Little old man with big ideas

There used to be a little old man that lived at the top of my street. His front of house filled with home grown edibles. Every inch of space was filled with some sort of recyled object that in turn had been filled with soil and had something growing in it. Australia Post mail tubs housed capsicum plants lining his brick wall. His footpath grass not present but instead a lemon tree surrounded by a seasonal selection of leafy greens. Every space possible was used for something to grow in. Recycled rusty tin drums were home to chillis and a worn out old metal box his compost. Every time we would past he would be either tending his loved plants, basking in the sun with his head tilted on his verandah (the tiny space that was still free for 1 chair) or waiting by the footpath for someone to come past, so that he could chat to them.

A greek immigrant he had been in the country for 60 years he proudly told me one day. 94 years old, not a speck over 5 foot and he still loved to garden. With his clothing that didn’t look like it had had a wash for quite some time, gnarled old fingers that hadn’t been washed for quite some time as well and dentures that kept popping out of his mouth. He wasn’t the usual kind of neighbour that a lot of people had.

He liked to stop me, and offer water cress freshly plucked from the side of the footpath, and then happily munch on it, until his mouth gave up with trying to masticate the trying greenery with those popping dentures, then he would spit it out enthusiastically towards the general direction of his compost.

Now why am I telling you stories of an eccentric little old man? Because that little old man had big ideas. Simple ideas, that have pestered me ever since he voiced them to me. Why (as he pointed to the multi level apartments located near him) do they not have a communal garden in there? Why do they not have a simple lemon tree? Everyone could be using all the things that they grow within their small shared space. Even a little lemon tree makes a difference. We eat everything I grow. So simple…

Why indeed my little old man… Living in a big city, I see building happening all around me all the time. Quaint historic houses making way for multi story apartment blocks. Beautiful 3 bedroom houses with one bathroom, making way for 2/3 bedroom, 3 bathroom multiple level apartments. I understand the need for more accommodation in big cities, what I don’t understand is why these changes can’t be made more sustainable. Sure they don’t have to be using any recycled object within its path to be made into a growing pot. But surely these newly built places could accommodate a food growing area, that can be easily watered by nearby water tank, and then utilised by the people living there.

But who will look after it, we don’t have time?… Usually these big blocks, (or even smaller blocks of only 4) will have a body corporate or an outside designated company that organises all maintenance of the outside areas. This garden area could easily be maintained by the same people surely? Or a rotating roster of people within the complex that would be more than willing to look after the gardens. So many people would like to dig their fingers into dirt and don’t get the opportunities due to city living constraints.

But there isn’t room on the ground for these garden areas? We need carparking!… It doesn’t need to be on the ground, there is a perfectly good rooftops with ample sunlight just begging  for a little urban edible gardening. Roof top gardens can be easily built on flat roofs or a low pitch roof, and have many added benefits besides providing food to tennants.

Erd House (below) is located in Switzerland, not really a city living dwelling but still magnificent, and I wanted to sneak it in.

erd house by Swiss architect Peter Vetsch

In the pipelines there is also Sydney City Farm. Still waiting approval at this stage….

Simple things like these roof top gardens, or shared edible gardening spaces within apartment living could have such a dramatic and positive influence on our environment and city living peoples lives. So many countries and people have embraced this way of living around the world. It would be so wonderful though, to be able to walk around my neighbourhood and see more examples of this happening…

A good place to start if you are interested in more information is here.

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