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Farmers of the Urban Footpath – Ideas for urban food gardeners and local government

New gardens in public places in Australia

By Russ Grayson
Australian City Farms and Garden Network
Oct. 2012, 50 pages
(Must See. Mike.)


I SUSPECT it’s been going on a long time, however my formal introduction came when a woman in Sydney’s southern suburbs showed me how she had colonised a part of her footpath and replaced the lawn with a rich and tasty blend of vegetable, herb and pawpaw.

That must have been around 25 years ago and it made me aware of the potential of the footpath as a place for the cultivation of food and other plants and as a place for civic engagement with public open space… what local government calls the ‘public domain’. At the time I didn’t think that the idea of gardening your footpath would be something that attracted people, but I was wrong.

In Farmers of the Urban Footpath we’re going to explore the opportunities and constraints of gardening the footpath. We will briefly visit footpath gardens and see what lessons we can draw from them… why some are successful and why others would benefit from a little rethinking.

We will look at the ways councils relate to footpath gardeners and investigate ways they can safely accommodate the growing demand to make use of the footpath for gardening.

And we will consider not only growing vegetables, herbs and ornamental or native plants on the footpath, but trees producing edible fruit and nuts too, for there are places in our cities where these have been established for some time. They, too, are a productive type of urban regreening and offer a new opportunity for community interaction with public land.


New gardens in public places

Origins of a new idea
The trouble with DIY gardens
Olives as cultural heritage
Urban food security and council planting policy
Understanding council concerns
The danger of falling fruit
Maintaining and harvesting
What about abandoned gardens?
Underground services
Check your planning documents

The realities of footpath gardens

Reality 1: Footpaths are on public land and produce might be taken
Reality 2: Neighbours and passers-by may
Reality 3: Your garden may be vandalised
Reality 4: Streets are dangerous places
Reality 5: Footpath soils might be contaminated

Footpath gardens as placemaking

Footpath as destination
Councils take a proactive approach

The beneficial functions of footpath gardens.

Function 1: Provision of environmental services
Function 2: Making productive use of urban land
Function 3: Boosting biodiversity
Function 4: New ways to engage with public space
Function 5: Enhancing urban amenity

Design considerations

1. Not all footpaths may be suitable
2. Design for pedestrian safety
3. Design for access to and from vehicles and the street
4. Think before you dig
5. Select species carefully
6. Prune plants so that their foliage does not overhang the footpath
7. Maintain and care for your plants
8. Think about aesthetics
9. Start small, grow incrementally
Edible rain gardens—any potential?
Using the rain garden design principle.

The footpath garden start-up

Council approval
Starting your footpath—a model
Design guidelines for footpath gardens
A contextual, systems model for thinking about footpath gardens
Possible objections

Model gardens

See the report here.

See more from Australian City Farms and Garden Network here.