Head on out­side Street ap­peal

Good - - COMMUNITY - Additional reporting by Mary de Ruyter and Sarah Heeringa

What im­pres­sion do you get of the neigh­bour­hood when you walk along your street or down to the shops or park? We tend to think of what hap­pens out­side our gate as the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the coun­cil or an­other of­fi­cial body, but tak­ing the ini­tia­tive to kick­start a tidy-up can help build con­nec­tions, add to your sense of be­long­ing – and even add value to your home.

In­dulge in a lit­tle flower power Cre­ate ri­ots of colour and lift com­mu­nity spir­its by scat­ter­ing wild­flower seeds in aban­doned and ugly ur­ban spa­ces that other­wise har­bour un­sightly weeds. Sow any­time from early spring through to au­tumn (the lat­ter will flower in spring). Big, bold flow­ers in­clude corn­flower, gar­land daisy, farewell-to-spring, cos­mos, for­get-me-not, Californian poppy, gyp­sophila, evening prim­rose and black-eyed Su­san, but there’s plenty more. Avoid scat­ter­ing seeds near wet­lands, river beds, coasts, bush or re­serves: you don’t want those lovely bursts of colour spread­ing and go­ing nox­ious.

Add song Bring na­tive bird­song to your neigh­bour­hood by plant­ing trees and plants that pro­duce seeds, berries or nec­tar. In a bot­tle­brush tree out­side our home in Cas­tor Bay, a tui is al­most per­ma­nently en­sconced – and it sings vir­tu­ally all day (com­i­cally, some­times it im­i­tates a re­vers­ing ve­hi­cle). You don’t have to plant trees, though: shrubs un­der 1.5m worth try­ing, in­clude co­prosma or astelia. Low-grow­ing plants in­clude fuch­sia or hebe.

Check with the coun­cil It’s wise to suss out the rules be­fore you go plant­ing willy-nilly in pub­lic, to avoid fines or an­gry of­fi­cials if berm-plant­ing is not sup­ported in your area. For your own sec­tion, even pot plants will pro­vide sus­te­nance for birds – try flax, kaka beak or pit­tospo­rum. Plant a few dif­fer­ent species with vary­ing flow­er­ing times so birds will have shel­ter or a place to feed all year.

Pull a few weeds Be­lieve it or not, weed­ing can be highly sat­is­fy­ing. Don a good pair of gar­den­ing gloves and rip out in­va­sive weeds around your sub­urb. In­va­sive weeds can choke out New Zealand’s na­tive plant species, and threaten many of our na­tive an­i­mals by chang­ing their habi­tat and mak­ing food and breed­ing sites harder to find. To learn what you can do for your lo­cal ecosys­tem, or­der a free ‘Plant Me In­stead’ guide from Weedbusters (www.weedbusters.co.nz), or use their on­line A-Z of weeds.

Team up If the thought of pulling weeds on your own in pub­lic doesn’t ap­peal, con­sider tag­ging along with a lo­cal con­ser­va­tion group. There are hun­dreds of groups work­ing with DOC or in­de­pen­dently around the coun­try. Go to www.doc.govt.nz/get­ting-in­volved for ideas. Join a com­mu­nity gar­den Use Google to find a lo­cal group and con­nect with a fas­ci­nat­ing range of people as you work, chat and share pro­duce. Com­mu­nity gar­dens build re­silience; as the adage goes, “Flow­ers grow in flower gar­dens, veg­eta­bles grow in veg­etable gar­dens, and people grow in com­mu­nity gar­dens.” Com­mu­nity gar­dens have been “blos­som­ing” in New Zealand, ac­cord­ing to Soil & Health co-chair Mar­ion Thom­son. “In Hawke’s Bay alone, where I’m based, we’ve gone from just a cou­ple to six in the last year,” she says. Can­ter­bury has also seen a huge resur­gence of such gar­dens in the east­ern sub­urbs and cen­tral city, as a way of pulling post-quake com­mu­ni­ties to­gether. For more on the topic, see www.good.net.nz/home-grown-gar­den

Get fruity Some coun­cils are op­posed to plant­ing fruit trees on berms or verges for safety rea­sons (for ex­am­ple, chil­dren cross­ing traf­fic to pick fruit) and will is­sue a hefty fine, but if you’re on a quiet street and have per­mis­sion, get those plums, ap­ples, fei­joas or cit­rus grow­ing. At fruit­ing time, you’ll be the toast of the neigh­bour­hood.

