During the Spring of 2008, a group of residents who meet to exercise their dogs each morning and evening in Milson Park, Kirribilli, began to discuss the idea of having a community garden. To “test the waters” and to gauge interest we planted some herbs. Gordon Howlett, his wife Jen, Denny Linker and Carole Baker planted these herbs. The next morning they were removed by Council gardening staff. This happened again when more herbs were planted.
Carole phoned the Mayor, who was at the Local Government Conference, and informed her of the above. The Mayor thought it was a great idea to try a garden and she instructed that the plants should remain. We then planted new herbs. We also planted arugula and radishes. Susan, who lives across the road came with some more herbs, and over the next few weeks more were added by various dog walkers. People stopped to ask about the herbs etc and were advised of the experiment. They were invited to pick anything that they wished. Many residents used the salad herbs. Another Park regular planted tomatoes.
A few weeks after this, Carole planted miniature corn and potatoes around the rose bed with the help of many children who came to see what she was doing and they helped dig, fertilize and plant. The children, who ranged in age from two year olds to teenagers, were particularly keen and interrupted their ball games to water and help.
The instigators of the garden experiment soon learned that there was great interest and Carole and Denny were delegated by this original group to draw up draft plans and to liaise with the Mayor and Councillors. Carole spoke with most councillors and met them in the park to explain our plans.
The Mayor contacted The Streets Alive Co-ordinator and asked him to meet with us in the Park. Rebecca Guerrero, Colin Jacobson, Dan, Denny and Carole met with Ralph Forinash to explain what we wanted to do. Due to overseas commitments, Gordon could not attend nor could many others who had work commitments on that day. We advised that we would refine the drawing from the draft plan for the site and Ralph undertook to conduct a survey and to report to Council.
Ralph Forinash then surveyed five hundred households in the area to get a further idea of the support or not for a Community garden.
Surprisingly there were a handful of people who did not want the garden. When Denny spoke with some of them, their opposition was based on experience of allotments in England where they hated the haphazard and untidy nature of the arrangements. They feared that Milson Park would be degraded. When Denny explained to some of the objectors that it was planned to have a beautiful potager style garden, their objections disappeared.
In discussions with Councillors, Carole had been advised that Milson Park was regarded as a special place as much money had been spent a few years ago moving the play area over near Bradfield Avenue and also expensive planting carried out. The Councillors advised that any Community Garden should be attractive and of a very high standard to elicit support from the Council.
Carole and Denny attended a Council meeting where Carole addressed the Councillors about our plans. A petition endorsing the garden design, together with a planting list, was signed by 15 of the core group and presented to the Councillors.
This formed the basis of discussion when Carole lobbied Councillors. It was also the basis for discussion at the meeting which then endorsed the Community garden and allocated the money. Eleven Council Members (Councillor Zoe Baker declared an interest and refrained from voting) unanimously voted to support the garden plan and voted to fund the garden with $20,000.
A “to-scale” drawing was prepared by Denny. This is the draft plan agreed to by Council which was displayed at the first official Kirribilli Neighbourhood Centre (KNC) meeting.
Part of the presentation to the Council was that the Community garden was intended as a focus for everyone, young and old, that it provides for social interaction and education about organic gardening, recycling etc.
Some Councillors were concerned about smells from composting and attraction of vermin to compost. They were reassured when Carole told them about our plans for composting with the Japanese Bokashi system.
The Councillors were very supportive of raised garden beds and the possibility of beds being constructed by community members. They were pleased with the opportunity for disabled access which was proposed. After the decision to support the Community garden was made, Ralph Forinash was ready to begin the process.
Ralph then sent a flyer to all who had completed his survey inviting them to the meeting at KNC (29 people). Carole contacted him to suggest that more of those on the list should be contacted. He said that he did not have time, nor funds to deliver to any more people. He also said that it would be preferable to keep the original group small as it could grow later.
Carole insisted that more people be informed and offered to letterbox flyers if he printed them. This was agreed upon. Carole then took flyers to shops in Kirribilli and then over several days she letter-boxed over 750 flyers.
The response to the invitation to attend the meeting of the Milson Park community garden was very positive and the first lively, enthusiastic meeting was held.
As result, North Sydney Council gave the go-ahead and the original committee was formed to manage and coordinate the building and maintenance of the garden: Chair (Gordon Howlett), Operations Coordinator (Carole Baker), Construction Coordinator (Denny Linker) and a Council Representative (Streets Alive Coordinator, Ralph Forinash).
The official opening of the “Milson Community Garden” or “MCG” as we call it, was held on Sunday 8th November 2009.
Here are some photos from the the opening.
Operations Co-ordinator from 2009 to February 2013
Milson Community Garden