Decolonising the Garden – Country as Co-Author
The Logan Avenue Garden is in Wurundjeri Country – it has always been, but the actions of colonisation over the past 200 years have degraded or displaced its endemic qualities. From gold rush mining to subdivision, land ownership and associated entitlement, the site had been reduced to an ecological monoculture.
It is also, though, a conservation site, within one of Melbourne’s Green Wedges. It’s previous composition being a Grassy Dry Forest EVC at the head of a catchment leading to Harris Gully, connecting to Andersons Creek, then finally linking to the Yarra River. Within that vast system, it is nevertheless an important head-point, seed source and influence on the downstream catchment.
At inception, the site was severely impacted, with most of its trees, and all its shrub, grass and herb layers removed to create a manicured, fire-safe landscape. This monoculture of mown lawns and isolated mature trees represents a traditional colonial garden, its roles decoration and framing for human activities and structures.
The fundamental premise of the new garden was to co-author a living landscape, allowing Country its natural agency, aiming to recover endemic conditions and native constituents. This co-authoring has been shaped by time, evolving over six years. The process had three stages: observation, investigation and curation.
OBSERVATION involved understanding the varying environmental conditions of the site, the fluctuations between extremes: light (sun and sky) versus shade, wetness and dryness, soil variance, and the decay of senescent elements contrasted against the emergence of new life.
From close observation, it was clear that the potential of the garden lay at the base of the few remaining trees. These rootzones were rich sources of preserved soil, subsoil structure and remnant seedbanks, while the diurnal and seasonal variations in shade and sunlight provided conditions for a biodiverse response. These remnant trees (Eucalyptus polyanthemos, Eucalyptus radiata and Eucalyptus obliqua) had kept the ground intact over time, despite being devoid of supporting herbs, grasses and shrubs.
INVESTIGATION was a process of touching the earth lightly, digging little, avoiding slashing and mowing and employing only permeable materials. Herbicides were avoided in favour of hand management, as was organic mulch – with a focus on restoring soil profiles and microbial health and reinstating regenerative cycles.
The first step with time was to gently weed the ground and seed endemic grasses. This re-established the local microbiota, promoting other endemic species and release of the dormant seed bank. This minimal response promoted return of Acacias, Chocolate Lilies, Hardenbergias, Epacris and Orchids, along with butterflies, ants and other insects, followed by birds, lizards, snakes and eventually, ground mammals. Kangaroos became frequent visitors, while rabbit sightings diminished.
This simple process of weeding and seeding over five years allowed the ‘garden’ to emerge, with the remnant trees, shrubs and grasses evolving into what is becoming a new forest structure.
CURATION was the active response, promoting natural structures and processes. Endemic material was protected and incorporated, fallen trees retained within the landscape and collected seed distributed randomly.
As a residential site, the garden also has obligations to contribute to depleted systems of water, energy and atmosphere, benefitting the health of humans and non-humans. New shade trees and productive gardens in raised wicking beds are part of this regenerative system, as is the chookhouse, processing waste to food. Located in deeply scarred parts of the site, these elements assist in restoring Country.
Single-file trails in areas of lowest germination form the spatial structure, defining informal ‘rooms’ of unexpected delight. These meandering lines focus attention on the act of walking through the landscape, engaging experientially with surrounding grasses and the mosaic of materials underfoot.
From the perspective of a mature forest, the garden is still emergent. However, its lessons in recovered biodiversity and regenerative health are substantial. As a new model for the ‘garden,’ it provides a way to re-form systems of Country, and re-establish relationships with place and process, where we become, not constant gardeners, but temporary custodians of ecosystems of which we are only a small part.
A set piece or final design was never the intention – as an ongoing outcome it presents an openness: open to elicit a moment of stillness, internal dialogue, open to go on. It will always be Country.
12 months after removing the grooming regime of the previous garden early regeneration is evident along with initial structural planting. Becoming apparent are the ‘scorched’ areas on the groundplane.
Park Orchard, Victoria