March 2020 Survey Results – Pedestrians and Verge Gardens

In our third survey, in March 2020, we looked at pedestrians and how they felt about nature strips and verge gardens. This is very important because nature strips are public land and if a member of the public complains about your verge garden, you may need to remove it.

Here is what we found…

Everybody thought nature strip gardens made walking more interesting.
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Additional comments:
“They make the walk enjoyable, relaxing, healing.”

“Badly maintained or foolishly planted verge gardens could make walking more difficult. But I live in in an area where there is no paved footpath, and this also makes for tricky walking, with uneven surfaces, dents, bumps etc in the grass.”

The next question was on neatness and planting.

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Most people were neutral about the neatness of gardens and seasonal change but there was a high preference for habitat plants and no use of pesticides or herbicides.

This question inspired some interesting comments:

“Should suit the climate and location. I plant flowers as I don’t have much sun in my garden.”

“Shaded. Multistory vegetation (canopy, shrubs, and ground cover). Teaming with native wildlife. Bird baths, rock walls / logs for lizards. Places that community can gather.”

“If there is no footpath they should provide a space for foot traffic to pass easily”

“Only local indigenous native, no fertilizers, for local animals, insects and birds. Incentivized by local councils.”

“Other than safe, I think its best not to be judgmental. People are different. Celebrate it. About verges, there may be, for instance,
1. A keen cook who uses the verge to grow herbs and – precisely because they are used for cooking – the herbs rarely get to flower and feed bees.
2. On the next street is a person who plants flowering natives and who feels very self-righteous about this.
3. Next street, there’s a person who (like me) is not old yet but who soon will be! With her remaining vigour she plants a verge that will become, once established, low maintenance. Not at all seasonal. Unlike –
4. Her work colleague, who is wild about seasonality and who is convinced that everyone else should be.
5. Then there’s the family with young children, on a quiet street, with not much other garden, and the parents are happy that (supervised) kids potter around on the verge garden and plant their little efforts. It might not look like much but gives a lot of joy to the kids.
And so it goes on. If a person puts time and effort into a verge garden and they don’t obstruct traffic with tall plants (think of the height of a person’s head when they sit in a driver’s seat) or cause problems to pedestrians, then give them a break, even if they don’t do exactly what you’d prefer them to do. These days, everyone’s a critic. (I blame reality TV!) Accentuate the positive.”

“I’m all for MORE gardens While I find a bit of a mix preferable, even monoculture (eg. all lavender) is better than bare ground or grass… Neatness optional *I do hope to have my own in the future, not feasible presently”

“I like to use water wise indigenous plants that could survive any weather we have.”

“Optimal for nature (wildlife, bugs) and humans”

Pedestrian loves and hates were next. Everyone loves street trees…

table of results

… but reaction to tall shrubs was mixed. Tall shrubs are excluded on most council policies anyway. The common reason given is visibility for traffic and pedestrians but another reason is pedestrian's perceptions of safety.

More comments:

“It is hard to walk down bare ‘heat sink' roads with no shade or trees. There needs to be lots of shade. Would love to see wider ‘pedestrian / bike' paths (shared) with narrower roads. It's not nice walking next to busy traffic.”

“Low hanging trees are annoying!”

“I am not much of a pedestrian, but I am a householder. A neighbour has used my frontage for years as their personal parking spot. I don’t own the road, so it’s legal. I can do nothing about it. But my area does not have paved footpaths and the council tell me that the grass verges are meant to be footpaths. The neighbour’s constantly parked car means that pedestrians can either walk on my grass (well, it used to be grass!) or walk out into the middle of the road to get around the car. I have had to make a 1.2 metre mulch walkway for pedestrians, which leaves a lot less ground to convert to a verge garden.”

“Vegetation obstructing the path”

“So long as there is a clear path to walk through there shouldn’t be any problems . However, I do think that spiky or irritant plants should not be directly next to paths, where people may inadvertently come in contact with them.”

“Cars and caravans parked on the verge makes it more difficult to navigate than a few plants. If there is a formal path we should keep it clear.”

“My Brisbane Council is insistent that, in the absence of paved footpaths, the walkway for pedestrians is the grass. If this grassed area is being changed to a verge garden, the walkway provided for pedestrians (1.2 metres wide) must NOT be made of stones, pavers or anything that makes Council access to underground pipes etc difficult. I have used mulch. This is worth mentioning as some professional verge garden designers recommend stones for verge gardens.”

What Have We Learned

Thank you to everyone for these thoughtful responses. They show the complexity of gardening in this space that bridges our private and the public realms.

cosmos on the nature strip

Cosmos at face height greet people as they walk by.

Staying within the council guidelines is a good defence against any complaints from other residents.

Another approach is to avoid complaints by considering how others might view or interact with your garden design. I have seen passersby reach out to touch the cosmos growing on my verge.

See Flowers are ambassadors for verge gardens.

Check your council policy and guidelines in our directory.

What's Next?

We will use the results of this survey to guide the development of Shady Lanes Project, and encourage you to use them for further thought and discussion.

Our April Survey is about how the current crisis is affecting the way we see and use our streets. Check it out here.

Feedback, including suggestions and requests for questions on our monthly surveys, is welcome.