Deal with tag­gers If you want to get rid of tag­gers’ hand­i­work, you can do it for free by cov­er­ing it with re­cy­cled paint from Re­sene’s Pain­tWise scheme, which sup­plies paint to com­mu­nity groups. You can’t choose the colour or sheen but it will cover up the graf­fiti nev­er­the­less. For more, go to www.re­sene.co.nz/pain­twise

Nat­u­ral de­fences Some­times a large, clean wall or sur­face will at­tract graf­fiti over and over again, so a good way to pre­vent tag­ging is to grow a creep­ing plant such as ivy across the sur­face – or plant prickly bushes in front of it.

Add art Or­gan­ise a street artist or lo­cal chil­dren to cre­ate a piece of street art. In March, some New Ply­mouth res­i­dents took the idea one step fur­ther when they staged the Get Up ur­ban street art fes­ti­val in Hu­a­toki Plaza – which has been crit­i­cised as a “con­crete jun­gle” – and in­vited street artists from across the coun­try to con­trib­ute to its trans­for­ma­tion. The plaza is now packed with art­works and is a vi­brant high­light of the area. Christchurch is also a hub for emerg­ing street art. Some works were cre­ated as part of Rise, a post-quake street art ex­hi­bi­tion at Christchurch Mu­seum and around the city that brought colour to stark, bare walls in the CBD.

Dec­o­rate your let­ter­box Make your let­ter­box the talk of the street by adding a mo­saic or bright coat of paint. You could even give it a green roof cov­ered with bright suc­cu­lents or a soft na­tive creeper: it’s novel, and in­su­lates your mail too! Go to www.good.net.nz/high-life for more.

Pot­ter about with tools Set up a Menz Shed – or at­tend an ex­ist­ing one. Menz Sheds bring to­gether ex­pe­ri­enced, re­tired handy­men to carry out com­mu­nity or in­di­vid­ual projects, or to teach their skills to younger or in­ex­pe­ri­enced mem­bers. It’s ideal for older men who might have re­tired but want to get out of the house and con­trib­ute to the com­mu­nity in a prac­ti­cal way – think play­grounds, re­pair­ing toy li­brary stock, planter boxes – while hav­ing a few laughs along the way. The con­cept was in­tro­duced from Aus­tralia, where more than 1000 sheds have been es­tab­lished since 2002. The New Zealand web­site cur­rently lists 65 around the coun­try; visit www.men­zshed.org.nz to find one nearby.

Start a pe­ti­tion Would you like to see bi­cy­cle racks and planter boxes near the shops, more street light­ing or speed bumps on your street, a bet­ter bus shel­ter or re­moval of dodgy bushes? Then start a pe­ti­tion. It’s eas­ier than you think. Clearly state what you want and start by tak­ing it around your neigh­bours to col­lect sig­na­tures. Ask if you can leave copies at your lo­cal dairy, li­brary, church or com­mu­nity cen­tre. Take it to your next com­mu­nity board meet­ing or send it to your coun­cil with a let­ter out­lin­ing your re­quest. The more sup­port you have, the more likely your re­quest will be taken se­ri­ously.

TOP LEFT and RIGHT: Vol­un­teers with the amaz­ing Project Twin Streams, www.pro­ject­twin­streams.com; ABOVE: food foresters Robyn and Robert Guy­tons, www.food­for­est.co.nz

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