Head on outside Street appeal
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