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Pick Some, Leave Some

Food

Guide to edible planting in public space

Growing food in public spaces benefits communities in many ways: providing free food, social connections, minimising single-use plastic and food waste.

Did you know that salad is one of the most common food items in Australian household waste?
(Source: Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association Australia).

Being able to wander out of your apartment and
pick sprigs of rosemary for a stew or lettuce leaves to add to a salad helps add flavour and nutrition to a meal. It also saves money and time, is incredibly fresh and stops unnecessary use of resources, such as those plastic sleeves that are wrapped around many store-bought herbs.
You might also get to say hi to your neighbour walking their dog, which is usually much nicer than finding a carpark at the shops!
To make the best use of these gardens, we need to choose what we plant carefully. It’s best to pick plants that grow fast, can be harvested often, and can handle tough conditions.

Things to consider

Public spaces can be tough for plants due to conditions like wind, extreme sun, or deep shade.
It’s essential to know if the site had previous uses, such as industrial activities, that might affect planting.
People have different reasons for using public space and sometimes might not understand or value an edible landscape.
Safety is important. Will the gardeners be visible to traffic? Will growing plants block sight lines or access to emergency facilities?
Remember, gardeners might have different levels of experience and expertise.

Choosing and preparing a spot

contaminants, soil health, and water access.
Think about options like containers or wicking bed planters if the ground isn’t ideal.

Before starting your garden

Make sure to get permission. Identify the land’s owner or manager and provide details of your gardening plan to avoid unwanted removals.

Understanding the space

Who uses the area? Understand the visitors and their habits.
Be sure your gardening activities allow safe movement for everyone, considering visibility for road and bike traffic and overall accessibility.
Is the spot near busy places like public transport stops or bars, which might lead to littering? Be mindful of pets and wildlife, such as possums, that might impact the plants.

Planting tips and tricks

Soil health

Healthy soil is key to healthy plants. Plants require nutrients to keep pumping out food for us to eat, so feed them often and keep picking frequently so they don’t produce seed.

Timing

Timing is everything with gardening. Different plants do best at different times of the year due to the weather conditions they prefer.
Do your research and make sure it’s the right information for your region.

Weedy edibles

Avoid plants that might become potential weeds or have a management plan to keep them under control
E.g. Mint: once it gets established, it can take over a planter box

Perennials vs Annuals

Perennial plants continue to grow for many years. Examples include shrubs such as rosemary, oregano and thyme. Perennial plants can be easier to maintain, but might be slower to get growing.

 

Annual plants need to be replanted each year, usually just before the season they prefer. They are then removed to allow space for the next season. Examples include lettuce, basil and coriander. To collect and save seeds from annuals, leave them in the ground a bit longer.

Edible flowers

Many overlook these plants, not knowing their flowers are not only edible but also rich in vitamins. Additionally, they attract pollinators, contributing to a healthier garden ecosystem.

The best way to pick greens

Picking greens frequently can help encourage more growth. But its important to pick them correctly.
For many plants, it’s best to remove the outer leaves first and allow the rest to grow, following the principle of ‘Pick Some, Leave Some’. Be sure to remove the stalk at the base of the stem. This reduces damage from pests and diseases. This also allows the plant to continue growing for others to enjoy. If you pick the whole plant at once, it won’t grow back.

Common NameBotanical NamePart of the plant best for public spacePerennial or AnnualSpringSummerAutumnWinterTips
Leafy Greens
LettuceLactuca sativaLeavesAnnualP + HP + HP + HChoose leafy varieties over single head eg. mesculan mix, lolla rossa. Some varieties tolerate heat or cold better, match to time of year you are sowing/planting.
Mustard GreensBrassica junceaLeavesAnnualP + HP + HP + HFast growing and cold tolerant. Useful for attracting beneficial insects
TatsoiBrassica rapa L.LeavesAnnual
P + HP + HPP + HFast growing, young leaves are great in salad, older leaves to be steamed.
BeetrootBeta vulgarisLeavesAnnual
P + HP + HP + HGrow this for the salad leaves rather than the root for sharing in public space.
Hakurei salad turnipBrassica rapaLeavesAnnual
P + HP + HP + HFast growing, grow for the leaves rather than the root for sharing in public space. Leaves are fantastic in stir fry.
Bok choyBrassica rapaLeavesAnnual
HPHNeeds to be well watered and doesn’t tolerate heat- will go to flower. Pick outer leaves or clean cut at base for second growth.
Herbs
OreganoOriganum vulgareLeaves/FlowersPerennialP + HP + HP + HDrought tolerant once established.
BasilOcimum basilicumLeavesAnnualPP + HIf you pinch out the top leaves from basil this will encourage more branching and leaves.
ThymeThymus vulgarisLeaves/FlowersPerennialP + HHP + HDrought tolerant, easy to grow from seed or to propagate from cuttings.
RosemarySalvia rosmarinusLeaves/FlowersPerennialP + HHP + HHDrought tolerant, easy to propagate from cuttings. Can get creeping varieties, or need to manage height depending where planted.
CorianderCoriandrum sativumLeaves/
Flowers
AnnualHP + HHDoesn’t tolerate hot weather, seeds and roots are also edible but not ideal for public plantings.
MarjoramOriganum
majorana
Leaves/
Flowers
PerennialP + HP + HP + HPrefers full sun
SageSalvia
officinalis
LeavesPerennialP + HP + HHDies back over winter, doesn’t tolerate frost very well.
French tarragonArtemisa
dracunculus
LeavesPerennialP + HP + HHDies down over winter, but comes back in spring. Prefers morning sun and protection from late afternoon sun.
Protect from frost.
Edible flowers
CalendulaCalendula
officinalis
FlowersAnnualHP + HP + HGood at repelling pests, drought tolerant.
Pansy/ViolaViola tricolorFlowersAnnualP + HPHGood in shade, won’t tolerate hot weather.
NasturtiumTropaeolum
minus
Leaves/
Flowers/Seeds
AnnualP + HP + HP + HHHigh in vitamin C, good at repelling pest insects, won’t tolerate frost, draught tolerant.

P = Plant H = Harvest

Further information

Yarra City Council’s community growing space program
yarracity.vic.gov.au/services/take-climate-action/grow-your-own-food/community-growing-spaces/planterboxes-
and-productive-trees
How to harvest leafy greens
mysmartgarden.org.au/how-to-harvest-leafy-greens
Garden Safe with EPA
mysmartgarden.org.au/garden-safe-with-epa
Seeds
Check out your local seed library often found at libraries, community gardens and neighbourhood houses.