Author: Simon Trebilcock
One of the interesting aspects of garden design and maintenance of public open spaces is how people interact with the living green spaces around them. Having studied these areas as part of my career tree-change, it was time to put it into practice. Over the last twelve months plus, and in between COVID lock-downs, I have had the privilege of working with a band of volunteers rejuvenating the gardens at the Traralgon Uniting Church. The gardens were established about 25 years ago with a lot of native shrubs and trees when a new church was built on a 10,000m2 site. Over time, the gardens had become a bit tired, and a bit overgrown, and were in much need of some tender, loving care. It is always good to start with a plan, which we developed with the following follow key aims:
- Opening up the gardens to present a welcoming and safe space;
- Enhancing the visual appearance of the gardens and addressing the age-based decline of some of the plantings;
- Improving access around car park areas; and,
- Reducing the amount and degree of difficulty of regular garden maintenance.
We started with the big stuff, and called upon a local arborist to help remove dead and dying trees and a huge Pittosporum hedge between the church and car park entry. The visual impact of the latter was remarkable, proving to be a good start to the project, with the removal of this hedge also eliminating a high risk maintenance task. Access into the car park area was made easier, and the open lines of sight helped enhance the sense of openness.
Where possible, the existing plants were maintained, although this often required a hard cut-back, followed by more formative pruning.
The straight-line pruning to the edge of the car parks (as seen in the before photograph) had become an unwanted feature in the garden – a rather harsh finish, and hampering getting in and out of vehicles. Now, trees and shrubs have been cut back to give a buffer zone of about 40 cm horizontal, and 2 metres vertical clearance from the kerb. In the main car park area, a couple of very sad looking London Plane trees were mercifully removed. Apart from struggling to survive in such a harsh location, the roots were causing damage to the sealed surface.
A couple of approaches have been undertaken with the aim of reducing the effort required of garden maintenance, or garden care, as we now like to call it. Ground cover plants are being used to provide the bottom layer of plantings, to cover the soil and mulch, and reduce the likelihood of weeds. Garden bed shapes have been changed and new garden beds installed to include curves, to make it easier for lawn mowing.
Clear lines of sight throughout the garden areas and approaches to the church’s entry points are important for a sense of welcome and safety. This is enhanced by the ability to look through the plantings to what lies beyond. People are more relaxed when they can easily see the main entry doors from the car park, and whilst it is not necessarily a straight line to get there, the destination is clear. To achieve this, shrubs have been trimmed to no greater than 1 metre high, and the trunks of the trees are clear, providing the good sight lines, with the canopy from about 2 metres upwards.
Favourable comments from church users and the many neighbours who use the gardens for recreation or a short cut point to a resounding success for the project. The next stage is to add outdoor furniture and shady spaces to enhance the engagement with this garden. We all know the health and wellbeing benefits of green spaces, and this sort of project helps turn what might be seen as a maintenance liability into a community asset.