many of the impermeable surfaces as we can. Making surfaces permeable

A section of fantastic restoration work on the bank of the Cooks River at Ewen Park

allows water to go where it should, into the ground or into rainwater storage tanks for use in & around the home. Once rainwater enters the ground, it fills the groundwater & travels through the natural causeways through the ground to reach creeks, the ocean or the Cooks River. The water is by then, cleaned of pollutants. Council isn’t kidding when they say they are going to need to co-operation of the community.

Last week the Australian New Zealand Climate Forum released figures showing that Sydney is already 0.65C hotter than Newcastle. This may not seem like much, but a global temperature rise of just 2 degrees is thought to be catastrophic & result in major problems with food production, water, rising sea levels, 30% animal & plant extinction, weather patterns, floods, drought, & unsustainable living conditions for people.

The heat island effect is causing the heat stored in our many hard surfaces to remain during the night & this makes for one very hot Sydney.  We have already noticed significant changes over the last 3-4 years & unless we do something about this soon, Sydney is only going to get hotter.

Stamped cement driveways will be a thing of the past because we will eventually choose to not live with the heat stored on our property.  Hopefully Council’s Subcatchment Plan will enthuse people to remove theirs & install a permeable driveway instead. If Marrickville Council are successful in encouraging community co-operation & participation, there will be huge changes in the way the community views the environment in terms of water, trees, verges, litter & dumping.

Dibble Avenue Waterhole - this has the potential to be amazing

Dibble Avenue Waterhole is also targeted in the Plan. According to Council’s Report, the historic & potentially very beautiful Waterhole that is fed from direct rainfall, groundwater & stormwater runoff from adjacent properties has “high concentrations of heavy metals including arsenic, cadmium, copper, mercury, nickel, lead & zinc. These exceed guidelines’ values & pose an ecological risk.   ….up to 25 species of birds including several important migratory & wetland birds, such as the Eastern Curlew. Chestnut Teals, Dusky Moorhens & Australian White Ibis, have been observed most recently. Long finned eels, dwarf flathead gudgeon & mosquito fish have also been recorded.”

I am really happy that Council is doing this kind of work, because not only will it improve our environment in terms of general cleanliness & a cleaner river that we may one day be able to swim in, it will also increase biodiversity by offering homes & food for urban wildlife.  It will also be tackling global warming & the lessening the impact of climate change.  Okay, it’s a small scale, but hopefully all the Councils in Sydney & across Australia will do the same or similar & this process is repeated across the world.  We have to clean up our own back yard.

One very small thing we can do right now is stop buying bottled water or stop throwing plastic bottles away as litter. In all my walks along the Cooks River, the most common litter I see in the river, along the banks & in stormwater catchment drains are plastic water bottles. Some of them can travel to the Cooks River through the stormwater drains from as far as Newtown. Just making a change here will lessen the pollution load in the Cooks River.  It’s Marrickvlle LGA’s little piece of paradise & it can be so much better.

There is much more in the Riverside Crescent Subcatchment Management Plan. For those of you who are interested, it can be downloaded here (6.5MB) –

Cooks River with Tempe railway bridge & the bridge at the Princes Highway in the distance





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